The following is a reflection on Luke 7:11-17, the Gospel lesson appointed for Proper 5C according to the Revised Common Lectionary. The bulk of this post is also from my book Going to Hell, Getting Saved.
Last week in the beginning of Luke chapter 7, Jesus heals the centurion’s slave. Without a word, a command, or formula. Not even a touch. He does it at a distance, without even being in the slave’s presence.
This week, Jesus raises the widow’s son in Nain. He approaches the funeral bier and touches it. Not him. But, the bier.
One of the things that these two miracles demonstrate is that, Jesus rarely, if ever, does anything in the same way over and over again.
When he heals those who are sick or lame, he does so in a myriad of ways. When he heals Peter’s mother-in-law, he takes her by the hand and lifts her up, he reaches out and touches a leper to make him clean, he commands the paralytic to stand up and take his mat and go home with the sound of his voice, he tells a man with a withered hand to stretch his hand out, and a woman reaches out her hand on her own volition to touch Jesus and she is healed.
And that’s just in the first five chapters of the Gospel of Mark.
We didn’t even get to the time when he made a paste out of dirt and spittle to put on the eyes of a blind man, or the times when someone was healed by Jesus when they weren’t even close to one another.
When raising the dead, he reaches out his hand to touch a twelve-year-old girl; he commands Lazarus to come out of the tomb even though he has begun to stink of decomposure; and…he raises the widow’s son by merely touching the funeral bier he was laid out on.
When casting out demons, he calls them by name, he casts them into swine, and he commands them to be silent and come out.
As humans, we like to reduce people and movements to their least common denominator. We like to find formulas or three-point plans for a better life. We find an insatiable need to boil down what seems complex into seemingly easy-to-digest packets. We take huge ideas and fit them on a bumper sticker.
And that’s fine if you’re cramming for an English exam and it’s 3AM and you haven’t cracked open The Canterbury Tales yet. Then I suppose it’s time to go to Wikipedia or Cliff’s Notes.
But, Jesus isn’t so easily boiled down. You can’t take the breadth, length, height, and depth of the power that created the earth and everything in it, and the love that suffered death on the cross, and capture it in a tagline or a bumper sticker.
When Jesus taught, when he ministered, when he healed, and when he raised the dead, he avoided formulas at all costs. It’s as if he were doing everything he could to show us and the whole world that following him wasn’t possible by completing a formula. He didn’t have one way to heal so if you replicated it over and over again you’d get the same results.
Take a sick person, “just add Jesus” and these fifteen words, and poof!—everything’s all right.
There’s no formula for raising the dead, no formula for healing the sick, no formula for casting out evil (sorry, to The Exorcist franchise).
And…there’s no formula in initiating a relationship with Jesus. Maintaining a relationship with Jesus. Or, living in the Kingdom of God.