A few days ago, we had Chinese food for dinner to celebrate Chinese New Year and we of course had the fortune cookies afterwards. We had the usual things you’d expect to read in a fortune cookie and then we had this one. This was the fortune in our youngest child’s fortune cookie. Just the word, “Love.” What a powerful thing to read and be reminded of. It is just 4 little letters and the word doesn’t take up much space on the paper but there it is. Powerful.
The two healing stories that make up this week’s readings from Luke 7:1-17 are stories of amazing power. Jesus heals a servant of a Roman Centurion, but from some distance away – he didn’t need to touch the servant or anything else – just gave the word and he was healed. Then the next story is a young man being brought back to life but again, nothing spectacular about what Jesus did – he touched the board that the man was on and told him to get up. And he did.
So these are stories about healing and God’s incredible power. But there’s something else in there for me. In Eugene Peterson’s Message translation, he translates verse 16 like this…
They all realized they were in a place of holy mystery, that God was at work among them. They were quietly worshipful—and then noisily grateful, calling out among themselves, “God is back, looking to the needs of his people!”
This is a good bit different from the “normal” translations that render it like this…
Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!”
What I experience in this passage and in these words is like “Love” on this fortune. Jesus acts in both cases with an incredible love. He responds to a soldier in the army that is occupying his home nation with compassion and love, including going so far as to credit him with having more faith than anywhere else in Israel that he’s seen. Wow. Then the next story, he simply sees the funeral procession happening and he has compassion (literally the Greek word implies a deep pit-of-the-stomach type of compassion) on his mother (a widow) and he heals her son without even being asked. And then their response quiet worshipfulness (like a tiny word on a paper) and noisily grateful (like the power that love exudes).
We took this little fortune and it is on our fridge. Its a reminder to each of us that we need to love more than we think we should. We need to look for the widow and mother who is grieving, we need to be mindful and heartfelt of those who are struggling, we need to remember the call to care for the orphan, the widow, the refugee, and the strangers among us. Following the simple, yet powerful example that Jesus gives us here.
When he finished speaking to the people, he entered Capernaum. A Roman captain there had a servant who was on his deathbed. He prized him highly and didn’t want to lose him. When he heard Jesus was back, he sent leaders from the Jewish community asking him to come and heal his servant. They came to Jesus and urged him to do it, saying, “He deserves this. He loves our people. He even built our meeting place.”
Jesus went with them. When he was still quite far from the house, the captain sent friends to tell him, “Master, you don’t have to go to all this trouble. I’m not that good a person, you know. I’d be embarrassed for you to come to my house, even embarrassed to come to you in person. Just give the order and my servant will get well. I’m a man under orders; I also give orders. I tell one soldier, ‘Go,’ and he goes; another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
Taken aback, Jesus addressed the accompanying crowd: “I’ve yet to come across this kind of simple trust anywhere in Israel, the very people who are supposed to know about God and how he works.” When the messengers got back home, they found the servant up and well.
Not long after that, Jesus went to the village Nain. His disciples were with him, along with quite a large crowd. As they approached the village gate, they met a funeral procession—a woman’s only son was being carried out for burial. And the mother was a widow. When Jesus saw her, his heart broke. He said to her, “Don’t cry.” Then he went over and touched the coffin. The pallbearers stopped. He said, “Young man, I tell you: Get up.” The dead son sat up and began talking. Jesus presented him to his mother.
They all realized they were in a place of holy mystery, that God was at work among them. They were quietly worshipful—and then noisily grateful, calling out among themselves, “God is back, looking to the needs of his people!” The news of Jesus spread all through the country.