Pentecost 2 – St. Luke 7:1-10
Who is worthy?
That is the question put forward in our Gospel text; who is worthy to have Jesus come and help them?
Are you worthy? Are you worthy to have Jesus come and heal your sickness? Are you worthy to have Him come and comfort you in your sorrow? Are you worthy to have Jesus come and aid you with whatever challenges or obstacles lie before you?
But first we must ask, what is your case to defend your worthiness?
Are you worthy because of your position in the community? How many service organizations do you belong to? How many offices do you hold? How many events do you attend, and how much do you give to those in need? Does not Jesus owe you this one favor for all you do for others?
Or perhaps your worth is determined by your service to the nation. On this weekend where we remember those who have served in the armed forces, and who have died, we recognize that there is a special place in the memory of the nation for them. Perhaps your worth is determined based on the fact that you too have served, and you too receive our thanks for that service. Should not Jesus also show His appreciation by helping you in your hour of need?
But worth can also be determined based on family. To be the oldest child still bears some weight upon one’s shoulders. Or perhaps you are the one who lives closest to aging parents; surely you are worthy based on all you do in your family position. Should not Jesus lend you a hand when you need some assistance?
Or what about the church? Are you not worthy because of what you do for the church? You give regularly; you serve whenever called upon; you attend every Bible study and service. Does not Jesus hold a special place in His heart for those who make sure His Church on earth is able to function smoothly?
That is definitely the line of thinking of the elders of the Jews in our Gospel text – the centurion is worthy to have Jesus come and heal his servant. The centurion has done much for the community – he built the synagogue; he loves the nation of Israel; and perhaps most importantly – he is a Jewish convert; he has forsaken his Gentile ways and made himself one with the people of Israel. Surely this man is worthy; surely Jesus should come and help him.
But do you see the hold up with each of these?
They are all limited by time and circumstance.
The centurion may be worthy today to have Jesus come, but what about when the memory of the building of the synagogue fades? What about when he does things that do not reflect so great a love for the nation? What about when his faith stumbles?
Such is the case for each of us; worth is always a here and now question, not a past and future question. You may do great things today, but what about tomorrow? Will you still be able to do great things? Will the nation, or the community, or the family, or the church still find you worthy of Jesus in a year, when the memory of what you have done is but a distant memory?
The elders of the Jews plead to Jesus today, but how many will plead tomorrow? Or the next day?
God never forgets, but how do you stand before the throne of grace and point to things you did as a child as reason to be saved, when your adult life was much different? How long does your worthiness before God last, before you need to be concerned once more?
Therein lies the problem; your earthly works can never earn you a position before God. Your works before God are indeed filthy rags, and as you confess each and every Lord’s day, you are a poor, miserable sinner, unworthy of the gifts that God offers to you.
The elders of the Jews, your friends and neighbors, you yourself can all stand back and testify about your worthiness, but in the end, you are still a sinner, you have still fallen short of God’s glory; you are still not worthy.
Like the centurion in the text, you can only say I am not worthy to have you Jesus come under my roof.
But the centurion continues to plead his case.
The person in need here after all is not the centurion, but it is the servant who is in need of healing.
Whereas the Jews saw the centurion as an irreplaceable member of the community, one who they could not live without, the servant is a much different story. This servant could easily be replaced; another could be trained up to fill the role and duties that this one had once filled. Servants were everywhere; centurions who were Jewish converts were not. The Jews deemed the centurion worthy because of what he could do; the servant had no such standing.
And yet it is the centurion pleading his case; asking that the servant be healed. For the centurion looks at this servant not as property, but as a valued member of the community; a faithful member of his household; a human being who is in need of assistance.
There is no worthiness in this servant; there is only the love his master has for him. And it is out of that love, that the centurion is willing to seek out Jesus and beg Him to come and heal his loyal servant.
Such is the case when we examine ourselves, the world may indeed think we are worthy based on what we have done in our lives, or what potential we may indeed have for the future; but standing before the throne of God, standing in His glory and majesty, the truth comes out, we are sick, dying in fact, and there is no merit or worthiness in us to warrant our healing and salvation.
And yet He does it anyway.
We are healed, the sickness of sin is removed and the promise of eternal life is extended; not because we are worthy, but because we are loved.
God the Father loves us; and so He sent His son into the world to suffer and die for us; so that we might have forgiveness, life and salvation.
There is no worthiness in any of us that would warrant such an action. Like the servant, we are easily replaced, easily tossed aside in favor of a billion more just like us. But it is not just the lowly servant who is not worthy, it is also the centurion, it is also the elders of the Jews, it is also the disciples, it is also anyone else who was present that day; it is also you and I. None of us are worthy of anything that we have received.
And yet, it is not based on our own merit or worthiness that we are saved; it is not based on any outward actions or responses that we might have. It is not even based on what we did in the past or what we might do in the future.
Like the centurion, we simply acknowledge our unworthiness and believe that Jesus can heal us, make us whole, redeem us.
And He does. Jesus comes to us, Jesus redeems us, Jesus saves us, because He loves us. He loves us, and so He was willing to suffer and die and rise for us.
That is what makes us worthy – that Jesus came into the world and redeemed us, not with gold or silver, but with His holy and precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.
Who is worthy of such an action? No one; expect for you, who believe and are baptized are made worthy by the blood of Jesus.