“I haven’t seen such faith in all Israel”

zacchauesThese are precious, powerful and pragmatic words. All words from Jesus are without exception! Let me add, it must also shock us sometimes – in a good way! But first, the context. “The servant of a Roman Officer was sick near death. When the officer heard about Jesus he requested his Jewish friends if Jesus would come and heal….So Jesus went with them. But before they arrived at his house, the officer sent word ‘don’t bother yourself by coming to my house, I am not worthy….just say the word from where you are and my servant will be healed’….When Jesus heard he was amazed.” Turning to the crowd, Jesus said those words, which I took as my title for this post (St. Luke 7:1-9). When the friends returned, they found the slave completely healed” (NLT -shortened). 

The purpose of this post may not sound super-spiritual. It is to highlight a simple principle, which Jesus used frequently – showing respect to others. It should be natural to give praise to those when we notice their faith in God in action. Jesus was not stingy. Quite the contrary, he was extravagant with his praise to the Roman Officer, or to anyone for that matter. I have purposely selected, out of many, four Scripturally based instances of persons from different walks of life to illustrate my point.

Nicodemus (Nick) was deeply religious, an outstanding member of the ruling body. He respected Jesus, a carpenter’s son turned Rabbi. Yes, he took the cover of night seeking Jesus but he did take a personal risk of jeopardizing his standing in the community. Jesus reciprocated that respect and took time for a heart to heart talk. Their nocturnal discussion was no shibboleth and turned out to be one of the most important discourses in the holy writ, particularly the famous John 3:16.

Nick even confronted the Elders, challenging them when they were condemning Jesus: “Doth our law judge any man before it hear him and know what he doeth?” Nick, along with Joseph of Arimathaea procured permission (not a small matter) to prepare the body of Jesus for burial.  

This pagan lady’s name is not mentioned in the Scripture. She was completely different, miles apart from Nick. In fact, St. Mark went out of his way to write that she was both Greek and Phoenician; simply put- a despised Gentile. Her daughter was possessed by an evil spirit. Here is one of the wittiest conversations, a question and answer in the Holy Word. You have to read it for yourself:

Mark 7:25-30 – New International Version (NIV)

25 In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.

27 “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

29 Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”

30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. (NIV)

Did you notice that this lady was quite at home with Jesus? In front of of the crowd, Jesus commended her saying “Good Answer. Now go home, for the demon has left your daughter”. Jesus honoured her and revealed his Divinity to this “so-called outsider” by healing her daughter.

 

Let me put it in my own rendering in a different way using some of Jesus’ own words. Here it is: “There were many mothers whose daughters were oppressed by the Evil Spirit in Israel. But to none of them was Jesus sent but to this woman”. (Compare St.Mark 7:25-30 to St.Luke 4:27). Gospel writers were fully aware of the baggage carried by the then Jewish, even by some Believers. (As you would recall, Jesus purposely used those words to commend Naaman, a Syrian Gentile, who was nothing but a thorn in the flesh to Israel)  

Peter was an ordinary fisherman – not an esteemed profession then. Our Catholic friends call him the Bishop of Rome and the vicar of Christ. By the way, the word vicar was used for a pastor of a flock, like the The Vicar of Wakefield (Oliver Goldsmith, 1728-1744). The point is, Peter had not yet learned to respect or give praise to those outside his “comfortable pew”.

This fisherman fought against his own conscience by first refusing to visit Cornelius the Gentile (Acts 10:1-44). God was gracious to grant him the unspeakable joy of witnessing to the Gentile and his clan becoming children of God. Peter did correct himself and confessed saying: “I see very clearly that God shows no favouritism (respecter of persons, KJV). In every nation He accepts those who fear him and do what is right” (Acts 10:34.NLT).

Zacchaeus – I need not comment on this man. We remember the old Sunday School chorus: “Zacchaeus was a very little man and a very little man was he. He climbed up to a sycamore tree for he wanted his Lord to see”. Jesus stopped, called him down, threw all caution to the wind and said: “I must be a guest in your home today”. Zacchaeus confessed about his previous shady dealings and declared restitution as well as help for the poor.

Notice how Jesus praised him: “Salvation has come to this home today”. Jesus went further and called him a  “true son of Abraham”, insinuating openly there were many who claim themselves as Sons of Abraham, but were not (Luke 19:1-9). Oh what respect!   

Reminds me of the old hymn “Oh to be like thee blessed Redeemer” (Thomas Chisholm, published 1897). Start with small things in recognizing, acknowledging and then giving respect to others. You will be surprised by the response. This may sound silly. If at times I find it not easy to give respect, I sing to myself  “Amazing grace….that saved a wretch like me”. I once was blind but now am found.”

 

God bless,    Danny Paul