1. Luke 7:1-10
I think it’s very interesting that Luke tells the story of a centurion Roman soldier, that’s an officer in charge of at least 100 soldiers, very differently from how Matthew tells the story. The story revolves around a Roman officer and his servant who is sick and the faith of the centurion in the power and authority of Jesus.
Where Matthew has the centurion conversing with Jesus, Luke’s version has messengers talking to Jesus, two different sets of messengers in fact.
The first set of messengers are Jewish elders who implore Jesus saying the man is worthy of Jesus healing the centurion’s servant. Why? Because the Roman officer had built their synagogue. Luke has told us the centurion values the servant highly. So Jesus goes with them.
Before they reach the house of the centurion, another set of messengers intercept Jesus and have another message from the centurion. He contrasts and compares himself and Jesus. Interestingly, the contrast comes first. He says he doesn’t want Jesus to trouble himself. The reason? Because I am not worthy for you to come under my roof. Then comes the comparison. I understand the power of speaking something to be done by my servants and soldiers. I believe if you say the word, my servant will be healed.
If you look at the story from a literary perspective, the climax is not the healing of the servant. Why? Look at Luke 7:9. The climax, the point of the story is the faith of the centurion and Luke is continually pointing out the faith of the “least,” the ones the Jews would call “dogs.” He shows a group of Jews who actually respect the centurion in their part of the city of Capernaum, and the great faith of this Roman soldier. That’s the point of the story. That’s why the climax of the story is Jesus turning to the crowds with the superlative, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” That’s quite a statement. First, Jesus has never seen faith like this? Second, not even among His own people? This is a pretty big statement, so we ought to wonder what kind of faith this really is that the centurion has.
The rising action and climax is the statement of the centurion’s faith. The falling action, resolution or in literary terms the “dénouement,” is the healing of the servant. Luke 7:10 says, “Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.” That’s the happy freeze frame scene at the end of the 70s era cop show, the medal ceremony at the end of Star Wars: A New Hope. The climax, the real point, the action, the focus has already happened. A victory has been won, faith has been found, the force has been believed. Now we see what we thought was the goal but it wasn’t. Yes, the servant is healed, but more than that there is faith in Israel that comes from a Roman, a gentile non-Jew. That’s the point Luke wants to make, and it’s a kind of faith Jesus says he’s never seen before, not even among His own people.
2. Luke 7:11-17
Only a handful of people across the stories of scripture are raised from the dead. John tells the story of Lazarus and we don’t get that story in Luke, Matthew, and Mark. But Luke tells two stories, one each in Luke 7 and 8, about Jesus raising young people from the dead. Firs is the story of the compassion of Jesus on a widow who now has also lost her only son. We don’t know how old he is. It doesn’t really matter because a widow who’s lost her son at any age would be distraught. And Jesus has compassion on the weeping woman. He says simply, “Don’t cry.”
Jesus does two things. He touches the funeral bier, what they were carrying the body on. Across history, people have not buried people in boxes, but they used a kind of pallet to carry the body to the burial site, called a “bier.” Jesus touches the bier, then he does a second thing. Jesus says, “Young man, I say to you, get up.”
That Jesus a Jew would make himself unclean by touching things of death was strange enough. Nobody would purposefully do this. But talking to the dead and telling the young man to get up? I don’t think anyone would have seen or heard something like that before. I love verse 15: “The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.” It’s no wonder when the young man did sit up and began talking to his mother, that the reaction of the crowd was described as awe.
16 They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” 17 This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.
3. Luke 7:18-35
While Matthew and Mark lay out the story behind why Herod the tetrarch beheads John the Baptist, Luke only gives one line about the beheading without any motivation (Luke 9:9). But Matthew and Luke record Jesus giving what sounds to me like a eulogy of John the Baptist. Luke’s lifting up of John the Baptist by Jesus comes before we hear that he has been beheaded, but we do know that he’s in prison. John had received word in prison about healings like the centurion’s servant and raising of the dead of the widow’s son in Nain.
So John sent messengers to Jesus asking if he was truly the Messiah. Jesus’s reply is both a response to “go tell John” that it’s all true, the Messiah comes healing and bringing God’s favor to the poor and oppressed and is redeeming Israel and the nations. But there is also in these words of Jesus a word for the crowds about John and his faith and how John lived out the work of preparing the way for the Messiah.
I can only quote the rest because it includes some profound double statements that need to be heard.
28 I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
29 (All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. 30 But the Pharisees and the experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.)
31 Jesus went on to say, “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:
“‘We played the pipe for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not cry.’
33 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ 35 But wisdom is proved right by all her children.”
4. Luke 7:36-50
The story of the woman kissing and anointing the feet of Jesus is one of the most theological stories Luke tells. So much is there to say about Jesus and his claim to forgive sins and love the sinful person who truly repents and confesses at the feet of the Messiah. In addition, there is a strong rebuke for those who stand aloof from God, judging others as many of us do, and refuse to humble ourselves and welcome Jesus with washing, kisses, and anointing of hospitality.
I really appreciate this painting by Hofmann below, because it captures so many elements of this story. Luke has made it clear the woman is known in the town as being sinful. Simon (not Peter) the host has judging thoughts not only about the woman but also about how Jesus must be deluded to think he’s a prophet but doesn’t know this woman is sinful and is touching him.
So Jesus tells a parable, quick and to the point. A creditor has two debtors: one debtor owes ten times what the other debtor owes. The creditor forgives the debts of both debtors. Which debtor is most grateful? Simon answers the obvious question, but what he probably doesn’t see coming is that the parable is for him.
So Jesus makes it abundantly clear. You see this woman? You didn’t wash my dirty feet from the dust of the road when I came in, yet she has washed them. You didn’t kiss me, yet she hasn’t stopped kissing my feet. You didn’t anoint my head with soothing oil as a show of great hospitality, but she has anointed my feet. Here is the rest verbatim from Luke 7:47-50.
Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
NEXT STEPS AND PRAYER
What do you think is the point of all these stories?
Do you think we are called to believe in some radical ways we’ve never even considered before? Think about the faith of the centurion. What kind of faith is this and how can we reflect on it and find faith even Jesus hasn’t ever seen before? What about the awe the people of Nain expressed when they saw Jesus raise the widow’s son from the dead. Do we express in our lives this kind of awe and wonder at God? And the faith of John the Baptist, who is considered the greatest and the least. How can we live with great faith but not be like Simon who thinks his faith is great when he looks down on others? How can we live with faith that realizes that the person who is forgiven much, loves much?
God help us to realize how much we’ve been forgiven, more than we can ask or imagine, and love that much.
Greg Taylor, M.Div.
Greg Taylor is the preacher for The Journey. He holds degrees in Print Journalism from Harding University and a Master of Divinity from Harding School of Theology. Greg is working on his Doctor of Ministry at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where The Journey is located. Greg is married to Jill, who is a math teacher at Broken Arrow High School. They have three adult children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob, and of course they are very proud of each of what God has done in each one of their lives. Greg is author of several books you can order from your favorite bookseller.