Theme Jesus draws all to himself
Sentence But only speak the word and let my servant be healed (Luke 7:7b)
Collect Gracious and eternal God,
We thank you for the love of Christ
Which draws all people to himself
And invites them to have faith in him.
May we have the faith of the centurion
Who entrusted his servant’s healing
Into the care of Jesus. Amen.
1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43 [related]
Note: An alternative set of readings for an alternative celebration in ACANZP is for Te Pouhere. I am not following those readings. I am committed to the fostering of our constitution for the time-being. I lack conviction that the constitution is worth a whole Sunday to reflect upon its importance.
1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43
God is the God Israel and Israel's God must have a house of worship in Jerusalem. Solomon has built that house and offers a long prayer, of which we read a few verses. Related to our gospel reading, the second part of the reading conveys Solomon's prayer that the God of Israel also be the God of God fearing foreigners. "Answer their prayers too," is the gist of the request Solomon makes.
This is a wonderful song of praise. It even envisages 'all the trees of the forest' singing for joy!
But the particular observation we make in the context of the gospel reading is that the psalm has a world vision. God's glory should be declared 'among the nations ... among all the peoples' (3), 'for all the gods of the peoples are idols' (5), 'Say among the nations, "The LORD is king!' (10). God is God of the whole world and the praises due to God should ring out through all the world.
A challenge in the psalm, for the world to hear and respond to, is that God will judge the world (10, 13). The judgement will be fair (10) but the standard will be God's 'righteousness' and 'truth' (13).
For a few Sundays we follow Galatians as the epistle. Galatians is Paul's theological 'yell' when he cries out 'Stop' to some developments which threatened the very existence of the gospel of Christ. Or, for a different image, it is Paul's line in the sand. Here is the gospel, across that line is Not the gospel.
But to make this major point, to a readership tempted to embrace a false gospel, Paul has to lay every part of his case with a thick trowel. So the first two verses, for instance, consist of Paul telling us of his office (apostle), his commission (by Christ and God) and his backing ('all the members of God's family who are with me').
The greeting in verses 3-5 takes the opportunity to spell out who Jesus Christ is: the one 'who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father'. Paul spells out the core of the true gospel: it is good news about freeing us from our sins. Galatians is Paul's argument that this liberation is the work of Christ and not of us.
The preliminaries of good manners out of the way, Paul launches off with a frank statement of the situation in Galatia. 'I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel' (6). Paul has 'called' them to the true gospel. Now they are deserting him for a different gospel.
But there is not 'another gospel' (7). There are perversions of the true gospel and these can be confusing. Paul will clarify for them. But first he spells out how serious the situation is. Twice, verses 8 and 9, Paul says that those responsible for perverting the gospel are 'accursed'.
Paul is not trying to curry favour with his readers (10). His loyalty is to Christ. It is from Christ that he has received the true gospel and it is to Christ that he is accountable for faithfulness both in proclaiming and defending the true gospel (11-12).
As a whole story, this passage ties in beautifully with the Old Testament readings. Here is someone from the nations beyond Israel who is being drawn into the presence of the God of Israel, including connecting with the people of God and their local place of worship.
From the perspective of the gospel of grace being taught in Galatians, this reading offers an interesting contrast between the view of the Jewish elders sent by the centurion to Jesus and the view of Jesus himself. They think Jesus should heal the centurion's slave because 'He is worthy' (5) where the worthiness is measured in terms of good deeds. Jesus heals the servant in response to the faith of the centurion (9).
Paul's plea to the Galatians will be that they do not return to the attempt to impress God with their deeds. Rather they should have faith in God who through Christ has done all work needed for their salvation. The centurion does not yet know about this work - Christ has not died on the cross - but he recognises that Christ has extraordinary power to do good. As a man used to the 'chain of authority' he instinctively recognises that Christ has power from God which can command illness to leave the sick person: 'only speak the word, and let my servant be healed' (7). The centurion at this point relies not on his own worthiness (as estimated by human assessors) but on Christ. He has faith that is not found 'even in Israel' (9).