Reading for Tuesday, March 13: Luke 7
This chapter has several key episodes: Jesus’ healing the centurion’s servant; raising a widow’s son; forgiving a sinful woman in the home of a Pharisee. But each of these episodes involves an “outsider” of sorts: a poor widow, a non-Hebrew centurion, a publicly recognized sinner — all of whom stand outside the “in crowd” of power players in Jewish life. Contrast this with Simon’s judgment of both Jesus and the sinful woman in his home. As we’ve mentioned several times, the Gospel of Luke is the Gospel for the underdog, the displaced, the outsider. In this Gospel, Jesus preaches an overt message of acceptance and forgiveness for these overlooked outcasts. The composite view is instructive: faith in Jesus (as demonstrated by the centurion) and humility of spirit (as demonstrated by the sinful woman) unleash the transformative power of the Kingdom of God (as experienced by the widow in Nain). Jesus ushers this Kingdom into reality, God’s domain come near: “God has visited his people!” (v16)
But all of this doesn’t look much like Messiah-ship, at least not to the people of Jesus’ day, particularly John the Baptist. Listen to the unmet expectation in John’s question: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (v19). John apparently struggled with all of this. Maybe he expected Jesus to come with guns blazing and trumpet blaring. Maybe John couldn’t understand why Jesus would traffic with such Gentile riffraff. Maybe he thought the Kingdom would have already come in fullness by now. Whatever the case, he sends disciples to ask Jesus about His identity. The response Jesus gives is consistent with the message He preached in Nazareth, recorded in Luke 4, quoting from Isaiah 61. Jesus tells John’s disciples to go back and tell the Baptizer what they’ve witnessed: “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them,” (v22). On the basis of these things, John should have his answer.
This chapter is a reminder that Jesus usually defies our expectations of Him. The militaristic expectations of Messiah in Jesus’ day were pervasive. But Jesus defies these expectations, preaching a Kingdom of love and mercy and obedience to God’s Word. Rather than heaping condemnation on these “outsiders”, Jesus warmly receives them and takes aim at the establishment that would improperly label God’s image-bearers as anything less than fully human. And in our own time, we struggle with our own expectations of Jesus — expecting our prayers to be answered a particular way, expecting Him to dislike the same people groups we disapprove of, expecting Him to move and work in ways that comply with my limited perspective and understanding. And yet, Jesus continues to defy those expectations, remaining God’s faithful Messiah and transforming my understanding of His true mission. The message of the Gospel is that you can’t put God in a box. (Literally. As we’ll see, they tried killing Him and putting Him in a tomb, to no avail.) All of this leads us to the point of humility where we ask, just as His tablemates in Luke 7 asked, “Who is this?” (v49).
This, as we’ll see, is the most important question of our lives.