Monday, May 23, 2016

Faith of an Outsider

"I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith."  (Luke 7:10)

Jesus' words quoted above are in reference to a Gentile, a Centurion, a guard in the Roman Army.  Most Roman soldiers had little use for religion, either their own mixture of gods and goddess for which temples and worship sites were erected or for the god of the Israelites whom they regarded as just part of a myth that was being promoted by the Jewish population.  This soldier, however, had a reason for asking for Jesus' help.  He had a slave whom he "valued highly" who was ill and close to death.  This man of importance thought of himself as unworthy of having Jesus to come to his house to see the sick man but sent servants to ask Jesus to simply "speak the word" and his slave would be healed.

Jesus' astonishment at these words of the Centurion have their roots both in the faith he has seen exhibited by this man and by the fact that the man who said the words was a Gentile.  Jews regarded Gentiles as dogs or low-life and Gentiles generally regarded Jews as less than reputable and given to myths and superstitions.  For a Gentile to ask a favor of a Jew, even a miraculous one such as Jesus, it took a lot of courage.  This Centurion was a man of importance who was accustomed to giving orders but he ventured into an area of society that most people in his social standing would not have gone.

The Centurion received what he was seeking--the healing of his slave, given in response to the words he sent to Jesus, the healer.  Jesus' recognition of his great faith, faith that even Jesus thought of as exceptional and unusual, was such that he did not need to make a visit to the home of the Centurion.  Jesus could provide the healing being sought through the positive energy he sent along with his greetings to the Centurion by way of the servants who delivered the message.

Many who use the word "Christian" to describe themselves will attribute faith in God as something owned by Christians.  In fact, some Christians deny that God even hears the prayers of those who do not call themselves Christians.  A few years ago, one minister in a certain denomination made the national news with his statement that God did not hear the prayers of Jews except for prayers of repentance.  He believed that only "Christian prayers" truly were ones that God honored and heard.

How arrogant are we when we negate so many in the world who do not call themselves Christian but do have prayers that they say to their Higher Power in order to bring themselves comfort or peace or joy!  Our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters share a common heritage with us who claim the name Christian as we are all Children of Abraham and we pray to One God who is Father of us all.  Other religious persons in the world may not share in this heritage but may be true seekers of truth and light. Jesus said in the Gospels that God would not turn away anyone who comes to him seeking what God may offer to all.

In the ancient world, there were clear divisions between those of various religious identities.  Now and then, someone would cross the line and seek out others who did not believe as they did.  Jesus did this many times in the Gospels, for example with the woman at the well in John 4 and with the Syro-Phoenician woman in Matthew 15 who sought healing for her daughter.  He was constantly open to all who were seeking him or a new understanding of the God of Israel.  Jesus did not worry that a person did not belong to the People of Israel.  He was concerned for what they needed from him and open to help meet their needs.

We have a plethora of religious expressions in our world today.  They range from the tradition to the odd or unique.  Persons who are part of different religious groups are there for different reasons.  Sometimes it is because they were born into a certain religious group.  Other times it is because something about that group attracted their attention and they converted and became a part of it.  Even persons who have called themselves Christians have aligned themselves with non-Christian groups and given up their Christian identity, much to the amazement of others in the Christian movement.

Jesus demonstrated in his life that God's love is for all who live in God's world.  We may all be seeking God on different paths in life but the paths are illuminated by truth from God if seekers of truth are sincere.  There is still light to be revealed to those who honestly seek the light that comes from the God of all.  Christians share the light they have received with others as they attempt to live in peace and harmony with others who may adhere to other religious traditions or who may not have a connection to religion at all.  Many today see no need for religion in their lives.  Perhaps it is the God of us all who calls those of us who claim faith as part of our lives, whatever our tradition may be, to live out our faith daily so that some can recognize God's presence in our lives, not by our words we speak but by the way we treat others in our world....the very visible presence of the God of us all at work in our lives daily.

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