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Reflections on the Gospel, week before June 2 2013

Luke 7:1-10

After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. 3 When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. 4 When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, 5 for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” 6 And 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; 7 therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. 8 For 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.” 9 When 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.” 10 When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

What I am Learning:

This text begins with a reference to Jesus' previous sayings. That means that what comes next relates closely to what has just been read. In Luke 6, the writer recounts Jesus' sermon on the plain. Jesus tells his disciples "to love your enemies and do good to those who hate you."

When Jesus says this, he is not just being poetic or philosophical or nice.

He is proposing that his people respond to the occupation of their country and the exploitation of their people with nonviolent resistance. Instead of responding to the occupiers with hatred and violence or with passive acceptance he suggested that his people win over the Romans with love.

"Yes, I can see Jesus walking around the hills and the valleys of Palestine. And I can see him looking out at the Roman Empire with all of her fascinating and intricate military machinery. But in the midst of that, I can hear him saying: "I will not use this method. Neither will I hate the Roman Empire."

Martin Luther King Jr., Loving Your Enemies

So after saying these powerful and challenging words, Jesus actually does it.

When the centurion's slave was near death, he sent for Jesus. But before Jesus got there, he sent others to say that he trusted Jesus to be able to heal his servant from afar.

In a time in which most Jews hated Romans, either passively or actively, Jesus did not hesitate to offer God's healing to the centurion's slave. Despite the fact that the leaders of this community honored the Centurion's generosity and kindness, he was still the commander of a troops who were occupying Capernaum, safeguarding the order that sent goods and wealth to Rome, that stole land from those who once owned it. Yet this centurion loved his slave, held within his heart a mirror of God's compassion and love.

Unlike Jesus, our land is not occupied by a foreign force. We do not have an empire exploiting our land and our people.

So what does this have to do with us?

Empire is alive and well and so is its spirit, its essence. More often than we might like to admit, our economy functions with the animating force of empire: seeking power over others and placing wealth as its highest goal, no matter that the earth groans under its demands and the people perish for lack of meaning.

In the midst of our situation, I think Jesus would invite us to recognize the spirit of empire and begin to withdraw our support from it and begin to be a part of God's transformation of empire from within: to act as salt, leaven, light, and seed until all are freed from the power of empire. It is not against flesh and blood that we fight, but a culture of domination that seeks to warp and twist us from daughters and sons of God into slaves of anger and hate.

Jesus continues to heal us as he continues to reorient us from domination culture to God's way of mutuality which includes everyone, the centurion and the once sick slave and to us.