The Gospel of the Day – 2016.05.29
Faith and Confusion
When Jesus had come to the end of all he wanted the people to hear, he went into Capernaum. A centurion there had a servant, a favourite of his, who was sick and near death. Having heard about Jesus he sent some Jewish elders to him to ask him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus they pleaded earnestly with him. ‘He deserves this of you’ they said ‘because he is friendly towards our people; in fact, he is the one who built the synagogue.’ So Jesus went with them, and was not very far from the house when the centurion sent word to him by some friends: ‘Sir,’ he said ‘do not put yourself to trouble; because I am not worthy to have you under my roof; and for this same reason I did not presume to come to you myself; but give the word and let my servant be cured. For I am under authority myself, and have soldiers under me; and I say to one man: Go, and he goes; to another: Come here, and he comes; to my servant: Do this, and he does it.’ When Jesus heard these words he was astonished at him and, turning round, said to the crowd following him, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found faith like this.’ And when the messengers got back to the house they found the servant in perfect health.
A Miracle – A Meme of Healing
There is a message in this periscope. It is intended for the communities of believers founded by Saint Luke and Saint Paul; Paul who never met Jesus, and Luke the physician who followed him, who also never met Jesus, but who authored the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts regardless.
These apostles lived and worked well beyond the borders of Palestine. They shared their faith with Jews of the diaspora, Gentiles alike.
Through their work, the Way of Jesus became an international movement. As such the narratives they promoted required international characters; Jews to be sure, but Ethiopians, Greeks, and Romans to. And so they narrated the story of the Roman Centurion, a Roman who admired the faith and moral probity of the Jewish people (which was not entirely uncommon in the time of Jesus), a godfearer as the Jews called them.
The Gospel tell us that the Centurion understands who Jesus is, and acknowledges his authority, as a result the Centurion is rewarded with a gift of healing for his servant; the servant who remains anonymous and of whom we are never given any indication about whether he knows Jesus, understands his mission, or has faith sufficient to merit healing.
This narrative was meant to prepare the hearts and minds of Jewish-Christians for the acceptance of Gentiles into their midst; not just Gentiles, but even Romans, and Romans of every class, including military commanders.
It was also meant to convey the message to gentiles that the Way of Jesus was open to everyone.
That is the basic story.
It also contains a deeper narrative; one about the transactional nature of faith, this narrative is a lie.
It tells us in a not so subtle way the gifts of faith, like the miracle of healing, can be purchased through correct belief.
Jesus heals the Centurion’s servant because the Centurion expresses the correct belief about God, with the appropriate degree of commitment.
The way that the narrative plays itself out, the reader can presume that the servant would not have been healed if the Centurion had any doubt about who Jesus was. Not only did he have no doubt, but his faith surpassed that of the entire population of Israel, and with that coin he purchased for another the gift of healing.
This tells us that the miracle of healing can be purchased through right belief, right ideology, right doctrine; that if your knowledge of who Jesus is, is correct, and your commitment to that knowledge is pure, you are eligible to receive the gifts of faith and even pass them on to others.
This thought structure is essentially Gnostic, and belongs to a heresy that was condemned by the church in subsequent centuries.
Gnosticism was condemned because it circumscribed the faithful, and limited the church to insular groups of believers who put more stock in their secrets and mystical traditions than in the charitable Jesus commissioned the church to engage in.
The more significant error is not the gnostic error, however; the more significant error is the error that the gifts of faith are transactional, when Jesus intended for the loving works of Christians to be free, and freely distributed to any who ask, regardless of who they are or how they come.
8th Sunday in Ordinary Time