5/29/2016 Second Sunday after Pentecost The text is Luke 7:1-10.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
As this is Memorial Day weekend, I thought I’d begin today’s sermon with a story from WWII. No, it’s not about those who valiantly fought for freedom, but about two men – one named Yitzak and the other Leopold.
Yitzak was a Jewish physician, who with his wife and child, fled from Warsaw and hid in the countryside. Known for his compassion and skill in cardiac care, Yitzak was held in high regard by Jews and non-Jews alike.
Then there is Leopold. Leopold was a minor Nazi official stationed in Warsaw. He did what he was told. He even persecuted the Jews, but not because he disliked them but because it was his job. His job was to study census records and provide his supervisors with information about who in the city was “tainted” with Jewish blood so that they could be marked and sent to death camps.
Leopold and Yitzak had met casually before the internment and extermination of Jews began. Their relationship had been cordial, but cautious. Now, during the heat of the “final solution,” Leopold heard rumors that Yitzak was hiding in the countryside, but he didn’t pursue it until the day he felt chest pains. The physicians at the hospital concluded that Leopold was having a heart attack, and said, “It’s a shame that Yitzak isn’t here. He could save this man’s life.”
Word soon reached Yitzak that he was needed to save a human life. Ignoring the danger to himself, Yitzak crept into the city in the middle of the night to provide life-saving care to this one who was “an enemy.” Without being able to ask for himself, Leopold received the treatment that he desperately needed from Yitzak, a man who he would have been compelled to turn in. He received this man’s healing touch out of the compassion of the giver, not out of his own worthiness. For if the help he received was dependent on his own merit, he surely would have died.
The same can be said of the recipient of Christ’s healing touch in today’s Gospel. If the recovery of the centurion’s slave was dependent on his worthiness or on the worthiness of his owner or on the worthiness of those who interceded on the centurion’s behalf, the man most certainly would have died. The Gospel leaves no room for doubt. The man’s recovery was due solely to the compassion and mercy of our Great Physician, Jesus Christ.
Luke tells us little of the man whom Jesus healed, other than the fact that he was a slave, the property of a non-commissioned Roman officer. As a servant, the man did as he was instructed by his Roman owner. Yet this man was more than a lowly servant to the centurion. He was more than mere property. He was one who was dear to him.
When illness struck and the servant was at death’s door, the centurion did everything he could to restore him to health for humane rather than mercenary reasons. The centurion’s response to the crisis in his servant’s life was not motivated by fear of losing valuable property, but by the pain of losing someone precious to him.
This type of gut-wrenching pain and fear is familiar to many of us. For, more than a handful of us have experienced it as we have stood helplessly by someone we love, someone dear to us who struggled with a life-threatening illness. We could do little but watch and wait, and comfort and console the one who was ill. In our weakness, our inability to effect a cure for this precious person, we grasped at straws and sought help in higher places and with people of greater power than we, ourselves, possess.
The centurion, a man who had the power to command others, found himself just as weak and powerless as we are in the face of catastrophic illness. And this man, a member of the Roman occupation force in Capernaum, began reaching out for help in an unexpected place. He, a Gentile, sought the help of the one he had heard so much about – a rabbi and prophet named, Jesus. The stories of Jesus’ power to heal the sick were well known, especially to this man who had more than a casual interest in the Jews. But, the centurion knew that it would be too bold of him, an enemy of the Jews, to go before such a man of God to plead for his servant. He knew that he merited no favor.
So, the elders, a special group of Jewish leaders, willingly went before Jesus to intercede on the centurion’s behalf for the health of his servant. They went to Jesus with a laundry list of the soldier’s good deeds, which were many. They brought them before Jesus in an effort to convince him that this man was indeed worthy of bringing his request before him, as though what we do merits favor from God.
Yet, the centurion knew his unworthiness. He knew his lowly state. And he humbled himself before God, requesting that Jesus not come, but merely say the word so that his servant might be made whole. For, he believed that Jesus’ power and authority to heal transcended time and space.
The centurion placed all his eggs, so to speak, in one basket. He placed all his trust and faith and hope in Jesus of Nazareth and his power and authority to do what he could not do. And, in this faith, he was not disappointed. For, Jesus spoke and the servant was healed. Out of compassion and in response to such great faith, rather than any worldly standards of worthiness, Jesus healed the servant and praised the Gentile.
Where do we turn when we are in need of help? In what do we trust? Where is our faith? The Lord would have us place all of our eggs in the same basket as the centurion, believing that Jesus Christ acts in compassion and has the power and authority to make all people whole. The gift of this healing power is not bestowed upon us because of merit or worthiness, but out of the love and compassion of the giver. Sometimes, that wholeness comes through doctors and nurses. Sometimes, it doesn’t come in this world, for we all must someday die, but it comes in the life we have beyond our human existence with all the inheritors of God’s promise.
In the great compassion of our Lord and his steadfast love and care, we can place our faith and hope and trust in him. For, he will not forsake us in our need, but will hear the plea of the faithful. In this, may we find strength and courage to endure life and death struggles in our Lord, so that we turn to him who has all power and authority in heaven and on earth to make us whole. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.