07 May 2021

How is a Centurion Like a Widow?

Throughout the gospels, teaching is always followed by the performance of miracles. The miracles illustrate the transformative power of Jesus' teaching in an allegorical, rather than literal, way. In his gospel, Luke takes this tradition a step further by giving the reader stories to compare and contrast. This gives Luke's gospel numerous layers of meaning to explore through multiple readings.

In Luke 7:1-17, Jesus has just finished teaching and gone back home to Capernaum where he performs the first of two miracles. He is told that a centurion has a servant who is sick and in need of healing. This centurion is a foreigner, an agent of the Roman Empire which occupies and oppresses Israel. Nevertheless, Jesus is told that that he deserves to have his servant healed because he a friend of the Jewish people and built their local synagogue.

I can't help but hang on that word, "deserves." By what standard do they determine that he deserves this miracle? That he has done good for their community certainly illustrates that he loves his neighbor. Does this also imply that there are those who do not deserve God's kindness?

Jesus goes to the centurion, but is stopped before entering his house, where the servant in need of healing is staying. The centurion sends word to Jesus that he is not worthy to have Jesus enter his home, instead if he only gives the word, his servant will be healed.

Jesus praises the centurion's faith, saying that it is greater than he has seen in all of Israel. Jesus gives the word and the servant is healed. Does this mean that Jesus agrees that the centurion is deserving, or is there some other reason Jesus heals the servant? Does it even matter whether the centurion is deserving?

In this passage's second story, Jesus visits the village of Nain, where he witnesses a funeral procession. He finds that the one who has died was the only son of a widow, a widow who is now completely alone in the world. In an act of compassion, Jesus raises the widow's son, restoring him to life. Just like in the previous story, he does so with a word, saying, "get up!"

There is no mention of the widow being deserving. Jesus heals her son because "his heart went out to her."

We want God to act because we deserve it, because we are good and others think well of us. We want good things to happen to good people and bad things to happen to bad people. But just like the centurion and the widow, God doesn't always bless the "deserving." He is kind to whom he is kind. There was a man who was about to lose a loved one, and God chose to be kind. There was a woman who was all alone, and God chose to be kind.

Perhaps God does not choose who is deserving and undeserving, he simply travels from town to town, looking for those who need his kindness. It doesn't matter if you gave everything or if you have nothing left to give, God's kindness is not only for the deserving.

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Please remember to be kind to your brothers and sisters in Christ.