Scripture. : Luke 7:1-10
1After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. 3When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. 4When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, 5for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” 6And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; 7therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. 8For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” 9When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.
Remember:this is an oral event, not an essay.
It hardly seems like it, but this week marked the 10th anniversary of “An Inconvenient Truth”—the Al Gore documentary about global warming climate change. In those years, the urgency to act has become more evident and also more generally accepted that we are changing and damaging our planet, this is our global inconvenient truth.
That however is not the only inconvenient truth. Another more local, and extremely personal, is that I used to think there was something really wrong with me. Ok—there’s quite a few things wrong, but this one is (was) a biggie for a pastor. My inconvenient truth is that I can not just simply read this story of Jesus from Luke’s Gospel. Don’t get me wrong. I can read the words—that there is a centurion who has a slave, a slave who is valued highly, and who is dying. I read that, and I wonder is this slave a man or a woman, is this slave truly cared for or is he or she simply valued for their output, how hard he or she works—his or her skill.
I can plainly see the words that say the Jewish elders intercede to Jesus on behalf of the centurion, but it also stands out very clearly that the centurion sends these leaders, and I wonder just what kind of power does this centurion really have over these other leaders. Sure they say he loves them, the leaders admit he paid for their synagogue. That’s how the patronage system works. Gifts do not come without strings attached, and it doesn’t say, the Jewish leaders offered to go—no they were sent.
I can read the words of the centurion, words that I heard every Sunday as a kid as I sang in the choir at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena in Allentown, Pennsylvania. “Lord I am not worthy, but only say the word.” Only say the word, and let my servant be healed. “Only say the word, and I shall be healed.” I have read and re-read how by the time the messengers returned to the house the slave was in good health. And I say to myself, and I say to you now— but he is still bound, still a slave.
Oh yes, dear writers of commentaries, I understand that the point of this passage as you have written is that an outsider (the centurion) the representative of Rome’s occupying oppressive operations in Palestine gets it that Jesus has authority to heal, authority over illness, demons, aging, accidents whatever had happened—Jesus has authority over that. That even outsiders or especially outsiders can be models of faithfulness.
But my inconvenient truth is that I see, I question, I mention all the other stuff going on in the text. And, I’m pretty sure that I am not the only one. One of the good things about being the church is that I can be comforted in knowing that I am not the only one with this condition. You may have had the same questions, the same observations about this story from our gospel. Or you may have others—like what about all the other sick and dying people in that time and in that place? Or even, it sure would be nice if Jesus miraculously cured or fixed us, all the other people we intercede/pray for, the planet.
Now, some may call our questions, some may diagnose us as doubters or cynics. But that doesn’t need to be the case. It is not necessary for me, for us to try to keep these thoughts to ourselves. Instead, I have come to believe that perhaps it is God’s Spirit continuing to move in me, in us— God’s Spirit inspiring us, working through us to begin the work of healing. For just as power people can recognize other power people, as leaders can see leadership in others. The centurion saw power and authority in Jesus. It is true that it is those who are sick and struggling are the ones who see the pain and suffering in others—the wounded can be sensitive to the ills and wounds of our world. And generally speaking, it isn’t until we can admit, we can acknowledge the hurt, the pain, the illness can healing begin. I have learned that if my foot hurts and I just keep running according to schedule, the same distance and speed, if I just keep going as if nothing is wrong—it will not heal. So through our questions, our doubts and wonderings, through our wounds we become the ones that get the healing going.
Now another inconvenient truth that I must share is that I want to see results and outcomes. I don’t even care if it comes from the power of suggestion—the placebo effect. I want to see some difference, some change, some growth, some healing. I want to be able to only say the word, name an illness (cancer, depression & anxiety) name a problem—a societal ill (racism, isolationism, environmental destruction), I want to name a name, speak the word and see a cure. But cure and healing are not the same thing. Remember in our gospel story. Luke tells us that Jesus is amazed. He isn’t amazed that the slave is physically cured that day. But that slave is still a slave, and he or she did not live forever. But as I mentioned earlier, that’s perhaps not the or the only point of this story. let’s stop and dwell on these words that Jesus (we believe God incarnate, in the flesh) is amazed. There’s an inconvenient truth for some, that Jesus doesn’t have complete foreknowledge, that he doesn’t walk around just knowing everything, in complete control of what’s going on or even his life. Somehow I can find that actually comforting, to know that even Jesus was surprised—if this time by faith, also by the chaotic, unpredictable nature of humanity, and this thing we are going through called life. And that Jesus himself didn’t even get to see the outcome of his work. Evidently, he never even made it to the house to touch or even see the slave sick or well. Church, People of God, we may not see the results of our prayers—not everyone will be cured, but we pray that there will be healing as acceptance, there will be peace, that there will be growth. Like Jesus, we may not get there to see the outcomes.
What we do today, however, we can lay aside the way of thinking that says that doubts, that questions, that those things make us unworthy—this no longer needs to be an inconvenient truth. God is healing us this very morning, so that we can begin to see and feel like we are doing Spirit work—as we name the inconvenient truths in this gospel story we can name the inconvenient truths of in our lives and in this world. We do this in our prayers, we do this through our work with Common Ground, we do this as we go about our days in what we write, in our interactions with others. Because we do this we begin God’s work of healing—healing that brings a deeper peace than a particular cure, healing that makes the spirit whole, healing that makes peace in our relationships, in our world, Lord, we may feel that we are unworthy, but only say the word (whether it is forgiveness, mercy, acceptance, patience, or peace) and will be healed. Amen.