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June 1, 2013
Sts. Clare & Francis
Feast of Corpus Christi
Luke 7:1-10 (focus text; substituted by Frank)
Homily by Frank Krebs

At this point in Luke’s gospel, Jesus has just finished a long instruction to the disciples similar to the famous “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew.  He was giving his most important teaching.  Among other things he talked about how there is no “credit” in loving someone who can pay you back.

 ‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. (Luke 6:32-34)

Well, actually, that is exactly how the system was played then…as now.  People rack up social credit for doing things for each other, IOUs that they can “pull in at any time.”  What might look like generosity is really more like bartering. 

In tonight’s gospel the elders are obviously still playing this game.  A centurion has built their synagogue and, in their minds, has accumulated a lot of credit; and, they assume, the centurion now wants to spend it on his sick servant.  Notice that the elders speak to Jesus the way an aid would speak to a politician, “He is worthy of this favor from you because, one, he loves our people; and, two, he built our synagogue.”  So he is worthy; he has credit.  Because Jesus decides to go to the Centurion’s house, maybe this confirms in the elders’ minds what they were assuming, namely that  Jesus is repaying a debt.

But for Jesus there is a bigger picture. And he has just explained this bigger picture to his followers (that would be us) in the previous chapter, as I noted above.  (see Luke 6:27-36)

The whole social system is being challenged by Jesus.  He rejects a system where you only heal someone because you owe them.  What about the working poor who could never afford to be in your debt?  Turning this whole idea of “credit” around, Jesus says, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?”  Here he means “credit” in the sense of the larger ledger of life, the one that only your conscience and the living God see.  Jesus is rejecting a world where the wealthier one is, the more IOUs one can pull in.  Not everyone can afford to build a synagogue.

So if Jesus is not playing the game that everyone else is playing, why is he going to the centurion’s home?  Assuming he is motivated by his own teaching, he is going out of love of “the enemy” (Rome) and “the other” (a Gentile).  Jesus has opted out of the prevailing game.  He plays a different one.

But, guess what?  Luke tells us that the centurion has opted out of the game too!  The centurion sends another delegation to stop Jesus before he gets to the house.  This time they are his own friends, not religious elders as intermediaries or even his soldiers—but his own personal friends!  This is a very personal gesture.  And they specifically say that the centurion does not count himself as worthy of this favor just because he built the synagogue.  “I am not worthy,” he says through them.  “I don’t see myself as having any credit to spend.  I am asking you to do this just because I am asking you and because I trust that you are compassionate.”

This is like pay dirt for Jesus.  He’s found what he is looking for.  “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”  (Luke 7:9)

Perhaps the next time Jesus entered the synagogue at Capernaum, he gazed at the structure and wondered why the centurion did build the synagogue.  Jesus might have asked himself, “Could it be he was simply being generous?”  And it’s a short step from there to imagine Jesus wondering, “How far out of the system is he willing to step?  Would he listen if I asked him to free his slave?”

What is the Master asking of us tonight?  In the yoga class of life, what is the next big stretch beyond “tit for tat” toward generosity and trust?


[My understanding of this text was influenced strongly by The Gospel of Luke (The New International Commentary on the New Testament) [Hardcover] Joel B. Green (Author)]