December 3, 2007
Memorial of Saint Francis Xavier, priest
I always look forward to today's Gospel reading. I think it is beautiful and moving. Here we have Jesus and his disciples traveling to Capernaum. As they come to the city, they are met with a scene that was probably frightening to the disciples. They are approached by a Roman Centurion. I would imagine they were terrified. Was this guy going to arrest them? Was he going to hurt them? The Roman Centurion was a feared element of the Roman Empire. They were the law and were known for extreme brutality.
And what do they get? This centurion is desperate. His servant is sick and is going to die. One would think that the centurion would just get another servant when this one dies so why is he so concerned over this one servant? He is concerned because he cares about this servant, an attribute that many probably would not have thought a centurion capable of.
But this centurion goes to a whole new level. He comes to Jesus, a man that the government would have seen as a threat. Jesus who proclaimed a kingdom not of Cesar but of God. This centurion was taking a great risk by coming to Jesus and acknowledging Jesus' authority. I would dare say this centurion could have been severely punished for seeking out Jesus and maybe he was. But the risk is worth it for this man because his love for his servant is more powerful than concern for his own well being. I can just imagine the disciples eyes bugged out when this powerful and frightening man humbles himself before Jesus. and it is more than humility for this centurion believes in Jesus, another great risk for him. He is acknowledging Jesus' power and is turning to him instead of his gods. Now that is a sign of faith! And his faith is so powerful that he knows that Jesus can heal with only a word. Amen!
This centurion's faith always makes me look at my own. Is my faith as strong as this centurion's? This man who most people would have believed beyond redemption had a faith greater than even Jesus' disciples. I know that at times I must give up my preconceived notions about what I think should or should not be and open myself to the Holy Spirit. I believe this centurion has a great deal to teach us some 2000 years later. I believe that this man who was despised and feared shows us all that we need to give up our sense of superiority and entitlement and throw our selves at the feet of the Lord and ask for his grace. I think this centurion teaches us to take a risk and set aside concern for what others might think and give ourselves to God with complete abandon. When we do that, we may just find that our faith is stronger than we could ever have imagined.