It is no secret how much I admire Eugene Peterson and reading his paraphrase of Luke chapter 7 this week evoked yet again the familiar response of being awe-inspired by his gift for language.
I was first intrigued by Peterson's subtitle for verses 1 thru 17 - A Place Of Holy Mystery, especially when you consider this passage is first to follow the Sermon on the Mount and the concluding section he titled Work The Words Into Your Life.
Near the end of Luke chapter 6, Jesus gives this instruction to the hearers of his sermon:
"These words I speak to you are not mere additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundation words, words to build a life on."
That foundation is faith and it is sometimes discovered, and often affirmed, in places of holy mystery.
In chapter 7, we first read about the centurion in Capernaum whose servant was ill and sent for Jesus to heal him. Apparently, this Roman captain had "worked the words into his life" and established a firm foundation, having faith that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. For when he heard Jesus was coming to honor his request, his sense of unworthiness to be in the presence of the Lord led him to send word to Jesus and ask him to simply speak the word from afar so his servant would be made well. Jesus responds, "I've yet to come across this kind of simple trust anywhere in Israel, the very people who are supposed to know God and how he works." As expected, the servant was made well.
Next, we read how Jesus restores the widow's dead son to life. All who witnessed this "realized they were in a place of holy mystery, that God was at work among them." And, the evidence that Jesus is the Son of God, sent to deliver his people, continues from there.
"The blind see.
The lame walk.
Lepers are cleansed.
The deaf hear.
The dead are raised.
The wretched of the earth have God's salvation hospitality extended to them."
Then, in verse 23 Jesus asks, "Is this what you were expecting?" I would say that for those who had "worked the words into their lives" and found themselves in "places of holy mystery," the answer was likely a resounding, "Yes!" For as Tim Keller so eloquently tweeted last week, "When you're face to face with the gospel, no one is hopeless." The truth of Keller's statement finds proof in the conclusion of the chapter.
A sinful woman washes Jesus' feet with her tears, dries them with her hair, and anoints them with expensive perfume at the dinner table of a Pharisee. This, of course, draws the typical reaction from the Pharisee and his guests, which Jesus ignores by rewarding her kindness and gratitude with these final words for the chapter:
"Your faith has saved you. Go in peace."
John Wesley preached in his sermon Salvation By Faith, "Grace is the source, faith the condition, of salvation." Luke chapter 7 is filled with stories supporting his claim. May we all work the words into our lives and, through faith, experience God's saving grace in places of holy mystery.