New Year’s Day is perhaps one of my favorite holidays. Though the Eve’s celebration is always fun, it has never seemed that meaningful; perhaps only the prelude, the necessary decompression that affords a deep sense of new possibilities the day afterwards? It sets up a respite of sorts, a quieting of the heart that allows me to rejoice in each new relationship gained in the previous year. I found myself sending notes to folk after midnight and even still this morning!
People are everything and with the right people anything is possible in the New Year. With those possibilities come the greatest joys, as new chords of friendship break through the tired limitations both individually and institutionally so many of us would otherwise settle for. Jesus, the One I hope to better emulate in 2016 was not your status quo player!
Each morning I practice a time of reflection, scriptural intake and of course catch up on the local and national news. That seems to inform and shape my day sufficiently before I step into it. Yet, over the last six years, writing has become a real tool for processing and interpreting those reflections, when something lingers in my mind. Often a thought will emerge, and though pushed aside, remains until dealt with. Perhaps, like a piece of spinach hung in my teeth requires attention, if I am to be comfortable going into my day. With so many distractions from the workplace removed, New Year’s Day provides an entire day for processing if needed, thus my love for the holiday.
Given all the junk food consumed while watching the two playoff games with Clemson and Alabama, and the tinge of heartburn that will soon require a Nexium, perhaps you understand my source of words?
This morning as I attempted to continue my reading, it seemed that words from yesterday still “hung in my crop,” (Luke 7:1-10). Lest I miss a real truth, I must digest it a little further. Jesus has just finished his dissertation on home building (6:47-49), as this skilled carpenter advises regarding solid foundations. I assume Luke was prepping us spiritually with his sequencing of the story that followed.
It seems there was a Centurion from Capernaum who had a servant that was deathly ill. This powerful Roman was apparently a man of financial means but not sufficiently engaged in the religious community for him to be comfortable asking Jesus to heal his servant. Interesting that he has his ear to the ground and knows that Jesus can deliver on the much needed healing, but rather than demand, he draws from a life experience that has taught him best to leverage relationships in “Getting to Yes”! He goes to those closest to the one from whom that yes is needed, and in this case the Elders of the Jewish sect.
He had secured that right not by participation in their religious ceremonies but by way of benevolence, perhaps even a better citizen than many of the leaders in the “church”. He was known among the religious for loving the nation and for his participation in a recent capital campaign (“built us a synagogue”).
If you have served on any board, you know of people like that in the community. Their gifts add legitimacy, and they genuinely respect the necessary things done by the collective of churches, though they may seldom participate publicly in any particular place of worship. They are often behind the scenes making their communities work, ever supporting and sustaining reasonable candidates for office. They frankly just understand the system better than most. God uses them for sure, though we in religious circles too often value them less than we should!
Like this man, many are truly humble and work behind the scenes asking little for themselves. I hope one or two of them will read this. Perhaps Luke’s message was more for them than those constantly desiring miracles for themselves? He was capturing the qualities that Jesus truly sought to encourage.
This man’s humility seems much more authentic than those who by reason of religious vocation spoke often of spiritual virtues. I suspect he clearly knew that this Jesus whom he had heard so much about, was different than most and neither money, nor political power could be of influence. Yet somehow within the same gut that had made him successful, he knew that the servant he so loved could benefit by this God-man’s presence. He makes the ask of the Elders.
The Elders immediately tried to impress Jesus with what this man had done for the “non-profit” community and their “church.” Here’s the part that hung in my crop, they manifest by their actions that they have no clue what motivates Jesus, certainly not nationalism or their religious edifices alone! The interesting thing is how Luke prefaces this story in 6:45: “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil; for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”
I have been intrigued of late with a series of reads related to recent neurological studies connecting the brain with the heart, and just how much the heart controls what we speak to ourselves and to others.
This “secular” man’s heart was much more pure than the religious, though he assumed they would have much more impact upon his request of Jesus. I sense that Jesus already knew that the Elders were simply fulfilling their quid pro quo, in hopes of future gifts when needed. He so often knew the thoughts and intents of hearts long before words were spoken.
Sure enough, as he draws close to the residence of the Centurion, this powerful man sends friends to express his self-taught unworthiness, brought on by moments in his rise to power when he perhaps had done things that few knew of; weak moments that now haunted his spirit, when financial resources and political favors were no longer enough.
“…say in a word and my servant shall be healed.” He understood power, though apparently in the interlude since his request, “something” had been at work in his heart, building faith for this moment. Jesus marveled, as the Centurion expressed this deep understanding of how true authority works. “For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say to one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this and he doeth it.”
Luke captures this teachable moment for those of us with hearts to hear. Jesus, as he did in so many cases, hesitates while a few folk go ahead of him only to find the servant healed long before they arrived! What the Centurion had described, Jesus did for this man’s servant. Think of the impact on all these men. Jesus’s means and motivation were quite different than what the Elders might have employed to reach this Centurion. I would loved to have been a fly on the wall when Jesus and the Centurion later met for coffee at the nearest Starbux in that day!
May the year of 2016, continue to build a strong foundation of truth under your “house” regardless of the degree of your religious participation. May the One who sees deep into our hearts surround your life with others of means and capacity, as you labor to add value to your community. Most importantly, relationships with others like you, who at a distance understand the Spirit, though that understanding might often be expressed in ways quite different than the religious might prefer. That is who Jesus was!