A wealthy, powerful Roman military man in a large city (Capernaum) and a poor, helpless Jewish widow outside a small town (Nain). What could these two have in common? Luke 7

An influential synagogue leader with everything to lose and a broken woman who had already lost everything. How could they share a story? Luke 8

A ritually pure home where Pharisees gathered and the home of a wealthy but despised tax collector where prostitutes and other sinners found a seat. How could the same man be comfortable in both? Luke 5

How could one man relate
to all these opposites?

I could go on.

What’s the connection? Jesus.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28

The Circumstantial Juxtaposition

Think about our study last week and the story immediately preceding it (Luke 7:1-17).

  • The Roman Centurion had incredible faith.
    • The widow had none (that we know of).
  • He had power and an understanding of authority.
    • She had…what? Desperation and a bucket full of tears.
  • He had influence in the community (He sends someone else to Jesus—Luke 7:3.) and intentionally reaches out to Jesus.
    • She accidentally meets Jesus outside her town gate and doesn’t ask for His help.

Jesus healed selectively
but indiscriminately.

It wasn’t their level of faith. It wasn’t their understanding of spiritual matters. It wasn’t their position in the community. It wasn’t even their willingness to ask. Jesus healed selectively but indiscriminately.

The gospels are full of juxtaposition, and Luke seems especially keen on it. None of the other gospel writers include this miracle at Nain. Luke clearly makes the point that Jesus cares about the rich and poor, weak and strong, male and female. In Acts, Luke records Peter’s declaration of this truth:

Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.” Acts 10:34-35

Can I take an imaginative leap here? Imagine someone (maybe Peter) tells Luke about what happened at Cornelius’ house (Acts 10). Under the Holy Spirit’s influence, this one sentence (quoted above) jumps out at him. He begins to recall many of the stories he’s heard about Jesus, and the stories fall into pairs: a strong with a weak, a Jew with a gentile, a man with a woman. He sees, perhaps for the first time, that Jesus did indeed treat everyone equally. Some time later, as he sits down to write his first letter to Theophilus (Luke 1:1-4), those pairings remain in his mind, and he writes his account accordingly.

That entire paragraph is pure conjecture with absolutely no evidence to support it. It is, however, a good example of how the Holy Spirit works in our lives—using experiences, memories, and learning to increase our wisdom.

The Critical Juxtaposition

Then there’s the larger juxtaposition of Jesus in the culture to which He came. With his free and loose way of living (eating with “sinners,” healing on the Sabbath, not washing his hands properly, etc.), He highlighted the extreme legalism of Judaism in His day. With his enigmatic background (John 7:27) and questionable birth (His mother, after all, got pregnant before she married.), His existence conflicted not only with cultural norms but also with expectations of the Messiah. And yet He was—is—Messiah.

Which brings us, ultimately, to this:

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  –2 Corinthians 5:21

The Completely Holy cloaked in rags.

The Righteous in place of the corrupt.

The Only Sinless One shouldering the utterly profane.

The Contemporary Juxtaposition

juxtaposition 1
The new construction in the background makes the wall in the foreground look even older.  (c) Carole Sparks

Juxtaposition demonstrates contrast. It emphasizes the differences between things in order to make a point. I think that’s why Luke used it so often in his gospel. His point was, as Peter said, that Jesus respected all people equally.

We follow Jesus’ model on this. But there’s an additional point for us as well. On this side of the resurrection, we live in a perpetual state of juxtaposition.

“Christ in me…” Christ—the God-man—at home in me, a created, sinful being. For this reason, we join Paul in saying,

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

We have the privilege of being weak so God’s strength can be magnified. We are walking, talking juxtapositions. Maybe you never looked at it like that before.

Juxtaposition in the Gospels…and in us. via @Carole_Sparks #NotAboutMe #BibleStudy (click to tweet)

I like the word ‘juxtaposition.’ It’s fun to say. What non-Biblical word do you find demonstrated fully in the Bible? (Don’t say ‘Trinity.’ We all know that one.) Please share in the comments!

This post surprised me—both when it first came to my mind and when it concluded with our constant, contemporary state of juxtaposition. I’d appreciate it if you let me know how these words strike you. What stands out? What made you think about God’s Word in a new way? The comment section is open for you.

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2 thoughts on “Juxtaposition

  1. Hi Carole, thank you for naming the experience I struggle with. Being the hands and feet of Jesus in a world that finds “better” ways to be. Being set apart when my sin makes me the same as everyone else. Acts 10:34-35 is my commission to share the gospel with people who think they can’t come to His table. Blessings on your Saturday, friend.

    Liked by 1 person

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