Pentecost 2 C – Welcoming Difference

Dear Partner in Preaching,

There is so much we don’t know about the story told in this week’s passage:

We don’t know how this Roman centurion heard about Jesus.
We don’t know anything about his military career, what wars he had perhaps waged, what battles fought.
We don’t know why he changed his mind after first asking Jesus to come to him and then sending servants telling Jesus he didn’t need to come but only to speak the word of healing.
We don’t know why he cared so deeply about this slave.
We don’t know if the slave was Jewish and that perhaps played upon the sympathy of the Jewish elders or Jesus.
We don’t know what happened to either the slave or centurion after this encounter with Jesus.

Yes, there is so much we don’t know.

But we do know this: this Roman centurion had heard about Jesus and believed he was capable of healing this beloved servant. And when Jesus sees the demonstration of faith, he not only heals the servant but is amazed.

Did you catch that last part? Jesus. Amazed. By the faith of a Roman centurion. Remarkable.

Why, though, amazed? Because of the depth of the centurion’s faith? Because it was a Roman centurion who had such faith? This we also don’t know. But we do know that Jesus does not ask him to become his follower, or to take up his cross, or to deny himself, or to keep silent, or to share the good news, or any of the other things Jesus often does in similar situations. He only speaks the word of healing while also being amazed at this centurion’s faith.

On the whole, this is a rather surprising and, perhaps, amazing turn of events and scene. I have wondered while reading it how it was received by the original hearers of this Gospel. Keep in mind that Luke is most likely writing this account (also found in Matthew) in the early 80s of the first century, about 50 years or so after these events happened and, notably, 10 years after the Romans destroyed the Jerusalem Temple and brutally quashed the Jewish rebellion against Rome.

So would Luke’s readers have been appalled by this glowing picture of the admirable faith of a Roman centurion? Or would they have recognized this as part of a larger and more concerted effort of the early Christian church to make their story more palatable to citizens of Rome and so would have understood why Luke tells the story this way? Again, we don’t know.

But we do know that when Jesus encounters someone so utterly different from him yet displaying faith, he does not ask him to convert or change or follow, he simply heals and commends.

I wonder how many other people who are not followers of Jesus God is using right now? I wonder how many people of other faiths we might be amazed about if we stopped to notice the good they are doing? I wonder how many people of different faith or no faith we might see differently – as God’s beloved children – if we kept this story in mind?

Here’s the thing: God loves everyone. God works through everyone. God has hopes and dreams for everyone. And we may be surprised who God chooses, who God works through, and who God commends.

I think that may be helpful to keep in mind, Dear Partner, when the political rhetoric of the day is so charged with fear of those who are different – from a different country, professing a different faith, living in a different neighborhood, looking different from us, having different needs or hopes. To God, there is no “other,” there are only beloved children. A colleague of mine was fond of saying that whenever we draw a line between who’s in and who’s out, we’ll find Jesus on the other side.

Few, I think would have expected Jesus to be startled by the faith of this Roman centurion. Yet he was, and that willingness to be surprised, even amazed, coupled with Jesus’ commitment to God’s purpose to heal and save all the world changed history. So what might happen if we were similarly willing to be surprised by whom God is using and similarly committed to sharing news of God’s love for all? Let’s invite our people to find out.

Blessings on your proclamation, Dear Partner. It’s a crazy world, desperate for a word of hope amid all the talk of fear, and so in need of God’s message of love, acceptance and grace. Thank you for sharing that word. What you do has never been more important.

Yours in Christ,