URC Daily Devotion: 11th January

St Matthew 8.5-13

When Jesus entered Capernaum, a Roman officer met him and begged for help: “Sir, my servant is sick in bed at home, unable to move and suffering terribly.”

“I will go and make him well,” Jesus said.

“Oh no, sir,” answered the officer. “I do not deserve to have you come into my house. Just give the order, and my servant will get well. I, too, am a man under the authority of superior officers, and I have soldiers under me. I order this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes; and I order that one, ‘Come!’ and he comes; and I order my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.”

When Jesus heard this, he was surprised and said to the people following him, “I tell you, I have never found anyone in Israel with faith like this. I assure you that many will come from the east and the west and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom of heaven. But those who should be in the Kingdom will be thrown out into the darkness, where they will cry and gnash their teeth.” Then Jesus said to the officer, “Go home, and what you believe will be done for you.”

And the officer’s servant was healed that very moment.

Reflection

Every day, in Christian churches of many denominations across the world, immediately before receiving Communion, a re-phrasing of the Roman officer’s humble words are spoken: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive You, but only say the word, and I shall be healed.”

This meeting of Jesus is told in both Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels (cf. Lk 7:1-10). Luke’s version adds that the Roman officer loved the Jewish people of Capernaum and had built their synagogue. This moment is unique in the Bible, speaking of the Romans in a positive way.

In both Gospel accounts, Jesus teaches about trust and faith. In order to function well and thrive, any relationship or organisation must be built on mutual trust. The Roman officer uses as an explanation of his faith the military life, trust in obedience from his superiors and of those under him. Have you ever done that team-building exercise, where you allow yourself to fall backwards and trust that your colleagues will catch you? Sadly, our life experiences, where we have been let down and hurt, mar our child-like trust in others – and this is often mirrored in our (dis-)trust in God and His Church.

Some groups in our society have been let down and hurt very badly by the Church: for example, LGBT – lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered. Why am I suddenly mentioning this group? The Greek word for the Roman officer’s “servant” is παῖς (pais) – which in contemporary literature is understood and translated as “male lover”. Clearly, the Roman officer had feelings for his ‘servant’: why else would he have crossed cultural boundaries to seek out Jesus?

In this encounter, Jesus did not reject the Roman officer nor his servant/lover. Jesus’ compassion and healing hand reached across the Roman-Jewish cultural divide and beyond the heteronormative.

As a church, the United Reformed Church has gone further than any in the UK in terms of removing the human-created divisions, but there are still literally millions of LGBT people who still feel the pain and hurt caused to them by the churches, instead of receiving the unconditional accepting love of Jesus.

Prayer

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours. Amen

St Teresa of Avila (1515–1582)

 

Today’s Writer

Walt Johnson is an Elder at Wilbraham St Ninian’s URC in Chorlton, South Manchester.

Bible Version

New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved

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