Authority and Compassion (Luke 7)

Jesus of Nazareth

Authority and Compassion (Luke 7)

If you want to know Jesus, you need to know that He is a man with authority, and a man of compassion.

Read chapter 7 of the gospel according to Saint Luke here.

The centurion understands authority. He commands soldiers and slaves, and he in turn reports to a superior officer. He has worldly authority. Now Jesus does not have this kind of authority. He has no money, no army of soldiers, no influence with persons in power. When the devil offers Him all the kingdoms of the world, He turns him down.

The centurion wisely recognizes that what Jesus possesses is spiritual authority. Jesus has the power to heal the centurion’s servant. He has the power to raise the widow’s son from the dead. He has the power to forgive the sinful woman, to restore life to her soul.

We tend not to like authority figures. We have an innate inclination to want to do things our way. And we’re all too familiar with human authority figures who abuse their power to mistreat others or for personal gain. Developing a close relationship with Jesus means getting comfortable with an authority figure. We shouldn’t pretend it’s a relationship of equals. He is fully human like us, and any kind of suffering we have experienced, He too has experienced to a greater degree. He understands us and empathizes with us. But He is also God, and we’re not. We need to do what He says. We should be comfortable asking Him for anything, but we also need to know that He doesn’t take marching orders from us.

Giving up control, sacrificing our personal will to a higher authority – these are sticking points for many people who don’t want to be Christian. It’s essential to understand that while Jesus is an authority figure, He is infinitely wiser and more compassionate than any human authority figure we will encounter. He responds to the centurion’s remarkable faith by healing his servant. He raises the widow of Nain’s son from the dead. A unique aspect of this miracle is that the widow of Nain does not first ask Jesus for help. Jesus recognizes that not only has this woman lost her only son, she has lost her only means of support. She will be relegated to a life of poverty and loneliness without His intervention. Moved by His infinite compassion, He restores her son to life.

He likewise responds generously to the sinful woman who washes His feet with her tears. We are not told what this woman did wrong, or how she heard about Jesus, or what prompted her to put her faith in Him that He could save her. These details aren’t essential for Luke. We are all like this woman in that we have sinned and estranged ourselves from God. When we hear about Jesus, when we discover that God has sent His only Son into the world, not to condemn us, but to save us from our sins, how do we respond? This woman, whom Jesus says has sinned much, has accepted the grace of understanding and deeply regretting her sins, and humbly turns to the one man who can forgive her sin. Those who have sinned little, those who do not think of themselves as sinners, those who justify themselves by comparing themselves to others, like the pharisee – these are often the ones who refuse in their pride to accept the grace of repentance.

Jesus came to earth with authority, above all the authority to forgive sins, to restore us to friendship with God. Pray for the grace to ask Jesus for forgiveness.

“But as after the breaking of a violent storm there comes a calm, so when tears have burst forth, there is peace, and gloomy thoughts vanish; and as by water and the Spirit, so by tears and confession we are again made clean.” -Saint John Chrysostom

“The more then the heart of the sinner is burnt up by the great fire of charity, so much the more is the rust of sin consumed.” -Saint Gregory

Image: Jesus healing the servant of a centurion by Paolo Veronese (downloaded from Wikipedia Commons).

Pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet every day for the salvation of souls.

Michael Haverkamp

Michael Haverkamp is a lifelong member of the Roman Catholic Church. He is grateful to his parents for raising him in the faith. He resides in Columbus, Ohio with his amazing wife and three sons. By day he is a (usually) mild-mannered grant writer.

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