As I get older, I am reminded of the need to know what I am doing. It is too easy to “lose the plot” – a theme which comes up in this week’s readings. Paul (Galatians 1:6-7) seems to think the Church in Galatia may have forgotten the basis of the gospel, and coincidentally Luke seems to record a similar contrast (Luke 7:1-10).
Jesus is in Galilee, in Peter’s home town near the fisherman’s lake. There is a delegation of synagogue leaders, who ask him to heal the slave of a Roman soldier. This is odd. The soldier is not part of the Jewish community, and he works for the occupying army! But it seems that he has built their synagogue. To the Jewish leaders, he deserves Jesus attention and favour.
That’s not too hard to understand. There are still people in Church, and outside the congregation, who think God owes them a favour or two. That is wrong – because God owes nobody. And it has missed the point, which is a great pity.
Now look at the attitude of the Centurion:
- there is faith. He trusts Jesus, to be able to heal, and to want to heal. He explains that he knows about authority – and recognises that Jesus has it, in a rather different way to the military.
- But there is also humility, especially, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof;” Luke 7:6 Unlike the synagogue leaders, this man knows he does not deserve Jesus favour. He has not “bought” anything with his gifts, except that he now knows where to look for help, and his own real status. And what is his status? He is a child of God, asking the Father’s help and love.
This is the importance of remembering the Gospel – the Good News of Jesus. What is that Good News? That God will give us what we deserve? – No, for nobody is good enough, or up to God’s standard. Nobody (including retired Vicars!) The Good News is that God does not give us what we deserve, but offers love, forgiveness and life for free – because that is the sort of God he is! The centurion had it right. He understood that Jesus might be embarrassed – or criticised – for going to the house of a foreigner, a Pagan, so he does not ask him to come in. He understood that he needed to ask, knowing he depended not on his reputation, but on Jesus’ grace. He understood that trusting Jesus was the way to get what he needed, and more. Some people still like to use his words as a prayer: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” Jesus was amazed how well he understood, and Luke records the comment, along with the fact that the slave was healed.
That is the gospel: because of Jesus, God’s love is offered to us, as freedom, forgiveness, healing, new life – all the things we need, (though not always what we think we want!). The synagogue leaders, and some people in Galatia, got that wrong, which was dangerous. It risked losing the benefit – or perhaps even worse, stopping other people enjoying it. It is still important to know what Jesus offered, and how to help people get it!