21 July 2013

Homily on the centurion's faith

            Much of what our Lord Jesus did made others marvel. The disciples marveled when he calmed the storm with a word, and when he withered the fig tree. The people marveled when he cast out demons, and healed the sick. Even his enemies marveled when he avoided their traps with a clear and powerful answer.
            But only once in the Gospels do we ever read that Jesus marveled—and this is that text. “When Jesus heard
            Note first, that the centurion didn’t ask for himself. He was concerned about others…in this case, for his slave. Slaves had no status in Roman Israel. They were expendable, replaceable. But still the centurion cared for him.
            And not only for him! We read in Luke’s account that Jewish elders approached Jesus on behalf of the centurion. They told the Lord, “He is worthy for you to heal his servant. He loves our people, and built us a synagogue.”
            How refreshingly different from our culture’s self-absorption and victim mentality! Last year I read the book, “I’m Proud of You,” the story of Fred Rogers’ friendship with a Dallas sportswriter. The man’s life was turned upside down because he found in Mr. Rogers a person who was genuinely concerned about him. Friendship, for Fred Rogers, was about the other person. How about for us?
            When I focus on “me,” it only makes life harder. None of us lives to himself, St. Paul reminds us. When we turn our attention to our self, we miss the mark God sets for us. We sin. We can learn from the centurion. When we focus on others, and their needs, we find God’s deepest will for us. By losing myself, I find myself.
Earlier I mentioned that the Jewish elders told Christ that the centurion was worthy. And that’s the second thing about him. When the topic turned to himself, the centurion could only say, “I am not worthy.”  
            We live in a culture of victimhood. I am a victim when I think I’ve not been treated as well as I think I deserve. That leads to anger, and pain, and more hurt. It leads to nothing good.
            How much better to acquire true humility! True humility doesn’t come from comparing myself to others. True humility comes from comparing myself to God. When the words “I am not worthy” are spoken from the heart, it’s a clear sign we’re drawing near to God. Remember when St. Peter caught the great shoal of fish at Jesus’ word, he fell at his feet and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” And when St. John, when he was old, saw the Lord Jesus, he tells us, “I fell at his feet as though dead.” When we pray, let us draw near to God in firm faith, because of who he is; and with deepest humility, because of who we are. “Lord, I am not worthy.”
True humility confesses an infinite gap between God and me. But firm faith confesses that God has bridged that gap in Christ…and that’s the third thing about the centurion’s words. He believed that Christ could act without needing to come to his house.
There’s an interesting comment made by one of the fathers on the Lord’s response, “Not in Israel have I found such faith.” Israel, as you know, was the other name for Jacob. In the Old Testament, when God appeared to Jacob at Bethel, Jacob said, “This is the house of God.” Jacob understood that God could appear at one place. But the centurion understood that Christ is everywhere present, and able to act by his word alone.
So come to him now, as he comes to you in his life-giving flesh and blood. Bring him the needs that press so hard on you—especially the needs of others. Lay aside your anger, your bitterness, that victim mentality that blocks his love. Come to him as you are, humble, unworthy of his mercy. Come to him with great faith, trusting that he who made all things from nothing can surely grant more than you could ever ask or think.  And he will work all things together for his glory and our good, who love him because he first loved us; in the name of the Father, Son,  and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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