Luke’s gospel is a curious story of healing. There is the
obvious theme of authority, but also more subtle themes of suffering and
responsibility. It is curious in that the one healed is not the one
asking to be healed. Actually the one healed, the slave, seemingly
plays a very minor role in the story – a passive role. An interesting
question is who is suffering in the story?
The fact that the centurion asks for healing for his “valuable” slave reflects
not only the status of both, but also a level of expectation and responsibility.
The slave would not ask, because the slave has no rights and no expectation
that his request would be heard, much less honored. The centurion because
of his status in society has certain expectations and responsibilities.
In the eyes of the centurion the value of the slave goes only so far as his
value to the master. There does not appear to be any intrinsic value
to the slave. (We don’t even know if the slave is a man, woman, or
Presumably if the slave is sick and dying he is suffering. The centurion
is suffering to the extent that he may loose a valuable asset.
According to Jewish tradition and Hebrew scripture, Yahweh’s covenant
with Israel manifests itself in blessings for the good and faithful,
and curses for those not faithful to Yahweh. Very simply put – those
not living favored lives must be cursed for some transgression(s) known or
not known, while those living favored lives are obviously favored by Yahweh.
Favors and curses occur in the present as the Israelites did not believe
in an afterlife. Yahweh’s apparent favor was witnessed by all and apparent
disregard was also witnessed.
The centurion did not recognize any flaw in his character which demanded
the loss of his valued slave. He “sent elders of the Jews” to Jesus saying,
“he deserves to have you do this because…..” of all the good things he has
contributed. There is no reference to the slave’s worthiness
to be healed. It is solely dependent upon the worth of the centurion
himself. It is when the centurion admits his own unworthiness but faith
in Jesus that Jesus heals the slave. We have no way of knowing if Jesus would
have healed the slave without the centurion’s conversion.
The goodnews for Jesus’s immediate audience was the notion of faith versus
status. It is faith that sustains not status. For us today, the question
of suffering is very real. Why do I experience personal tragedy and
suffering? Why do nations suffer? Why do the poor and outcast
of the world suffer exponentially? Why do children all over the world
suffering outrageously? What responsibility do I have for the weak, powerless,
those without names or voices? Where is my responsibility in my community?
And when I pray, what do I expect? Do I expect a loving, healing, personal
God to listen heal and fix everything? Do I expect a loving, healing,
personal God to listen, be with and to sustain me through the crisis?
Am I praying alone? Am I part of the Body of Christ, possibly the unaware
beneficiary of the prayers and pleas from around the world?” When am
I the centurion and when am I the slave?
Today’s goodnews: “What did I ever do to deserve this?”
“What did I ever do to deserve this!”