Daily Reflection
November 29th, 1999
Bob Whipple, Jr.
English Department
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Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122:1-9
Matthew 8:5-11

When I was a kid in Sunday School, I heard this story, and thought “Gee, that’s nice.  Another miracle.”  You see, it was to me, then, another in the series of miracles Jesus wrought—people climbing through roofs, dead people raised, mad persons calmed (I really liked the swine jumping over the cliff in that story), Zaccheus in the sycamore tree.  They were all stories.  In my 9-year old religion, the lesson was:  Jesus was good.  Jesus helps people.  We should help people; we should be like Jesus.  Obvious.

But it’s not so obvious.  Jesus helps a centurion, for goodness’ sake.  Think about this for a minute.  A centurion is an oppressor.  (I think of the line in “Heaven on their Minds,” from Jesus Christ Superstar:  telling Jesus he should go cool on the Messiah business, Herod tells him:  “We are occupied / have you forgotten how put down we are?”)  Imagine a foreign and very unfamiliar nation conquering our land, garrisoning its soldiers throughout, speaking a strange language, worshiping in a way we have been told is bad, forbidden, unthinkable (remember all those Roman gods and goddesses).  How willing would you be to go out of your way for one?

Not surprisingly, Jesus doesn’t hesitate, saying " I will come and heal him."  The Roman says an amazing thing  “…only say the word, and my servant will be healed.”  What’s this?  Piety from a one of the conquerors?  This is enough to rock one’s world view.  Then the Roman does an amazing thing—he compares Jesus’s authority to his own—when he says jump, people say “how high?”  Things get more complex.  Relationships are reversed, power structures overturned, and a conqueror beseeches a member of a conquered nation.  “Not even in Israel” has Jesus found this faith.

The Gospeler tells us that “many will…sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”  Not just those we know, not just those we like, who are like us, who think like us, who look like us.  Many.  If that’s a complex idea, then we’d better get used to it.  The Galileans had no monopoly on him; as the hymn says, in Christ there is no East and West.  The love that is simple to receive and ask for goes, and must go, to more places than are readily obvious.

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