Bible: What you really believe, you will do
April 3 — Luke 7:1-10; April 10 — Luke 7:36-50
Faith is the main point of both of the stories: the healing of the Roman centurion’s slave and the forgiving of the woman who anoints Jesus’ feet. In both stories, faith is demonstrated by an unlikely person — an officer in the occupation forces and a woman “who was a sinner” — neither one high on most people’s lists of exemplars of faith.
The centurion is not a Jew, but he may have been a God-fearer, a term used for those who worshiped the same God as Jews but had not taken all the steps to become a proselyte, including circumcision.
He is on good terms with Jewish elders in Capernaum, whom he recruits to talk to Jesus on his behalf — and indeed they give him a good recommendation: “He is worthy of having you do this for him.” Then while Jesus is on the way to the house, the centurion sends yet more intermediaries to Jesus with a message: “I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.”
He is telling Jesus, “You don’t have to enter my house. Just speak the word from where you are so that my servant will be healed.” The centurion knows Jesus has the power to do so. He knows something about authority both in the military chain of command and in his household. So he applies this understanding of authority to Jesus, who gets his authority from God and has authority over the powers of sickness. The centurion’s faith is in Jesus’ authority to heal.
The woman who anoints Jesus’ feet is really quite outrageous in her behavior, in terms of the expected separation between unrelated men and women in the culture.
She has clearly planned ahead. She brings an expensive jar full of expensive perfume. She washes Jesus’ feet with her tears, dries them with her long hair, kisses them and anoints them with the perfume. But Jesus reframes these seemingly outrageous acts in terms of the hospitality a good host is expected to provide (and did not, in this case): water to wash one’s dusty feet, a towel to dry them, a kiss of greeting and oil for grooming one’s hair. Far from being outrageous, the woman is depicted by Jesus as a person showing extravagant hospitality because her sins have been forgiven. Her faith is defined by her grateful hospitality.
In these stories from the Gospel of Luke, faith means far more than believing certain doctrines or believing that a statement is true. In Greek, as in Hebrew, the word for “faith” can also be translated “faithfulness.” Faith is both inner and outer. It involves action as well as thinking and feeling. It is concerned with right practice as well as right doctrines.
Biblical faith does not separate knowing and doing. The faith we proclaim with our mouths must be expressed in our behavior.
How will we show our faith, using this larger definition?
Will we act in ways that express our trust that Jesus has the power to heal?
Will we live our lives under Jesus’ authority?
Will our faith encompass such gratefulness to God that we not only welcome God’s presence but show extravagant hospitality to others?
Will we be like the centurion and the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet in taking the risks of connecting with Jesus and his way?
Will we accept Jesus’ responses: “Not even in Israel have I found such faith” and “Your faith has saved you; go in peace”?
Lois Barrett is professor of theology and Anabaptist studies at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. She lives in Wichita, Kan.
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