a sermon, based on Luke 7.1-10, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, May 29, 2016
Many years ago, the Reverend M. Moran Weston, priest and pastor, social activist and scholar, financier and banker, and rector of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, Harlem, and whose sister, Catharine, was my mother’s dearest friend, among his many works, penned a slim, yet provocative book of Good Friday meditations, entitled, “Who Is This Jesus?”, a signed copy of which he placed in my hands and has graced by bookshelf since 1975.
Articulating his thesis, “Almost everyone knows about Jesus, but few really understand who he is”, Dr. Weston explored a variety of titles attributed to Jesus; “superstar” by admirers (however well-meaning, though misguided, he thought) and by detractors, “cult leader” and “demagogue”, leading to his view, “liberator of mankind”.
Throughout this half-year long season after Pentecost, our gospel readings are taken from Luke, who wrote his narrative of the life and ministry of Jesus for “most excellent Theophilus”, apparently a prominent person, perhaps Luke’s patron or perhaps a personification of Luke’s target audience, for Theophilus means “friend of God.” So, I bid that we, post-modern friends of God, reexamine for ourselves who is this Jesus we follow and by whose name we are called “Christian”.
Today, following Dr. Weston’s model, I offer a short meditation, and I shall repeat this pattern for the next three Sundays, in response to the question: Who is this Jesus?
“After Jesus had finished all his sayings…” Jesus, after calling his disciples, those who would walk with him in life and ministry, welcomed a great crowd who had come “to hear his teaching and to be healed of their diseases.” At that time, Jesus taught them about the nature and meaning of discipleship. One particularly poignant lesson:
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. Love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful as your Father is merciful.
As Jesus admonished the crowds to follow the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees, but not to “do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach” (a fair charge leveled at any of us, for all humans fail at the art of consistency between their beliefs and their behaviors), the question could be directed at Jesus: Would he love his enemies?
A centurion, a Roman soldier, asks Jesus to heal his servant. The centurion is a Gentile, not a Jew and a military representative of the occupying and oppressive Empire. Thus, neither a countryman nor ostensibly a friend. Recognizing his reality, he sends Jewish elders as his emissaries. They, respecting this centurion “who loves our people and…built our synagogue”, gladly comply, and Jesus, willingly concedes to the request.
Before Jesus arrives at the centurion’s dwelling, risking ritual uncleanliness upon entering the home of a Gentile, the soldier sends word acknowledging Jesus’ power, his ability to heal, and his authority, his right to exercise that power. Jesus responds, amazed at the centurion’s faith and, from a distance and sight unseen, heals the servant’s body.
Who is this Jesus? A healer of the human body. Yes. And One who teaches and practices loving his enemies. Verily, by, with, and in love, making enemies friends. Thus, a healer of the body of our greater humanity, which, from time immemorial has been riven by division.
As Jesus is, so he calls us to be. What dividing line of race or class, opinion or prejudice am I, are you, are we, enabled by the Holy Spirit, willing to cross in the Name of this Jesus?
Photograph: The Reverend Dr. M. Moran Weston II
Illustration: Healing the Centurion’s servant, Paolo Caliari (aka Paolo Veronese) (1528-1588). The painting depicts the scene portrayed in Matthew 8.5-10 where the centurion makes his appeal to Jesus directly.
 The Reverend M. Moran Weston II, Ph.D. (September 10, 1910-May 18, 2002)
 Who Is This Jesus? (Columbia University Press, 1973)
 Luke 1.3
 See Luke 6.12-16.
 Luke 6.18a
 See Luke 6.20-49, oft referred to as The Sermon on the Plain (analogous to the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7).
 Luke 6.32-36
 Matthew 23.3 (emphasis, mine)
 In Matthew’s version of this story (8.5-10) the centurion directly makes his appeal to Jesus.