18 minutes | Apr 8, 2020

Chapter 9: (Part B) More Hope for a Shame-Filled Judger

If on your journey, you are stuck because you think you don’t deserve anything from God, you are going to love the next story in Luke 7:1-10.The story starts off with Jesus entering Capernaum, a town in Galilee. The Jews in this area were not as strict as those around Jerusalem, because of geography and a lot of complicated history. A centurion, who had been stationed in this “more liberal” region to keep order, sent some elders of the Jews to ask Jesus to heal his servant. When these elders saw Jesus, they begged him to heal the servant. They said, “this man deserves to have you do this because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue”. (Luke 7:4-5 NIV)Let’s take a minute to contemplate how crazy this scene was. Centurions were leaders of groups of a hundred or more soldiers. They got their position by proving themselves in battle. As experienced warriors, they led groups of soldiers and always took a position on the front line. These were tough dudes who had done some serious killing and torturing of people. They were respected and wealthy in the Roman world. This centurion used his power and wealth to show favor to the Jews. He even helped them build their synagogue. This was enough for the Jewish leaders to overlook the normal disdain for soldiers. They believed the centurion deserved help from Jesus.The centurion, on the other hand, saw things very differently. When Jesus was on the way to his house, the centurion sent word to Jesus,“Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” (Luke 7:7-8 NIV)The centurion basically said, “I’m not worthy to have you in my home. I understand how authority works, you can just say the word and my servant will be healed”.Jesus responded to the centurion’s request by telling the crowd that he had not found such great faith in all of Israel.Wait! What? How did the centurion show the greatest faith Jesus had seen in all of Israel?I mean, uhm Jesus? You know the disciples have been walking around soaking in your teaching for quite a while there. Remember, John the Baptist, he’s in prison because of you. Tons of people have been coming to you for healing and a lot of these guys memorized the whole first five books of the Bible. Those Pharisees, they devoted their whole lives to just sitting around reading the scriptures and talking about them. This centurion dude, he’s not even a Jew. How does he have greater faith than any you’ve seen?Ironically, as a kid I got in trouble for asking too many questions about this story. It honestly didn’t seem like the centurion was any different than anyone else. I mean we barely know anything about him. How’d he show great faith? Several poor frustrated teachers told me I just needed to accept the story and “have faith”.I always wanted to scream, “I’m trying to have faith, but y’all can’t tell me what it is.” Their frustration with my many questions led me to believe “having faith” meant “quit asking questions”. Which may work for some people, but I’ve never been able to shut down that part of my brain.Turns out, Jesus never told us to just “shut up and drink the Kool-Aid.” He’s OK with ALL of our exhausting questions. Faith isn’t about not thinking; it’s about knowing the answers are good and worth finding.In the case of the centurion, the answer I found was exactly what Greg and I needed to know when we were struggling with feeling unworthy.Consider how the centurion’s attitude directly contrasts what the Jewish elders said. They said, “He deserves to have you do this because he helped build our synagogue.” The centurion who was a wealthy, generous, powerful leader, said, “I’m not worthy to have you in my home. I understand how power works. If you choose to, you can heal my servant with just a command”.The attitudes of the religious leaders and the attitude of the centurion couldn’t be more different. The leaders were proud and trying to impress. The powerful military commander humbly asked for mercy for a servant.Great faith is understanding Jesus’ power, realizing we don’t deserve anything from him, yet trusting enough to ask anyway. Jesus’ definition of “great faith” as modeled by the centurion might be why survivors seem to have an insider’s advantage when it comes to knowing God. When we have hit rock bottom, it’s a lot easier to see we don’t have anything to offer God. Following Jesus isn’t a religion based on earning our way “in” by impressing him. It’s a relationship built on knowing our need.In those moments, when we realize we don’t deserve anything from Jesus, we are almost there. When we are facing the pain in our world, when someone close to us is suffering, we can find hope when we call out to Jesus like the centurion did. Great faith is saying, “Jesus, I don’t deserve anything from you, but I know you have authority over this situation and you care more than I do.”When we humbly realize we don’t deserve anything from Jesus, somehow our eyes are opened to God’s great work in this world. When we know how much we don’t deserve God’s love and acceptance, we are suddenly freed to live in it. We no longer live in the trap of focusing on our own unworthiness. We are fully aware of our unworthiness and our acceptance anyway.I believe this awareness of our unworthiness and how much God adores us is at the heart of Jesus’ message. My journey to fully embrace this message has felt like a lifelong wrestling match with fear, pride, shame, doubt, tradition, and stubbornness. As the following story from my religious past illustrates:I walked up to the pulpit nervously. “Was I really going to do this? I couldn’t believe I was sharing my story in front of all these people. The small group of young people gathered that evening felt like a stadium to me because I was about to bare my soul to them. It was too much. I hated public speaking in the first place. I got nervous just responding to roll calls in class, how could I stand up and share my story? What if they rejected me?”I took a deep breath. I looked down at my notes. They just looked like blurs. I was about to hyperventilate. I was going to pass out. At least it would get me out of this. I looked around the room in sheer and utter terror. All these faces ready to reject me like I had been rejected so many times before. Passing out would be a relief.Then I looked beside me. There was Jesus. Smiling in approval. Reminding me how he had not only forgiven me but fully accepted me. Reminding me how loved I am. Telling me God the creator of all the universe was looking at me in this moment as a doting Father proud of his little girl who had just come home. Proud that I was going to tell everyone what a mess I had been but he loved me anyway.So, I did it! I like to believe it was an eloquent call to follow Jesus and know the Father’s love, but it was probably a bumbling bunch of over-sharing. Still, I shared my story. I told this daunting group of church people not only about ways I’d been victimized but also, about ways I had hurt people. I told them how God freely forgave me and gave me new hope and joy. I was excited about my life, my ministry, my upcoming marriage, and my education career as I approached them all with Jesus by my side. I finished my speech took a deep breath and felt Jesus giving me an approving hug. We did it! I felt total joy in that moment.But it was just for a moment. Someone interrupted us. The youth pastor rushed to the podium and nudged me to the side. I looked away from Jesus and began to listen to this pastor as I crept off of the stage.I had been a fool. I had been suffering from a delusion. Jesus wasn’t there. He didn’t accept me. This pastor pointed out the fallacy of my crazy beliefs. God is clearly a God of justice and I clearly needed to be punished for my mistakes. I couldn’t just commit all of those sins and have joy. How could that even be possible? The way to please God was through strict adherence to the moral code of the Bible. I was so sure that I had been with Jesus, but as I sat under this cloud of shame, I couldn’t find him anywhere.The pastor looked at me and passed his final condemning judgement on me. “Cindy will never have the kind of marriage she could have had because of the mistakes she has made.”How could I have ever thought God accepted me? What was wrong with me? I didn’t even deserve this pastor’s acceptance. I was misleading all of these young people by flippantly sharing about my past as if it didn’t even affect me anymore. I needed to be remorseful and sullen. I needed to constantly feel guilty for my mistakes. I didn’t deserve joy.Of course, I didn’t literally see Jesus visibly standing beside me or giving me a hug, but I felt his love and acceptance. Unfortunately, I also allowed judgmental church people to keep me from embracing his very real presence in my life.Accepting Jesus’ love after so much shame has been a long journey for me. This morning, I thought about my journey as I read Luke 7: 11-16. This time, something jumped out at me. In six short verses, Luke recounts the story of Jesus raising a young man from the dead. It drives me crazy that Luke only wrote six verses. If I’d been there, I’d have written a book about the boy, his mom, how he died, what her life would have been like without him, what Jesus was wearing, everything he said and a million other details. Because Luke only included the bare bones of this story, we know each detail he included is significant.Then he went up and touched the bier they were car
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