Friday, February 21, 2014

Luke 7: Ministry to the Poor


Luke 7:1-17 After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, "He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue." And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, "Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come,' and he comes; and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it." When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith." And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well. 

Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, "Do not weep."  Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, "Young man, I say to you, arise."  And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus  gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, "A great prophet has arisen among us!" and "God has visited his people!" And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.

Luke 7:36-50 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner." And Jesus answering said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." And he answered, "Say it, Teacher." "A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?"  Simon answered, "The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt." And he said to him, "You have judged rightly."  Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little."  And he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven."  Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, "Who is this, who even forgives sins?" And he said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace." 

In this chapter (Luke 7), we see Jesus ministering to three categories of poor people: the slave (Greek: doulos), the widow, and the prostitute. These people are generally poor and needy. Luke has a special interest in the poor, for his version of the first Beatitude says, "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God" (Luke 6:20). Contrast this to Matthew's more spiritualised version of the first Beatitude: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3). Luke's version points to the materially poor whereas Matthew focuses on the spiritually poor. To make sure we understand he is referring to the materially poor and rich, he adds an anti-Beatitude which says, "Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation" (Luke 6:24).

Luke's interest in the poor and marginalized is also the Lord's interest. His words of denunciation is often directed towards the religious and the rich for self-sufficient and self-righteous attitude. Recent event here involving one ultra-rich individual illustrates this tendency of the rich to show contemptuous attitude towards the "poor" in Singapore. Of course, the "poor" (the less rich) in Singapore were indignant. But both display the same self-righteous attitude of the rich. (In which countries do you find "poor" people in trains where almost every passenger possesses a smartphone or tablet device in hand?) 

The real poor in contrast are those who have very little of this world: the slaves have no freedom except to serve their masters 24x7 without pay; the widows are living with anxiety because they are financially dependent and emotionally vulnerable; the prostitutes suffer from societal rejection even as they are used and abused by the rich for their own pleasure. Yet, Jesus focuses his ministry on such marginalized people because he has compassion on them. In fact, Jesus will one day judge us on the basis of how we treat the poor and marginalized people: "'For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?'  And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'"

Jesus identifies himself so closely with these marginalized people that when we minister to them, we literally minister to Jesus Christ who is their Champion. 

Some Christians may say, "But there is no poor people in Singapore." Yes, but all we need to do the find the poor is to take a ferry at Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal or from Harbour Front Cruise Centre to one of the Indonesian islands and we will see the poor there. The poor are around us. The Gospel is for the poor. Let's follow the Master's priority to minister to the poor and marginalized wherever we find them.

Father, You have said that the Gospel is Good News to the Poor and Needy. Fill our hearts with Your compassion for the poor and marginalized in our society and elsewhere so that we might reveal Your compassion and power to save, heal and restore human dignity to these people. Amen.

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