Monday, November 30, 2015

The one who is forgiven much loves much... Simon the pharisee, the woman at Jesus feet and responding to God's revolution of grace(Luke 7:36-50): Close Encounters with God's Grace Revolution in Luke 7( Part 4)

 Over the month of November we’ve been working our way through a series of close encounters with God’s revolution of Grace. Four encounters with Jesus in Luke chapter 7 four encounters that push back the scope and dimensions of God’s grace. Four encounters that Looked at how Jesus ministered to different people. We’ve looked at three of those encounters so far…

The Gentile Centurion with the sick servant, who surprisedJesus with his faith, by affirming Jesus authority: authority to bring healing and wholeness even at a distance, simply by his word. 

The widow at Nain, were we saw Jesus authority in raising her dead son but the focus of the story was on the compassion of Jesus for the Widow. The compassion and love that Jesus has for people, and how it leads him to bring them to wholeness. John the Baptist and we saw Jesus minister to him and encourage him in the midst of his questioning and doubt. Revealing to John through his healing ministry that he Jesus was indeed the one John was expecting, but that Jesus understanding of that was different than John’s… we saw how Jesus was able to use healthy doubt to open us up to new fresh understandings and insights into the person and mission of God.

Today’s reading is the fourth of these encounters. In which two very different people encounter God’s grace in two very different ways as they encounter Jesus. Simon the Pharisee and the women who anoints Jesus feet… Coming at the end of this string of encounters  the narrative revolves around the on-going question of how do we respond to Jesus and in the way this episode finishes in such an open ended manner it invites us as well to respond to God’s revolution of grace. 

There is a bit of irony in the way this passage links to what has gone before. Jesus had just finished speaking about being criticised for being a friend of sinners, eating and drinking with them and right after that he accepts the invitation of a Pharisee to dinner.  The Pharisee may think himself righteous but as the story unfolds we see it is he that has acted in an unrighteous manner towards Jesus. He is the one in need of forgiveness and grace. The story also links back to the narrative of the widow at Nain that finishes with the crowd affirming that Jesus is a great prophet. The Pharisee may have invited Jesus to dinner to check out whether this is true and when he sees Jesus happy to be touched by the women he sees as a sinner he is convinced that Jesus is not… But at that very moment Jesus proves him wrong, by knowing what is in his host’s heart and in the heart of the women at his feet.  It also links back to the story of the gentile centurion because once again Jesus affirms the faith of someone who conventional wisdom would see as an outsider, it is the women and not Simon who is affirmed for her faith a faith that enables her to go in peace. It ties it all together.

The setting is a banquet at Simon’s house and for us to understand the action we need to understand a bit about hospitality in the Ancient near east. They were often meals in two part, food for the body and then food for the mind and soul as the guests and host would discuss important issues and topics of the day after the meal. People reclined at the table, they lay on couches with their feet away from the table to eat, this is how the women is able to be at Jesus feet, rather than under the table.  They were usually open events, doors to the houses would be open and people would be allowed to come in and stand round the wall to hear the conversation, but dared not intervene. And of course there were many rituals and expectations of a host in Jewish society which Jesus uses to show the different way that Simon and the women respond to Jesus.

I recently watched the marvel series ‘Jessica Jones’ and was interested how as the series unfolded we were introduced to the main characters back story, which explained her actions and behaviour. This episode at Simon’s house is like that, the woman appears with a back story. She has the reputation in the town of being a sinner. We are not told what that means; she could have been a prostitute or have had regular involvement with gentiles.  She wears this stigma of outsider and wrongdoer amongst the religious people. While as she has an alabaster jar of perfume we know that she is wealthy, she fits into Luke’s definition of the poor as she has no status or standing in her society. Prostitution was a last resort for women alone and without support, or she may have been sold into slavery as a child. We also know that she has had an encounter with Jesus beforehand. She has experienced God’s grace and mercy and it has changed her life.  Her faith in Jesus moves her to risk further social disgrace to literally gate crash the party and express her love and gratitude to Jesus.  

Simon is curious of Jesus; he invites him to come to a meal, probably to see what he is like. We are introduced to him as a Pharisee, and in Luke’s gospel the Pharisees and experts in the law have acted as Jesus main opponents. As a group their concern is in keeping the ritual law and separating themselves so they can remain pure. He knows the women’s reputation and the fact that Jesus lets her touch his feet in what could be interpreted in a provocative and almost sensual way, convinces him that Jesus is not a prophet. After the meal when it is time for discussion, Jesus uses the Pharisees name. He does not simply see him as part of the opposition party but as an individual and in the form of a parable and a rebuke graciously offers a chance for Simon to change.

Jesus invites Simon to judge the outcome of a parable. About two people who owe large amounts of money, the equivalent of several month wages and a year and half’s respectively. A debt neither is able to pay. The amazing thing in the parable is that the creditor does not resort to harsh measures to recoup it, baycorp is not called in, It’s not a classic gangster movie there is no threat of knee capping or even the first century equivalent, selling into slavery or tossing into debtors prison…rather the creditor forgives the debt. And Jesus asks Simon to judge who would love the creditor the most. The answer that simon gives of course is the one who was forgiven the greater amount. Jesus uses the metaphor of debt to talk about sin. It is a debt we cannot pay, and we must all rely on the benevolence of the creator to forgive us. Here is  God’s revolution of grace.  

In light of that answer Jesus now turns towards the women and invites Simon to see her for who she really is and what she has been doing… not as Simon suspected was this a continuation of her sinful past but an act of love and devotion to Jesus out of gratitude.  He contrasts her lavish display of love and devotion to Simon’s own lack of even the basics of social decencies. Simon hadn’t provided water to wash Jesus feet but the women hadn’t stopped wetting them with her tears. He hadn’t provided a towel to wipe them clean, yet she had let down her hair, a social no,no in Jewish society and wiped them clean. He had not provided a drop of common household olive oil to anoint Jesus head, but the women had anointed his feet with precious perfume, from an expensive alabaster jar. 

Then Jesus does something that astounds those present he proclaims the women’s sins forgiven. In the other three stories we’ve looked at there are miracles that point us to Jesus identity and what the crowd is picking up on is that in announcing her sins forgiven, Jesus is using a prerogative that the people would have known was reserved for God. Jesus then affirms her faith and sends her away in peace. 

It’s almost as if the curtain drops too soon on this story as we are left wondering about how Simon and the other guests will respond now to Jesus. Will they welcome the women back? Give her the peace that Jesus dismisses her with, will they accept her into her society again and give her a chance to live her new redeemed life. How now will Simon change his understanding of and   relationship to Jesus? The door of God’s revolution of grace has been opened for him… and us.

How do we experience God’s grace revolution in this story in our own lives today?
This encounter shows us two different ways people respond and react to those outside the faith. There is the Pharisee who sees only a sinner, who seeks to keep their purity by separating themselves from them. And Jesus revolution of grace that willingly is a friend of sinners and through their interaction brings grace and change and transformation. Jesus invites us in this passage to see people as individuals, not as representatives of a certain group or stereotypes and be willing to interact with them in a way that opens the door for grace. Just like in Jesus day many of the poor and those caught up in a life style we may think wrong really remain unseen. It was white ribbon day on Wednesday and one of the focuses of the day was to encourage people to look and to see, and not to turn a blind eye.

In his interaction with people Jesus never compromises his message or his behaviour he is always full of generosity and compassion and righteous, rather his loving presence opens the door of grace. I read a parable a while ago about Christians in a certain city who simply stopped interacting with non-Christians. They only dealt with Christian businesses and went to Christian schools. Eventually they walled themselves off from everyone. Ironically they were not missed and after several years people tore down the wall to see what was inside and found no life. Equally recently in the prayer course Pete Grieg told of going to Hong Kong to meet Jacqui Pullenger a women who lived in the most deprived and depraved slum in the city, full of drugs and sex and gang violence and crime, and Pete Grieg whose faith had grown cold said in seeing the love and compassion and life and transformation that was going on that his faith came alive.

Secondly, the woman at Jesus feet is used by Jesus as a kind of object lesson for Simon, and Luke presents her as an object lesson for us…as a great example of how to respond to Jesus. She has encountered God’s revolution of grace in Jesus Christ, she has had her sins forgiven and it is transforming her life. Her response to Jesus is love and worship. One of the words for worship in the Old Testament literally means to lean forwards and to kiss, if it were a royal figure it would be to humbly kiss their feet, her faith leads her to such devotion and Jesus invites her to go in peace because of that faith. Peace shalom again in Hebrew means wholeness a right set of relationships and in telling her to go in peace Jesus is saying her faith will lead her to live in that wholeness. In affirming her sins forgiven jesus is paving the way for her to be reconciled with the people of God. To a certain extend we are captive to how we cut up sections of the bible and it would be easy not to see the first three verses of chapter eight following on from this story. In that passage Luke tells us of three women who had come to faith in Jesus., one at least who came from a harsh background like the women in this passage. Unlike in this passage they are named. We see they to have responded to Jesus forgiveness with lavish love and they are actively involved in the ministry and mission of Jesus, they are the ones who show that leadership and love in service and financially supporting Jesus and the disciples.  These are exeples for us of how we are to respond extravagantly to the extravagant love we have received from Jesus.

Lastly there is the challenge of Simon the Pharisee in this passage… Simon represents the religious person in this parable. Simon may have thought himself a righteous person or at least just a little sinner, nothing too bad or evil… But Jesus shows him to have not even kept the requirement of a host in his own culture…How will he and how will we respond?  The challenge is for all of us to see ourselves as Jesus sees us with love and the open door of grace… and know it is only by his grace that our sins are forgiven and in respond to that in worship and praise in lavish love and in service and ministry and as in returning and showing God’s revolution of grace to those around us. 

So this morning hear afresh those wonderful grace filled love inspiring words from Jesus… your sins are forgiven… your faith has saved you go and live in peace. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

"Are You The One Or Should We Expect Someone Else?": Jesus Ministers to John the Baptist (luke 7:18-35)... Close Encounters With God's Grace Revolution (part 3)

I don’t know if you remember way back when you were a kid on the playground at lunch trying to decide what game you were going to play together… let play this… nah we did that last week, I don’t want to… hey what about this… no that’s too boring…yes there were favourites but it changed from day to day… and the bell could go without a decision being made or after a very unsatisfyingly small amount of time actually doing something fun. 

or if you remeber being teenagers and getting together to try and decide what you were going to do on a Friday Night or sunny Sunay afternoon. 

My son Isaac says that in his class at school they have a playlist of music that they are allowed to have when they are working by themselves. He says you never get music that everyone likes. He says he’s part of a small group in his class who likes old people’s music, and when he says that he doesn’t mean classical stuff or show tunes and crooners, he means stuff that isn’t in the current top forty, "you know dad," he says, "the kind of stuff that you listen to…" but the play list is diverse because the whole class never agrees which is the right music for them… 

This is the kind of thing that Jesus uses in the parable that he finishes his reflections on how people had responded to John and Jesus different styles of ministry  … that this generation was like a group of children who couldn’t choose which music they wanted to listen to, what kind of game to play. John was too austere and strict so they wrote him of as having a demon, Jesus would sit down and enjoy a meal with anyone so they wrote him off as a drunkard and glutton and a friend of sinners. But says Jesus wisdom will be proved true by all her children… those who are truly about God’s purposes despite their style will prove God right in what they do. 

This reflection on how people had responded to John and Jesus ministry comes at the end of the third of four encounters with Jesus that are recorded in Luke chapter 7.  Four close encounters with God’s revolution of grace. This long unit records John the Baptists encounter with Jesus. Again like the two previous encounters it is full of the miraculous; Jesus heals many people, but the focus in the narrative is on the person who captures Jesus attention. We saw the surprising faith ofthe gentile centurion, Jesus compassion for the widow at Nain and here we see Jesus minister to John the Baptist in his difficult situation, as he wrestles with who Jesus is… ‘are you the one or should we expect someone else?’  And like the previous encounters amidst this we are shown more of the character and identity of Jesus. 

This long passage is split into three sub sections. We see Jesus dealing with John’s enquires about Jesus then in verses 21-28 we have Jesus affirmation of John the Baptist’s ministry and finally in 29-35 we have a parable where Jesus explains why certain people had not responded to either John’s ministry or Jesus: Affirming that both proved the wisdom of God.

 This narrative is directly connected to what has gone before. We finished the passage last week with news of Jesus ministry and miracles going out to the whole region, and we start this week with John the Baptist’s disciples bringing them to him. After John had baptised Jesus we are told that he was arrested and imprisoned  
by Herod. John has some very definite ideas of what the messiah would do and be and he is concerned that just maybe Jesus isn’t the one he had thought he was. Maybe even the fact that John was still in prison played on his mind surely the messiah would topple the political systems of the day and establish Israel as a righteous nation again and he’d be sprung . So he sends two of his disciples to ask Jesus are you the one? In Jewish legal thinking you needed to have two witnesses to get a reliable account, you see the disciples acting in this manner when they repeat John’s question to Jesus word for word. Somethings haven’t changed in the summation of the judge in the cairns perjury trial he said you could judge a man guilty on one person’s testimony.

Rather than simply affirm that yes Jesus is the Messiah, with Jesus it’s not about making claims of status or position but rather that people see the compassionate things that God is doing. Jesus invites them to see and hear what he is doing. We get an account of Jesus preaching and the miracles that he performs, and having seen and heard Jesus sends them back to john to report what they have seen. The report is couched in terms that echo the prophecies in the book of Isaiah about the messianic age. They point to the fact that yes he is the messiah but his messiahship is different than John’s expectations. Jesus does not criticise John for his questioning rather he uses it to open John’s eyes more to the scope of Jesus identity and mission.  Jesus finishes his reply with beatitude ‘blessed is the one who does not stumble on account of me’… It’s not a rebuke but a gracious encouragement of trust in Jesus.

When John’s disciples have left, it tells us that Jesus addressed the crowd and he affirms John’s Ministry.  He asks the crowd why did they go out in the wilderness to see John, was it because of the scenery, the reeds waving in the wind or because John was such a flashy dresser, no they went because he was a prophet, someone who spoke God’s word… calling Israel back to God and to demonstrate that in  ethical living. Jesus affirms John as a prophet and goes beyond that to acknowledge that he is the one that the scriptures had said would prepare the way for God’s salvation, God’s messiah. John holds a special place in salvation history, he is the herald of a new era in what God is doing. Jesus affirms his greatness in human history and then affirms that the least in the kingdom of God is greater than John. In Jesus we have what john and all of the scriptures were looking forward towards.  The ultimate identity for us is in Christ.

Finally Jesus addresses the different ways that people would respond to John’s ministry and Jesus. Almost as an aside Luke tells us that the tax collectors and sinner had responded by seeing God’s word in John’s ministry and Jesus words. They had repented and been baptised, the kingdom of God was for these people as they acknowledged their spiritual poverty. The Pharisees and the experts in the law had rejected John so they rejected Jesus also.  And Jesus sums this generation up with a parable. The religious people of the day wouldn’t respond to the austerity of John or the joyful acceptance of Jesus because John and Jesus wouldn’t simply join in their religious games or dance to their tunes. They judged them because of the style of ministry they had and wrote them off, rather than hearing the word and wisdom of God. But despite these different approaches wisdom ,which in the proverbs eight is a feminine picture of God, would be justified by all her children, it wasn’t the style it was the transformed lives and the substance of their ministry that counted. 

Well how do we encounter God’s grace revolution in this narrative today? And this wonderful cartoon that was shared on facebook from St Columba’s in Taradale this week sums up the challenge of taking a biblical text and applying it to our context today.

Firstly, Jesus summary of people’s response to John and Jesus ministry speaks to us as the church today. We can be divided and caught up with style of ministry… the chandelier swinging, hand clapping, tongue speaking, and loud music pumping Pentecostals right through to the high church chanting, rigid liturgy mumbling, hymn singing traditionalists. The happy Smiling even before their first cup of coffee hallelujah brother-ers and the deep dourer sincere and I wonder if they’ve been sucking lemon devout. We can get caught up in the style of ministry and forget that the proof of God’s wisdom is in the substance of   The things for us are to be open to what God wants to do and be steadfast about the purposes of God.
ministry, is in transformed lives and healing and wholeness in Jesus Christ. Darryl Bock reflecting on his own journey to faith and that of a college friend of his, said that their journeys to faith were totally different and they had responded to different ministries. Bock had become a Christian after five years of quite bible study orientated evangelism which suited his personality, while his friend had responded at a big evangelists rally, the first time he heard the gospel.

The second thing, and what spoke to me in this passage was how Jesus dealt with John’s questioning, his doubt, or as a Korean pastor in a small bible study I have on Monday nights put it in explaining a Korean word to me his down hearted moment. Jesus does not meet his expectations of what the messiah should do… Do you have times when Jesus does not meet your expectations?
I found it heartening and encouraging knowing that such a great man of faith as John the Baptist could wrestle with discouragement and doubt. John’s ministry had led him to prison, it wasn’t all success and joy, and could he have also been wrong about Jesus? One of the great things about the scripture is that they are very honest and open about such things. The Psalms are full of the most heartfelt doubts about God… where are you God, have you gone home and put your feet up in front and dozed off in front of the TV?
Jesus is very accepting of John’s honest questioning; the difference between unhealthy doubt and healthy doubt is that we are open to God’s answer. Jesus invites John’s disciples to be with him and to see what he is doing. We see Jesus willing to show them and open their eyes to a new understanding of who Jesus is. 

I get discouraged sometimes and in those times I find that I’m often drawn to accounts or encounters with people who will share their stories with me of God’s grace and goodness, of transformation and new life.  I’m not ashamed to say they bring me to tears of joy as I see what god is doing. Sometimes it’s just little things, in our prayer course group we’ve seen some answers to prayer, a house sell that had been on the market for over a year, a friend of a person in the group whose relationship is rocky asking the group member were you praying for us because we had the best of days yesterday all the tension was gone…not a total fix but a glimpse and possibilities of God presence and healing. In the face of terror and fear, reading stories of Middle Eastern Christians helping in refugee camps, of people still willing to open doors and homes to refugees despite the best efforts of ISIS to make us afraid. 

It’s also encouraging to know that Jesus actually understands our work for him. He affirms us for what we do for him. He affirms John the Baptist in a profound way. In New Zealand this week we’ve had time to stop and reflect on the life of a great All Black Jonah Lomu, and the stories of his character and exploits have been wonderful…he’s a very public figure, and people have lauded him as a humble giant, willing to spend time with anyone, to help and to care as well as being an awesome rugby player. Jesus sees who we are and acknowledges and affirms us. And while we may wish for success and status and accolades from people around us, there is also the affirmation that the greatest identity and affirmation we can have is that we are in Christ, we are citizens of the Kingdom of God, that God raises up the little ones and we have been adopted into the family of the most high.
The last piece of encouragement is the affirmation that people actually responded to Jesus and John by both coming to God and also by rejecting them and totally getting them wrong. But in the end Wisdom is proved right by all her children… The encouragement is not to simply play religious games or dance to the tune of this generation but to be about the purposes of God.    

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Widow at Nain.. Jesus Compassion Brings Life In The Face Of Death (Luke 7:11-17)... Close Encounters with God's Grace Revolution: four encounters with Jesus in Luke 7 (part 4)

Ok let’s get it out into the open.. Our western twenty first century minds really struggle with the miracle in the narrative of Jesus encounter with the widow from Nain … right! I’ll be straight up it was the first question that came to my mind. Is this real…I wanted to understand it scientifically. It goes beyond my understanding and worldview. 

Maybe I wanted to be saved by the bell … which is a saying that comes from times when medical science wasn’t so great and people used to be buried alive and wake up in their coffins and would ring a bell that was placed in them to signal that they were alive. Was he really dead,  And if that was the case how did Jesus know? And we still have to deal with Jesus healing someone that was so close to death with simply his word. ‘ Young man I say to you get up!’

I wanted to suggest that Luke had simply used this story about Jesus because it fitted into stories about Elijah and Elisha from the Old Testament, it was a literary way of saying if anyone could raise someone from the dead it would be Jesus.  I mean Luke even calls Jesus ‘the Lord’ which seems out of step with the rest of the gospel, and this miracle story is only mentioned in Luke’s gospel.

I’m being honest, and I find myself standing with the people who Luke tells us saw this miracle. In the narrative they can’t deny what they have seen, and their conclusion helps us put it into perspective as well. ‘a Great prophet has appeared amongst us… ‘God has come to help his people’. They can’t explain it but in this event they recognise the presence and rescue and power and grace of God. Something they had as a people been longing and waiting for they realise that there is something unique and special about Jesus.

We are working our way through four encounters with Jesus and God’s revolution of grace in Luke chapter 7. Each one showing us more of the scope of Jesus ministry and points us more and more to his identity. Last week we looked at the healing of the Roman Centurion’s servant and the Centurion’s  surprising faith in Jesus authority.  This week Luke’s focus is Jesus compassion, a compassion that leads to life in the face of death: A compassion that reconciles a widow to her son and to her community. That invites us to see more and more what Jesus is like and to ponder who Jesus is.  

This narrative is connected to the previous one temporally and geographically it happened soon after and in another town called Nain… one that was a ways outside Capernaum. Jesus is accompanied by his disciples and a large crowd. One of the later conditions for being an apostle was that they needed to be with Jesus and here they, and the crowd, act as witnesses to what Jesus is going to do. Maybe it’s one of the disciples who tell Luke this incident and so we have the phrase ‘the Lord’ this is one of the things that spoke home for that disciple with Jesus, of who Jesus is. 

Just like with the healing of the roman centurion the focus is not on the person being healed, or the miracle,  but on the person who is the centre of Jesus attention.  In the previous narrative it was the roman centurion and in this passage it is the widow from Nain. In the previous encounter Jesus was surprised by the man’s faith and in this encounter Jesus is moved by the widow’s plight, he has compassion for her. 

In the previous encounter, the roman centurion was a man full of power and prestige and status, even though he was a gentile. In this case the widow’s world has turned upside down. She has no status she is the most vulnerable in her society. 

Firstly she is a woman, in her time a women’s place in society and their welfare was usually dependant on the men in her family. 

 By the way Luke actually presents Jesus as ministering equally to men and to women,  when you read through his gospel narratives of encounters with Jesus they often come in twos, they alternate between male and female. You have Mary’s song and Zechariah’s song in the birth narrative, Simeon and Anna in the temple when Jesus is presented as a child. Jesus public ministry in Capernaum starts with the healing of the man with the withered hand and then Simon’s mother in law. We go on from the pairing we are looking at and we have john the Baptist and the woman who washes Jesus feet. The healing of a demonised man after the transfiguration in Luke 8, is paired with the raising of a dead girl and the healing of a sick woman. The parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coins. It almost has the feel of the New Zealand Green Party policy on leadership. It shows Jesus equal ministry and provision of good news to men and  women. One of the early cricisms of Christianity was that it was a religion fit only for slaves and women and Luke's response might well have been... 'Your point is'... It is a revolution of God's grace not a keeping of the first century status quo.

Secondly she is a widow she does not have a husband to provide for her and now her only son, her only child has died.  This is way before the welfare state and she will have to depend on the charity of others to simply survive. The Old Testament law was full of laws to make sure that happened and exhortations for the Jewish society to care for these people. In this story however, she is seen as central and given honour, instead of being defined by her relationship to men, they are defined in terms of her, her husband, her son, the people at the funeral are with her. She is seen by Jesus and he has compassion on her. She encounters Good News and is restored to her son and to her community. 

In this Narrative we see Jesus Compassion. When we had the narrative of the roman centurion the emphasis was on Jesus authority, even if it was compassionately shown to a gentile. But here the focus is on Jesus compassion. He saw the women, and understood her plight. His compassion moves him to take action. He moves to comfort the widow, he says don’t cry. He puts himself into the situation. It tells us he reached out and touched the funeral bier. First century funerals took place as soon after the death as possible: Usually on the same day. In the Middle East without refrigeration you could imagine it was a health necessity. The body was placed on a plank, a bier and carried out to the family plot outside the town. By touching the funeral bier Jesus is again crossing a religious line, he is risking becoming ritually unclean by touching a dead body. His compassion causes him to speak, and for what is an amazing miracle they seem to be so ordinary words… ‘Young Man, I say to you get up!’ But he speaks God’s power and authority into the situation.  If Jesus could heal the servant with a command in the previous narrative here Jesus authority speaks and the dead are resuscitated. Lastly Jesus compassion is shown by the fact that Jesus gives the son back to his mother. His focus is not on the amazing thing that has just happened but this widow and her consolation.

The story finishes with the peoples reaction to what they have seen. As a Jewish audience their thinking, their understanding and their hopes are formed and shaped by the Old Testament scriptures. Their hope for liberation and freedom and justice is based on God sending a prophet like Moses. Their understanding of what that would look like and mean is shaped by the stories of Elijah and Elisha in the book of first and second kings, both of which contain a narrative very similar to Jesus raising the widow’s son.  They have a worldview shaped by a belief and trust in God. So they acknowledge that a great prophet has come into their midst. While for Luke they don’t have the whole picture they are beginning to recognise something special and important and unique about Jesus. They say ‘God has come to help his people’ they see the hand of God at work. Like us there is no natural explanation for what they have seen it can only be understood in terms of the divine. But these words are more than just an acknowledgement of God’s presence in this one case. Again with eyes that see through the lens of Israel’s history they express the hope that just like in the time of the exodus that God has come to help his people, it is an expression of their messianic hope. AS we’ll see next week it leads to disciples of John the Baptist coming to ask Jesus if he is the one that we should be expecting. Is this the long awaited messiah, the saviour that God would send to establish his kingdom? 

Ok how does this encounter with God’s Grace Revolution speak to us today? 

The first thing that came to mind was that Jesus presents us a prophetic picture of the need for authority and compassion to go hand in hand. I don’t know about you but last week I was left with some unease of thinking of Jesus authority in military terms as the centurion did and here Luke dispels any possibility that that is case.  It shows us the loving merciful heart of God and it speaks to those who have authority and power in this world… Authority without compassion is at the least dangerous and cold to the plight of the poor at the worst it is  tyrannical and destructive. If Jesus is a great prophet in our midst his example is exceptional love and grace and justice for the poor and hungry those who mourn and the oppressed. We saw the attacks on Paris yesterday an example of no compassion and authority.
Secondly, I don’t know about you but I find it hard to know how to act when I feel compassion, maybe part of the cause of that in our media soaked environment is that we suffer from compassion fatigue. We are confronted with this disaster, this need, this tragedy a new one everyday a new one every news cycle and while our hearts are moved we are distanced from them and the ability to react, or underwhelmed because the images are not as stark or the story as compelling,  or simply overwhelmed by the share magnitude.  But Jesus gives us an example of what to do of being moved by compassion. There is an empathy which prompts action… He is moved to give comfort, ‘do not cry’. But it’s not like the professional mourners who would have accompanied the widow and this funeral procession helping to give voice to the widow’s grief and the communities’ sorrow He moves to get involved, he places his hand on the funeral brier. It is not the socially accepted thing to do, but it is a willingness to get involved in the situation… He brings God’s presence into the situation and with that the very real possibility of transformation and healing and new life. I’m not saying we should make a habit of interrupting funerals and praying for the deceased to get up.  I’ve heard some very amazing and challenging and creditable stories of people praying for the dead and seeing miracles… But acting on our compassion opens the doors for the authority of God; our compassion opens the door for God’s presence to speak and to move. I wonder what amazing things we will see when our exceptional God is present in situations because of our exceptional love in response to God’s grace. 

Finally, one of the commentators I read talked of writing on this passage in the week he was attending the funeral for his old university professor and mentor, and at the same time as his church was praying for a family in their midst whose six year old was dying of leukaemia. It caused him to wrestle with this passage. Because it’s part of life that humans die. The widow’s son would have eventually died again. We face sorrow and grief.  But this miracle gives us a glimpse that death itself is able to be overcome in Christ.  We see the restoration with loved ones in Christ. We see the truth that even though for us it seem impossible, and death remains that final barrier that God is able to overcome it. It points us to the resurrection and our Christian hope in new and eternal life in Christ. AS Paul would tell the Christians in Corinth who wrestled like we do to understand this ‘death where is your victory, where is your sting, death has been swallowed up in victory.” The hope of God’s grace revolution is shown in the fact that in Jesus Christ ‘God has come to help his people.’