As we grow older, brethren and sisters, and have experienced the sad realities of serious sickness, witnessed the falling asleep of those dear to us and felt the bitter grief of sinning against our God, we can identify the more readily with many of those who, in their grief, came to Jesus and found relief and comfort in him. The expression, “himself took our infirmities and bare our sickness”, seems to have a deeper meaning for us than when, in youthful vigour, we chose to follow him. As we mature in the Truth through the trials that come upon us, we seem so much more able to identify with the problems of those who came to Jesus and felt the healing benefit of his love.

In Luke 7 we read of three specific incidents in his ministry where the Lord relieved distress and suffering. They were the healing of the centurionʼs servant, the raising of the widow of Nainʼs son and the forgiving of the distraught woman who came to Simonʼs house. We must understand that the root cause of each of the problems that the Lord attended to is described for us in the words of Paul: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). Mortality, which we all share, with its decay and sickness came by Adamʼs sin—and we all, too, have sinned. Jesus is shown in these three incidents to be the one whom God has sent to provide the antidote to this evil which brings so much sadness and distress to us all.

The Centurion

As we read through this incident we note that the servant who was so seriously ill and near to death was “dear” to the centurion. This word is translated “precious” in 1 Peter 2:4–5. The Greek word used for “servant” here indicates he was but a youth, but he was greatly loved by his master.

Now we read that this centurion “heard of Jesus”—what a beautiful expression! The man who had built the synagogue for the Jews, and yet was restricted from attending worship there because he was a Gentile, had never witnessed the remarkable healings which Jesus had already performed in the synagogue. But upon hearing he believed, and sent the elders of the Jews to Jesus with the urgent request that he come and heal his sick servant. These elders claimed he was “worthy” to have his request granted for he had shown support for the Jews by building a synagogue.

However, when Jesus was on his way to the centurionʼs house, he sent a message to Jesus saying, “I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof: Wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto thee: but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed” (Luke 7:6–7). He felt completely unworthy to be in the Lordʼs presence and did not consider that his donations to the synagogue building fund made him more acceptable in his sight at all. He realised that the Lord looked on the heart of the person and he felt inadequate and totally unworthy of receiving him into his home. Yet the fact remained—his servant was at the point of death and he believed that Jesus could heal him. This was his greatest concern.

The centurionʼs belief that Jesus could just say the word and his servant would be healed was the hallmark of his faith. It truly amazed Jesus, for we read that he “marvelled at him, and turned him about, and said unto the people that followed him, I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel” (v9). Consider this manʼs amazing yet simple faith. His faith was based entirely on what he had heard of Jesus. We, of course, are in a similar situation—we have never seen the Lord nor witnessed his miracles but we believe because of what we have read. But is our belief and confidence in our Lord as firm as this manʼs? Jesus, when he rebuked Thomas after his resurrection because of his unbelief, gave encouraging words for us to consider. He said: “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

The Lord said he had not seen “so great faith”. Was it only that the centurion believed that Jesus had the power to do this miracle that caused Jesus to marvel? We are all familiar with the statement of James: “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone” (James 2:14–17). This centurionʼs faith was manifest by his works—works seen in an urgent petitioning of the Lord on behalf of a precious servant who was seriously ill. Here we see a “faith which worketh by love” (Galatians 5:6).

Is there a similar test for our faith? Like the centurion we have many who are precious to us. We love them, but is our love manifest by our actions? Do we have the faith of the centurion and petition our Lord that he will heal or help those in need? Are we persistent in this? We may feel utterly unworthy but that should not hinder us seeking our Fatherʼs help for our brethren and sisters in need. The centurion had that kind of faith that could move mountains, as the Lord said on another occasion. There is no record of the Lord actually speaking with the centurion face to face—the centurion did not need that. He knew his petition was accepted when his precious servant was healed. A very close personal relationship had been built that day between the centurion and the Lord, and the day will soon come when his faith will be rewarded in the Kingdom.

The Widowʼs Son Raised

This, too, is a very touching story and we can all feel the wonderful relief and joy that swept through the widow when she saw her son sit up and speak in answer to the Lordʼs words, “Young man, I say unto thee, Arise” (v14). But for a moment let us look at the moving power that caused Jesus to perform this miracle. We are told that “when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not” (Luke 7:13). The Lordʼs motivation was his compassion for her. He felt deeply for her in the sad new circumstances of her life. She was a widow and had now lost her “only begotten son”, as the Greek indicates. His mind could appreciate the dreadful plight she was in. Possibly he remembered how his mother Mary was left a widow when Joseph died and as the firstborn he had the responsibility of providing and caring for her. Now he saw that this poor widow was left with no-one to care for her. Our Lord had compassion—a real and intense feeling for those he came to save.

The lesson we are surely to learn from this incident is not just that Christ had been given the power to raise the dead, but that he demonstrated compassion on the needy. He manifested his Father in this: “Yahweh is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy. Yahweh is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works” (Psalm 145:8–9). There is no mention of the widowʼs faith or expectation, and her son was dead, so he could not manifest faith. This incident was initiated by the Lordʼs compassion. It concludes with these words, “And he delivered him to his mother”. What a joyful moment for this grieving mother and all with her, and how our Lord would have likewise experienced this joy and thanked his Father for His healing power.

As we come to know the Lord through these incidents we are drawn to him, the “altogether lovely” one. Let us earnestly endeavour to be like him, people of real compassion for others, as our Lord has shown us by his example.

The Distressed Woman

The final incident in this chapter is one of immense emotion—both on the part of the Pharisee and of the woman who was a sinner. The Pharisee wanted to know if what the people were saying was true—was Jesus really a prophet? (Luke 7:16,39). To test this he asked the Lord to a meal at his house. There would have been the customary scrupulous cleansing before the meal by the Pharisees, as we read took place when Jesus was asked to another meal with a Pharisee (Luke 11:37–39). This completed, the meal commenced. It was while they were reclining at the table that this woman came in behind the Lord and, weeping, commenced to wash his feet with her tears. The word for “wash” is rendered “rain” in Matthew 5:45. She was totally distraught over her way of life, for she was a woman of the city—indicating her immoral way of life. She then let down her hair and with it wiped his feet, after which she continued to kiss his feet as the Greek indicates.

Now let us pause a moment and picture the scene. Sisters will readily appreciate the power of this incident—and brethren should too. A womanʼs hair was a God-given symbol—“if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering” (1 Corinthians 11:15). Women covered their hair as it was not to be displayed to other men. It was not to be used as a public exhibition of outward adornment (1 Peter 3:3). For a woman to publicly let her hair down was a disgrace both to her and her husband. This woman had, by her way of life, been accustomed to letting her hair down for other men. Yet now she was utterly repentant of that former way of life and was overcome with the opportunity to present herself before her God through His Son and seek forgiveness. She was acknowledging, “If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared” (Psalm 130:3–4).

What greater way to acknowledge her previous faithlessness than to do what she was now doing. The dust of Jesusʼ feet was mingled with the water of her tears, and then wiped away with her hair which she had let down publicly before all those present. What sister today would contemplate doing such a thing with her clean groomed hair? Those who were observant and aware of the Law would recall the test of the woman charged with faithlessness in marriage. She stood before the priest, who had the dust of the floor of the tabernacle mingled with water in his hands, as he solemnly unloosed her hair (Numbers 5:16–21). This woman was openly confessing her sins by her actions. But more than that she was utterly distressed by her faithless past.

How amazed Simon would have been to see the Lord allow this wayward woman to touch him—he would have been utterly repulsed at the thought of it. Her uncleanness would have, in his mind, been transmitted to Jesus and now what would happen if Jesus touched the food on his table? Poor Simon was really in a state—he now could not even eat his own food because he felt it would be defiled, on his principle of “guilt by association”. Simon was now convinced that Jesus was not a man of God. He who touched the unclean leper and healed him, and who touched the unclean coffin of the dead and raised him was now supposedly defiled by a repentant sinner touching him. What mental tangles such legalistic righteousness can bring one into! Sadly there is often a little of Simon the Pharisee in us all—unless we are in the frame of mind of that woman. They were both Israelites, but Simon had judged he was better than she was—for she was a sinner.

Jesusʼ Answer—The Parable of the Two Debtors

The Lordʼs parable of the two forgiven debtors brought the matter into real focus. The repentant woman, who in her grief had humbled herself before all, loved her Lord much. Her actions were a clearer statement, confession and repentance than any Pharisee could demand to be made. While the Pharisee only saw defilement by touch, the Lord felt contriteness and love by the cool hair, the soft kisses and the anointing of his feet. This woman truly appreciated the principle: “How beautiful…are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation [from sin and death]” (Isaiah 52:7). To her there were no more beautiful feet than those of her Lord who had brought salvation to her.

It appears from the record of the three incidents of Luke 7 that none of those who received a blessing spoke to the Lord. This woman certainly did not need to speak as her actions showed her humble and contrite heart. Notice how the Lord turns from the hard-hearted Pharisee to the loving eyes of this woman and reminds the Pharisee that his religion was shallow and empty, whereas this womanʼs was full of love and gratitude.

Can we try to imagine the inner feelings of this woman as the Lord turned to her and said, “Thy sins are forgiven”—and she had not uttered a word to him. The legalists were left with the question, “Who is this that forgiveth sins also?” It was one thing to heal the centurionʼs servant and praise his faith, or to raise the dead, but to also forgive sins was too much for them to accept.

But still addressing the woman our Lord said: “Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace”. Her faith, like that of the centurionʼs, was a “faith which worketh by love”. She loved much: “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much”. Her faith, demonstrated by her actions, brought salvation and she now had peace with God—a peace that she so desperately wanted but which she knew she never could have while her sins remained. We too can experience that same peace when we are justified by faith as Paul has summarised: “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1–2).

By Godʼs grace we likewise stand in this forgiven position, having been reconciled to God through His Son. Let us be truly thankful for His great mercy and deeply reflect upon His goodness and compassion to us. As we examine ourselves daily by His word may we dedicate our lives in service to Him and show forth a faith that is seen working by love.