Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t believe everything people say to you, especially if they are selling you something. Don’t trust politicians. If you want it done right, do it yourself ….
Reads like a charter for good living, eh?
Advice we give our children from a young age is meant to help us become street-wise, life-smart, common sense practicing members of society. We develop our sensibilities so that we can be safe and secure, survive and even flourish in a dog-eat-dog world of violence, competition, and rabid individualistic advancement and fortitude.
When I participated in the 5K event at Ottawa’s Race Weekend which attracted over 40,000 to the nation’s capital for Canada’s largest annual marathon event, thoughts of the Boston Marathon bombings a month ago came to mind. I couldn’t help but heed Federal Minister for Public Safety Vic Toews’ recent advice, for the public to remain ‘vigilant’ in a dangerous, scary world in which we live.
Remaining constantly vigilant sets the wise apart from the naive. And yet, I also can’t help but wonder about the damage we do to our lives of faith when we so readily consume the propaganda and messaging of the dominant culture of our day. I’m not saying that to be faithful is to be naive. But if we are a people of faith, then we need to re-discover a quality of faith suppressed by our culture.
Again, this time while teaching the Lutheran Course to a group of new members and other adults in our church community, I was asked: “Doesn’t faith mean ‘belief’?”
I wouldn’t doubt that belief is part of what it means to have faith — that is, to believe in a set of propositions about God: Jesus is the divine Son of God who came to save the world from the powers of the devil and sin, etc., etc.
But a quality of faith, picked up by Martin Luther and other teachers over the centuries, that is often overlooked is: trust. The expression of trust in our relationships — primarily, to trust God — demonstrates faith as much as, even more than, belief.
To trust another is a quality shown clearly by the God-fearing, Gentile centurion in the Gospel of Luke 7:1-10. It doesn’t right away jump out at me, after a first reading of this story about the healing of a slave. Underlying the interactions among the characters in this story, nevertheless, is the quality of faith. Jesus even concludes his dialogue by acclaiming the centurion’s faith (v.9).
A couple of plot points underscore the trust that is demonstrated in the story. First, never in Luke’s account does Jesus actually meet the centurion face-to-face. Moreover, never does Jesus actually touch the slave whom he heals. The principle characters in this story never meet!
Relationally, this is troubling, since I for one always value direct communication. I hesitate when ‘third parties’, middle management, or ‘a friend told me’ methods are used to get a message across. I ask myself: Why didn’t the centurion go directly to Jesus with his request? Let’s just say, I’m not very trusting of social triangles.
For starters, the centurion shows a pure, simple trust in others. He trusts the Jewish leaders to make a convincing argument to Jesus. He then trusts his good friends to advocate on his behalf. Trust imbues these relationships. The centurion’s faith is based precisely in trusting others, and not in depending solely on himself to ‘get the job done right’.
The centurion also, and significantly, trusts Jesus. But, more to the point, he trusts Jesus the person, not in any perceived magical abilities Jesus would have. In Jesus’ day, people believed direct contact with the person mediating the healing was necessary (see Luke 5:17, 6:19). There’s more here than someone seeking a magical, instantaneous snapping-of-fingers cure to a problem. This is not a mechanical spirituality being described.
What we witness is someone putting their trust in — literally — the word of Jesus. Jesus need only “speak the word” (v.7) from a distance. His power is beyond the limits of earthly perception. It is indeed super-natural, divine. The centurion trusts in what Jesus says.
This story reveals something two-handed. It’s a paradox. Very ‘Lutheran’, I might add! The centurion calls himself unworthy (v.6), even as he is hailed among the Jewish leaders as very much worthy to receive the help of Jesus (v.4). Which is it? Well, not either/or but both/and! Unworthy to earn favour with God by one’s own efforts to perfection. Unworthy to espouse individualistic self-righteousness as a deserving of God’s attention.
But very much worthy of God’s attention because another says so. Worthy because of who Jesus is. Worthy because Jesus makes it so, by God’s grace, mercy, and unconditional love.
So, in the end, Jesus trusts. Jesus trusts the Jewish leaders’ appeal. Jesus trusts the centurion’s friends’ advocacy. And, above all, Jesus trusts in the worthiness of the slave whom he hasn’t met during his visit to Capernaum by the Sea. Jesus heals someone ‘at a distance’, because the slave, too, is a beloved creation of God. Jesus has faith in the worthiness — the inherent value — of one who is, in the social structure of the day, not considered very worthy at all, someone at the lowest rung in society — a lowly slave.
The slave demonstrated faith. He or she did not recite a Creed nor prove their beliefs before getting healed. The slave was literally at the mercy of life and death. The slave, according to the New King James Version, was “ready to die” (v.2). The slave was ready to place their life in the hands of the Maker. The slave demonstrated a deep trust to let go and surrender, at the end. To the one who can let go into the arms of God who will never let us go, healing and wholeness comes.
God is faithful to us, even in death. God is faithful to us, even as we may not consider ourselves worthy of God’s love. Jesus healing power is available to us, even as we may feel distant from God. So, in bold faith, let us move forward and enter the door of God’s realm of mercy. For God is faithful.
Great is Thy faithfulness!