11.29.2010

Turning outside-in

Listen. Do you hear the inbreaking of God's kingdom in this story? 
When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.” And he said to him, “I will come and cure him.” The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.” And the servant was healed in that hour. (Matt. 8:5-13)
Jesus has been traveling around Galilee, preaching the revolutionary good news of the Sermon on the Mount, healing, and drawing crowds from far beyond the territory. He's taught the people how to have dignity in the face of oppression, to suffer persecution for a greater good.

Returning to Capernaum, he is approached by a leader of the occupying Roman army.  This centurion is not drawn by religion; he is under Caesar's law, not Moses'.  Yet he is drawn to Jesus, because he has heard the buzz and sees that Jesus is to go-to guy if you seek healing and wholeness.  I imagine the centurion as a non-nonsense kind of man, one who has seen the world and knows how power works.  And the word has gotten back about Jesus' healing power.  Convinced of that power, the centurion doesn't need to have Jesus come to his home to prove it.  He knows that Jesus' word is good, if he says the servant is healed he is healed -- just as the centurion knows that his orders will be carried out by his men.

Jesus is amazed by this complete and unusual trust. What he tells his followers is equally stunning:  My Father's kingdom is not about being born of the right race, espousing the right religion.  It's not exclusive -- true faith exists even in people who have not heard of, scoff at and even oppress religion.  And more to the point, don't think religion can trump true trust in what God can do, or you're in for an unpleasant surprise.

Imagine if the church today were seen by society the way that centurion saw Jesus -- as the go-to place for concern about the sick, the hungry, the marginalized.  What would it take for people of no or other faiths to know that they could bring their hurts to the church, and trust that we are as good as Jesus' word?

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