The Rev. Sheila M. Scott, Deacon
Second Sunday after Pentecost
In today’s Gospel reading, a Roman Centurion asks Jesus to heal his sick slave who was about to die. On the surface, it could be just another healing on Jesus’ part, but there is more to this story.
First, it is the story of a Roman army officer, a centurion, headquartered in Capernaum, most likely part of the army of Herod Antipas, who cares about his slave. In a time when slaves were bought and sold and even killed on a whim, it is unusual to have a master who cares about his slave this much.
Second, it speaks to the officer’s character that he humbles himself to send Jewish elders to ask Jesus to heal his slave. Also, he must have been well respected by the Jewish elders in order for them to plead with Jesus on his behalf. There was usually no love lost between Romans and Jews, after all Romans were the occupiers!
The elders think Jesus should heal the slave because of the generosity of the centurion towards them, but Jesus heals him because of the centurion’s faith and trust. He respects the Jewish purity laws by which Jews are bound by, and never actually appears personally before Jesus to plead his case.
He, a Roman centurion, a foreigner, an enemy, and an outsider, understands better than the disciples, the insiders, how far Jesus’ authority to heal extends. He understands power. He sees himself as undeserving, and seems to understand the pure grace with which Jesus operates. “I am not worthy to have you come under my roof…but only speak the word, and let my servant be healed”. The centurion is humble, he has faith and trusts Jesus. We don’t know how he arrived to his faith, and I do not think that is the point of this story.
I believe the point is, God is not the exclusive possession of his chosen people, at times so called “outsiders” may have a better understanding of the power of God.
More than 2000 years later, it is still true. How many times do we Christians believe that we have a corner on the market, we are the ones favored by God; just to realize some “outsiders” faith is just as strong, if not stronger.
This reminds me of a story I heard. An older Christian lady, who was in church every time its doors opened, had a next door neighbor whom she liked, but who happened to be Jewish. She was really worried about her neighbor’s salvation, so she called her up on the phone and asked her: “Can I come over sometime and tell you about my Jesus?” Her neighbor replied, “Yes, if you will let me tell you about my God”. So they set down and had a long religious conversation.
Afterwards, the Christian lady told her pastor: “You know, the more she talked about her God, the more her God seemed to be a lot like my Jesus”. That was the day she learned that an outsider had a lot to teach her. I believe we could learn a lot from our discussions with our neighbors who may worship differently or look differently than us, if we would just take the time to listen.
We Americans in general have the assumption that God is on our side, that we are his “new chosen people” that he always will give us victory and prosperity because we believe we stand for righteousness, freedom, and truth. While we have scores of brave man and women to thank for our freedom in this country, we can’t sit on our laurels and pretend that everything is perfect.
We like to focus on our achievements, and tend to minimize or ignore our shortcomings. We claim to be a Christian nation, but have no problem ignoring the basic rights of human beings we consider “other”. We continue to struggle with entrenched racism, sexism, poverty, injustice, etc. In short, we have a long way to go before we can call ourselves righteous. Only by the grace of God that we are where we are.
Do we have faith and trust in Jesus’ power of physical and spiritual healing? Faith and healing are integrally related; however faith itself is a gift of God and cannot be produced by an act of will. It is not a quantity to be measured but a gift to be sought through prayer.
Faith is being confident in God’s promises to us through Scripture, prayer and time spent in silent conversation with him. But having faith is not enough, we need to act on our faith; that is what it means to be faithful. Faith helps us understand whose we are, but faith in action is faithfulness, and that is what God expects from us, because that is what can change the world we live in. It is much easier to talk about having faith, but it is much more important putting that faith in action, and sharing God’s love, grace and healing with others.
To receive and to share the power of healing, we must tap into the power of God in Christ through prayer for ourselves and for others. Agnes Sanford in The Healing Light describes how it is that we might transmit the healing power of God to those who are afflicted:
“Then if we would help man through intercession, we must hold God by one hand and man by the other hand, never separating ourselves either from the love of God or from the love of man. As we do this by the indwelling of Jesus Christ, God can work through our normal human love in ways that we do not see” (p.147).
There is so much hate, violence, strife, injustice in this world; it is easy to get overwhelmed by it, but we can’t let hate have the last word. Paraphrasing Mother Teresa: God does not expect great things from most of us, He expects small things done with great love. If we all just do our share of small things in Jesus’ name, little by little, we can change the world.
I would like to close with a prayer from Saint Teresa of Avila:
No body on earth but yours;
No hands but yours;
No feet but yours;
Yours are the eyes
Through which is to look out
Christ’s compassion to the world;
Yours are the feet
With which he is to go about
Yours are the hands
With which he is to bless now”.
Will you be the hands and feet of Jesus? AMEN