Twenty-First Day of Lent

Luke 18:35-43
35 As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”
38 He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
39 Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
40 Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?”
“Lord, I want to see,” he replied.
42 Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” 43 Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.

There were laws in Jesus’ day which laid responsibility on people to look after people who were blind. Unfortunately, perhaps because they have grown tired of the endless responsibility, this man is forced to beg. Not only that, he isn’t even begging in the city but outside it (Luke 18:35).

The persistence of the man perhaps gives a clue to his character. He will not be silenced, nor will he be put in his place and so he cries and cries until Jesus stops and pays attention.

Should it not have been obvious to Jesus what the man wanted Jesus to do? After all, at his very first sermon in Capernaum when he read from the scroll of Isaiah, he claims “recovery of sight to the blind” as one of the marks of his ministry (Luke 4:18). So I find this a curious question.

The emotional high point for me in the telling of this story is the man’s response to Jesus curious question, “Lord, I want to see,” (Luke 18:40). Who could fail to respond to that?

Whether the man meant it or not, I feel certain that Luke did mean us to take this both literally and metaphorically. The man wants to physically see, but there is also a need for him to perceive things in a new way. He is already partly along the way to seeing the world in a new way. He calls Jesus “Son of David,” and “Lord” (Luke 18:38-40). In fact he rejects the description given by the leaders of the procession who refer to Jesus as “Jesus of Nazareth,” in favour of “Jesus, Son of David’”(Luke 17:37, 38).

Does the blind man already see more than the people who are hanging around Jesus?

As we saw yesterday seeing is such a characteristic Lukan way of indicating that understanding has dawned. And which of us wouldn’t echo the man’s request, regardless of how long we have been on the road as disciples. There is always more to see and understand. Always new journeys of faith to take. And we can never get to the place where we have seen everything because Jesus keeps on doing new things that take us by surprise.

This story also reminds me of the difference between healing and cure. Jesus may be hinting at this in the story. His question, unusual as it is, may be designed to elicit from the man the nature of the miracle he wants. The ambiguity of the answer allows us to imagine both forms of seeing. And so Jesus’ response is twofold.

“Receive your sight,” is the cure. The man can now physically see.

“Your faith has healed you,” is the deeper healing, the deeper and more insightful seeing. And with this new insight the man follows Jesus and praises God.

It’s a challenging thing to imagine ourselves into the position of this man just after Jesus has asked the question. How would you answer the question “What do you want me to do for you?”

What cure would you seek?

What healing would you seek?

What is most necessary for you to follow Jesus closer and to praise God?

I want to see.

Nineteenth Day of Lent

Luke 8:40-56 
40 Now when Jesus returned, a crowd welcomed him, for they were all expecting him. 41 Then a man named Jairus, a synagogue leader, came and fell at Jesus’ feet, pleading with him to come to his house 42 because his only daughter, a girl of about twelve, was dying. As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. 43 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. 44 She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped. 45 ‘Who touched me?’ Jesus asked.

When they all denied it, Peter said, ‘Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.’

46 But Jesus said, ‘Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.’ 47 Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. 48 Then he said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.’

49 While Jesus was still speaking, someone came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. ‘Your daughter is dead,’ he said. ‘Don’t bother the teacher anymore.’

50 Hearing this, Jesus said to Jairus, ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.’ 51 When he arrived at the house of Jairus, he did not let anyone go in with him except Peter, John and James, and the child’s father and mother. 52 Meanwhile, all the people were wailing and mourning for her. ‘Stop wailing,’ Jesus said. ‘She is not dead but asleep.’

53 They laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. 54 But he took her by the hand and said, ‘My child, get up!’ 55 Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. 56 Her parents were astonished, but he ordered them not to tell anyone what had happened.

These two stories are a complex, interwoven tapestry that tell us an awful lot about who Jesus is, what his mission was and what it is to be a disciple.

Luke starts off with the story of a young girl of twelve years old, and so just about to hit puberty, who is the daughter of a wealthy man. But she is sick. The man throws himself at Jesus feet pleading with him to come and heal his daughter which Jesus consents to do, but he is hampered in his going by the crush of the crowd.

This story is then intercepted by a story of an older woman, who had been bleeding for twelve years. She had visited all sorts of doctors but none had been able to heal her. The implication is that for twelve years she was ritually unclean and thus unable to touch anyone or be touched by anyone. Think of the isolation.

Her faith to reach out and touch Jesus, secretly, results in her healing, but also in Jesus being apparently too late to heal the daughter of the synagogue leader, Jairus.

There are all sorts of parallels in the story. The number twelve for instance. A young girl and an older woman and of course the sensitive issue of blood, spoken and unspoken. A rich man who throws himself at Jesus’ feet, an impoverished woman who does the same. A young girl who is healed by the conscious touch of Jesus and a woman who is healed through her touching of Jesus without his knowing. A child healed through encounter, a woman healed prior to encounter.

I am struck by this very physical and real demonstration of Jesus ministry which he described elsewhere as “the last shall be first and the first shall be last” (Matt 20:16). Here the impoverished and ill woman interrupts the request for help from the community leader who is made to wait until Jesus has dealt with her illness.

He also commends her for her faith (Luke 8:48) whereas the household of the synagogue leader struggle to have faith sufficient to see a miracle (Luke 8:49-50, 52-53).

I am also struck by the issue of shame in the story and how for so many of us our culture makes us ashamed of our bodies, of how they work or don’t work, of their size or shape and of what we do with them. This shaming resulted in twelve years of isolation for this woman. So I love the fact that Jesus calls her “daughter” and commends her faith and its part in her healing and tells her to “Go in peace!” (Luke 8:48). In so doing he restores her to physical and mental health, reintegrates her to community and changes her relationship to her physical self after twelve years of loneliness caused by the complexity of her body.

Even if just for today, resist body-shaming either yourself or others. Be kind to your body, pamper and spoil it. Rejoice in its abilities, and its non-conformity. Laugh at its strangeness. Be at peace with your body.

Lord Jesus
You knew tiredness in your body
And loneliness and rejection.
You knew physical pain
And you crossed that mysterious border
Between life and death.

Grant me patience with my body
And its limitations
Give me joy in its abilities
And wonder at its mysteries.

May its needs and desires
Be a source of delight
And never of shame

For Jesus sake
Who loved every body


Eighteenth Day of Lent

Luke 7:1-10
7 When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening, he entered Capernaum. 2 There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was ill and about to die. 3 The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4 When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, ‘This man deserves to have you do this, 5 because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.’ 6 So Jesus went with them.

He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: ‘Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. 7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, “Go”, and he goes; and that one, “Come”, and he comes. I say to my servant, “Do this”, and he does it.’

9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, ‘I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.’ 10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.

This is another very familiar miracle of Jesus which seems to hinge on questions of worthiness and authority.

The centurion in the story seems like a truly good individual who, as a Roman and therefore a Gentile, seems to enjoy the love and respect of the Jewish Elders of the town. We shouldn’t underestimate the significance of this.

The Elders come to Jesus with a request that Jesus should heal the beloved servant of the Centurion. The text says they ‘pleaded earnestly’ with Jesus (Luke 7:4). The reason they do this is at least partly related to their sense of the man’s worthiness. In fact they claim that this man ‘deserves to have you do this,’ (Luke 7:4) and then proceed to relate the reasons why this man has proved himself worthy.

I don’t think these Elders are nasty, or have any ulterior motive to trap Jesus into doing or saying something that would get him into trouble. It seems that there is a genuine and unusual relationship here between people who would normally be enemies.

I’m reluctant to be too critical of the Elders who have made a significant cultural leap to speak positively of this Roman and to recognise in him a person of compassion. Too often we refuse to humanise our enemies by not acknowledging the goodness that can be found in them. But I think we need to think about the language of ‘deserving’ here. The Elders imagine he is worthy of blessing because he has done good things. This man merited Jesus attention for his actions.

I’m glad that God doesn’t think that the Gospel should work on a merit system. Can you imagine how exhausting it would be to try and live up to it continually? Not only that, but how fearful we would end up living our lives if grace was a meritocracy? And how unfair life would be, for we all know people who live incredibly good lives and yet they suffer. The reverse is also true. And how terrifying it would be to have other people decide for us whether or not we are worthy.

Any community which works under the merit system, where some decide who is worthy and who is not, who is deserving and who is not, is doomed to fall apart.

By contrast the Centurion seems to understand that Jesus operates under a whole different system, which Jesus later describes as ‘faith’ (Luke 7:9). The Centurion perhaps discerns that by his request he has placed Jesus in a difficult position. If he comes to the house of a Gentile Jesus will automatically make himself ritually unclean, and he decides to save Jesus the trouble. So he sends some friends this time to deliver a message to Jesus.

The Centurion, a man of considerable authority, recognises that despite all his good works he is not worthy of Jesus. He recognises that the merit system is inadequate and that Jesus had the kind of authority that didn’t depend on any religious, political or military institution for its power.

This Gentile understood the power of a word to make things happen, even at a distance. He used it everyday in his work. But the word of Jesus had an authority to make things happen not because of his position or status but because of his connection to God. “Say the word and my servant will be healed” (Luke 7:7).

The story says that Jesus was ‘amazed’ at the faith of this man (Luke 7:9). The greek word is thaumazo and is more often a word used to describe the reaction of others who see the incredible things Jesus does. What a testament to the faith of the Centurion!

There are many things to consider in this story, but maybe two will suffice for now. I am moved to ask myself how open I am to seeing goodness and even faith in people I might otherwise consider my enemy? It causes me to reflect on the extent to which I function under a merit system where others are concerned, but am happy to be a recipient of grace when it is me who is being judged.

I am not worthy
To receive you.
But only say the word
And I shall be healed.