Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Why do good things happen to people?

Today we head back to the daily lectionary (which can be found here: http://gamc.pcusa.org/devotion/daily/2010/10/5/ )
In today's passage from Luke 7 we have two stories of Jesus performing miraculous healings.  
In the rarefied context of Jesus' life that really isn't that unusual, right?  I mean healing people and rising the dead and preaching healing and wholeness - a new way of life and of living is pretty much   just what Jesus does and who Jesus is.
So the healings, per se, are not what I want us to think about and focus on.  Rather I want us to think about and look at why Jesus healed the two people he did in this text, because I think it is central to understanding our relationship to God and our role in the good things that happen to us in life.
The first healing is of a centurion's'highly valued' slave.  In the text we get the story that this centurion asks some of the local Jewish leaders to go to Jesus to see if he will come and help the slave.  The Jews that come to Jesus implore him to help the centurion, talking about his treatment of their people, the fact that he built the local synagogue, and they focus on his 'worthiness'.  
This sounds like a pretty compelling case to you and I - but it isn't what mattered to Jesus.  Jesus agrees to go see the centurion and his slave, but makes no promises.  When they are a little way's off, the centurion comes out to meet them and talks to Jesus - saying that he believes that all that Jesus has to do is say the word and the slave will be healed (with a neat comparison to the authority that he wields).  
At this Jesus commends the centurion and lifts him up to all of those around as an example of great faith.  And it is this faith that is the reason Jesus gives for the healing of the centurions slave.  Faith, in fact, is a fairly common reason that Jesus states for healing and other miracles.
As they are leaving the centurion's home and headed into another city they pass a funeral possession - the funeral of an only child, the son of a widow.  This is obviously a tragic situation, but in that socio-economic structure it is particularly devastating to the mother because not only is she now alone in the world, dealing with great loss, she has no means or ability to care for herself.
Luke says that at seeing this seen, Jesus 'had compassion' on her and tells her not to weep, stops the funeral procession, places his hand on the coffin and raises the child back to life, and then 'gives him back to his mother'.
I think that in these two stories we have the basis for understanding all of the miraculous work Jesus did as he walked on this earth and I think it gives us insight into how God's Holy Spirit works in and through our lives today.
It all starts with God's compassion.  God sees the situation and feels for - identifies with - those that are suffering, grieving, and in pain.  It isn't about what we have done or not done.  It isn't about if what happened was 'fair' or not.  And it isn't about if we are 'getting what we deserve' or if we have 'earned' the help we are asking for and only God can give.  It begins with - and is only possible because of - God's compassion for us.
But there is a part we have to play.  There is a way that we can open our lives up to the compassion and the miraculous work of God.  The way forward for us is demonstrated in the centurion - we are to have faith.
Faith. literally trusting in that which we can't see or empirically prove.  The way to open our lives to the work of the Holy Spirit, the way to make room in our times of need and in the desperate situations in our lives for God's miraculous power is simply to - even and especially in the most dire and difficult times - trust in God.
We are called not to earn God's love or God's intervention in our lives, but to have the faith and trust that God loves us and desires to care for us.  We are called to believe that God loves us enough to want to be there for us, to help us in our difficulty and to comfort us in our sorrow.
It doesn't seem like much - it doesn't really even require us 'doing' anything, but that is the point.  We can't do it, it is beyond us and the simple fact of acknowledging that, and giving up our attempts at control to trust in God has the power to transform our entire lives.  
Trusting in God, really having faith in God creates room for God to work in us and through us in miraculous - and in - ordinary ways.  

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