On that day the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and glory of the survivors of Israel. Whoever is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem, once the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning. Then the Lord will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over its places of assembly a cloud by day and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night. Indeed over all the glory there will be a canopy. It will serve as a pavilion, a shade by day from the heat, and a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain.
I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
Our feet are standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem.
Jerusalem—built as a city
that is bound firmly together.
To it the tribes go up,
the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel,
to give thanks to the name of the Lord.
For there the thrones for judgment were set up,
the thrones of the house of David.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls,
and security within your towers.”
For the sake of my relatives and friends
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good.
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.”
We are given two accounts of the Capernaum centurion in the gospels, one in the gospel according to St. Luke, and the other one in today’s account from St. Matthew. These accounts tell the same fundamental story, but differ slightly in the details. In Luke’s version, the centurion himself does not appear before Jesus at any time, but sends word to Him through the Jewish elders asking Him to come; these Jewish elders report to Jesus that the man is worthy, because he loves the Jewish people and built their synagogue for them. Then while Jesus is accompanying these messengers and approaching the centurion’s house, the centurion sends new messengers to convey his great statement of faith, proclaiming his unworthiness to have Jesus enter under his roof and asking Him to only say the word. In Matthew’s version, we are not told about the centurion’s philanthropy, and the middle men are cut out, with the centurion speaking to Jesus in person. Finally, while both gospels record Jesus’s response to the centurion, that He has not seen such faith in Israel, Luke’s does not include the following statement that Matthew includes about many coming from east and west to eat in the kingdom of heaven. Why did the two evangelists record this event differently, and what can we learn from these differences?
Interestingly, the evangelist Luke was himself a Gentile, but stresses the centurion’s love of the Jewish faith and Jewish people as important elements in his encounter with Jesus. Luke recognizes, as a Gentile, that the relationship of God with the Jewish people was the source of the covenant and dwelling of God among men, through which the Messiah came into this world, and through which all the nations of the world would be blessed. As such, he shows the centurion as having a love and respect for God’s dwelling place and God’s people, placing them as the intermediaries between him and Jesus. Jesus’s response to the centurion’s faith, therefore, provides an element of contrast and almost irony; although the love of Israel is at the heart of what is drawing the centurion to Jesus, somehow, nonetheless, this Gentile centurion has received and professed this great faith such that Jesus has not seen in Israel.
In contrast to the Gentile Luke, who shows such deference to and reverence for Israel, Matthew was a Jew who shows rather more deference to the Gentiles in his gospel. In Matthew’s account, Jesus does not respond to the centurion’s appeal because of his philanthropy to the Jewish people or because the Jewish people interceded on his behalf, but simply because he asked. Moreover, the centurion speaks for himself. Finally, after affirming the faith of the centurion as something He has not seen in Israel, Jesus furthermore adds that many Gentiles will come from east and west and sit with the great fathers of the Jewish faith in the kingdom of God. It is as though, through the example of the centurion and these others of whom Jesus prophesies, Jesus is suggesting to the Jewish people that they too may be blessed and learn something more of God and of faith from the Gentiles whom Jesus is now calling to Himself, making them co-heirs with His firstborn people.
Who are the counterparts of the “Jews” and “Gentiles” in our time? With respect to Christianity, some have suggested that in the New Testament Jews, many “churched” Christians might see themselves; the religious people, the keepers of the rules, those secure in their faith identity. On the other hand, in the “Gentiles” we might see an analog of the “unchurched”, the not necessarily religious, the ones seeking the truth and whom God is seeking. In our Old Testament readings, we are reminded of the holiness of the church, and of the good it is meant to bestow and the shelter it is meant to provide to all who seek refuge therein. But we are also reminded that God is working in the lives of the unchurched, showing Himself to them through the experiences of their lives and through His working in the church. And there are ways God wants to show Himself to us through our brothers and sisters who are yet to encounter Him, as He also wants to show Himself to them through us.
Do I respect and show deference to my brothers and sisters who have yet to encounter Jesus? Do I appreciate the good things I have received through God’s church and seek to serve in the church and extend her hospitality to others? Am I open to learn from the examples of faith of those around me, both inside and outside the church?
Today, let’s pray for the grace of greater faith and greater deference to others, and to draw others into their home, the Church of Christ and the Kingdom of God.