“Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I say to you, many will come from the east and the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the Kingdom of heaven” (Mt 8:10-13).
The one to whom Jesus is referring to is a Roman centurion who approached Jesus seeking healing for his servant. I imagine that Jesus was not only amazed with the man’s humility, recognizing his sinfulness, not only that he believed that Jesus could heal from a distance with simply his word, but also that he was aware of the need and suffering of his slave and willingness to do something about it. This Roman centurion, an occupying presence in Israel, clearly embodied the teachings of Jesus! It is from the centurion’s words that we speak before receiving Jesus in the Eucharist during each Mass: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”
The chosen people of Israel, were called not to be saved in and of themselves alone, but to be a light to the nations. As Isaiah said, all nations shall stream toward mount Zion and “from Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem” (see Isaiah 2:1-5). Jesus echoes Isaiah’s prophetic words as is recorded in today’s Gospel: “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I say to you, many will come from the east and the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the Kingdom of heaven” (Mt 8:11). The centurion’s act of faith is the beginning movement, like a drop of water that is the beginning of a waterfall.
The first point we can learn from the centurion is that he was aware of the need of his slave. The slave, in the present culture of Jesus and the centurion held no dignity, yet, he was not invisible to the centurion. The centurion was not indifferent to his suffering and pain. We also need to be aware of those who are in need among us. We need to resist the temptation to walk around, over, or by others that are different in any way. We need to embrace the gift of our diversity, not stiff arm and keep those who are different at arm’s length.
Second, like the centurion, we need to embrace humility and acknowledge our own sinfulness, and when we do so, we are better able to see other’s needs. None of us are perfect. No one person is above any other. We all have gifts as well as shortcomings. We need each other because we complement one another. When we engage in dialogue and cooperation we are stronger.
Third we cannot stand on our own. The centurion recognized his limitations. He acknowledged that he needed help. He needed Jesus. As do we. We cannot accomplish our salvation on our own merit or will power. We need a savior, for apart from Jesus, who we prepare to encounter this Advent season, we can do nothing, but with Jesus all things are possible.
Jesus is the Truth and the Fulfillment that we seek. He has sent out a universal invitation of communion for all, to Israel first and then to all from east and west, north and south. Our yes comes in the form of the Roman Centurion who recognized his own sinfulness, acknowledged it before Jesus, was aware of his need for help for the healing of his slave and moved to seek aid when he knew he was helpless. The centurion had faith and hope in the one who would provide healing.
This Advent may we take time to examine our conscience, have the humility to confess our sins, to acknowledge that we need help from Jesus and others. May we be willing to seek forgiveness and be willing to forgive. May we be willing to resist the temptation to embrace fear and close ourselves off and be indifferent to the plight and needs of others, but instead assume a posture of openness to the gift of the rich diversity of our humanity.
We have so much to offer one another when we are willing to work together instead of apart from or against one another. May we who have received the forgiveness and grace of Jesus and felt the embrace of his love, reach out to provide hope and to empower those who have been dehumanized, kept apart, or labeled as other.
Painting: Sebastiano Ricci – Christ Heals the Centurion’s Servant, 1726-1729