Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Preferring a poor reputation in the eyes of a bigot - Luke 7

(Click here to read Luke 7)

Jesus practically demonstrates the Sermon on the Plain from Luke 6 as he loves an enemy, cares for the poor and the powerless, and defends a sinner under the judgment of a religious bigot.

The chapter begins with two stories of miraculous healing, each done for people on the margins of Jesus' cultural community. The first is a Roman centurion (vv1-10), who requests healing for his servant. He is not Jewish, and lives under the protection of the occupying empire. The second person is a poor and powerless widow, on whom Jesus has compassion to raise her son to life (vv11-17).

The Roman soldier has advocates among the Jewish religious elders. They describe him to Jesus as "worthy" to receive a miracle from him, because of his work on the temple, as though Jesus needed convincing. This was probably helpful to Luke's Greek audience, to be reminded that the relationship between Jews and Gentiles did not need to be hateful in either direction. However, before Jesus reaches his home, the Roman sends word to personally contradict his Jewish friends. He calls himself "unworthy", and he's actually right. According to Jewish custom at the time, good Jews were not to fraternize with Gentiles or sinners, exactly the reason Jesus had gained a bad reputation. But Jesus touches lepers and calls rejects to follow him. It is neither the Jewish elders that make the Roman worthy, nor custom that makes him unworthy. Jesus calls him worthy, and this is enough. He declares that he has not seen such faith among his own people, and the servant is healed.

The widow, by comparison, has no one to advocate for her and no power or reputation that should make her "worthy". There is no benefit for Jesus if he should pay her any attention. On the contrary, she has only a life of poverty ahead of her now that her only hope for an income has died. For the sake of compassion alone, Jesus raises her son.

The end of the chapter compares a sinful woman to a Pharisee (vv36-50) in a dramatic confrontation. It is similar to the confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees over his calling of Levi the tax collector and befriending his colleagues (Luke 5:32). Despite a risk to his own reputation, Jesus offers a woman of bad reputation forgiveness, love, and dignity by defending her in front of proper religious people. In a room of religious men, Jesus identifies with a sinner and a woman.

Between these stories, John the Baptist sends messages from jail to Jesus, asking if he is the Messiah. One can assume that prison has been unkind to John.

Jesus encourages John to judge his actions to determine whether he is the Messiah. The discerning heart will see that the deaf hear, the blind see, the lepers are cleansed, the dead are raised, and the poor hear the good news. Yes, Jesus is saying he is the Messiah. But he goes on to explain that the judgmental religious elite are not discerning these things. They judge John the Baptist and Jesus unrightrously because of the evil in *their* hearts (Luke 6:37-45).

Jesus is not concerned about his reputation among bigots. His concern is moved by his compassion for those judged and excluded by the judgmental elite. He identifies with and loves the outsider, whatever the consequence.


vv11-17 – Jesus raises a boy to life. He doesn’t seem nearly as concerned with keeping a low profile as he did in Mark.
vv29-30 – those baptized by John received Jesus’ message, those who were not did not. Did this have to do with faith, or repentance, or just familiarity with John?
vv36-50 – reminiscent of the story of the woman right before Judas went to betray Jesus. He who has been forgiven little loves little. An awareness of our own sinful state, when redeemed, will lead us to greater depths of love and worship toward God.

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