9th Sunday of the Year 1 Kings 8:41–43; Galatians 1:1–2, 6–10; Luke 7:1–10
A light in the darkness Like the centurion, we are to be a light in a world filled with darkness.
The central figure in today’s gospel is not a Jew or a Christian, but a Roman centurion.
The New Testament makes frequent mention of Roman centurions, each time with respect.
For example, it was a Roman centurion who cried out on Golgotha after Jesus’ death, “This man was really the Son of God!” Mark 15:39
And the first Gentile upon whom the Holy Spirit descended was a Roman centurion and his family. (Acts of the Apostles 10:45)
A centurion was a Roman officer in charge of about 100 Roman soldiers. Roman historians describe centurions as being the backbone of the Roman army. One historian, Polybius, says of the centurions:
“[They are] men who can command, steady in action, and reliable. . . . When hard pressed they must be ready to hold their ground and die at their posts.’’
The centurion in today’s gospel was all of these things and more. He was a man who had even nobler qualities than those possessed by his fellow centurions.
For example, he held Jews in high esteem at a time when many other Romans treated them with disdain and total disrespect.
He also held Roman slaves and servants in high esteem at a time when other Romans regarded them as nothing.
For example, Roman slaves or servants had no rights. A Roman owner could mistreat or even kill a slave without violating the law.
Roman authorities recommended that as farmers examined their equipment yearly and threw away what was broken or old, so they should do the same with their slaves.
But above all, the centurion in today’s gospel was a deeply religious man. He lived by spiritual values and convictions.
For example, he was a humble man. He did not hesitate to lower himself by approaching a Galilean preacher for help. He also did not hesitate to lower himself by telling this preacher that he himself was not worthy to have him enter his home.
Finally, the Roman centurion in today’s gospel was a man of deep faith.
He helped the Jews build a synagogue where they could meet and worship. He also recognized in Jesus a deep spiritual power and presence. He recognized in Jesus something special, something from God. In the light of all this, it is no surprise that Jesus praised the centurion in a way that he praised few people in gospel times. Jesus said of him, “I tell you, I have never found faith like this, not even in Israel.” The centurion was a Roman in a Roman world. But he lived by values and visions totally different from those of most Romans of his time.
In a world of inhumanity and superstition he stood out as a man of compassion and faith. In a world of darkness he stood out like a beacon of light.
And it is right here that the Roman centurion becomes a model for Christians of all ages, especially our age.
Today’s world is much like the Roman world in which the centurion grew up. It too is filled with values and visions contrary to those espoused and taught by Jesus.
Yet the centurion did not let these hostile visions and values rub off on him. He didn’t let these hostile visions and values corrupt his own visions and values.
He maintained a respect for Jews at a time when most of his own countrymen disdained them.
He maintained a respect for slaves at a time when most of his own countrymen treated them as animals and things.
And he maintained a respect for religion at a time when many of his countrymen treated it as degenerate and superstitious.
Indeed, the centurion is a model for Christians of all ages, especially our age.
For Jesus intended that his followers be what the centurion was: a light in the midst of a world filled with darkness.
Jesus intended that his followers be witnesses to human dignity in the midst of a world that often tramples on human rights. Jesus intended that his followers be witnesses to religious faith in the midst of a world that often ridicules religious faith as weakness.
And if we do what the centurion did, Jesus will someday say of us what he said of the centurion:
“I tell you, I have never found faith like this, not even in Israel.”
And if we have faith as the centurion did, Jesus will someday do for us what he did for the centurion.
For today’s gospel ends with these beautiful words:
“The [centurion’s] messengers went back to the officer’s house and found his servant well.”
Today’s gospel is an invitation for us to be for our world what the centurion was for his world: a light in the midst of darkness.
It invites us to be witnesses to human dignity in our world as the centurion was in his world.
It invites us to be witnesses to the healing power of Jesus in our world as the centurion was in his world. It invites us to let Jesus do for us what he did for the centurion.
Jesus blessed not only the centurion’s slave by restoring him to health, but also the centurion himself by giving him an even greater faith than he had when he first approached Jesus.
Let’s close by praying again the responsorial psalm from today’s first reading. It sums up what the gospel reading invites us to do.
“Go . . . to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples.
“Praise the Lord, all nations! Praise him, all peoples! His love for us is strong, and his faithfulness is eternal.”
“Go . . . to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples.”
Series II 9th Sunday of the Year 1 Kings 8:41–43; Galatians 1:1–2, 6–10; Luke 7:1–10
Lost and found Faith involves loving trust, constant struggle, and times of darkness.
Some time ago a high school teacher read a passage from a novel to her students. The novel was The Devil’s Advocate by Morris West.
The passage concerned a person who had lost faith in God and was trying to get it back again. The person asks:
“How does one come back to belief [in God] . . . ? I tried to reason myself back to [God] . . . as a foundling might reason himself back to the existence of his father. . . . All children have fathers.
“But who was he? Did he love me or had he forgotten me forever? . . . I groped for him and could not find him. I prayed to him . . . and he did not answer.’’
But the person could not regain faith in God. Then, one day, something strange happened. The person woke up in the morning, and lo and behold, God was there again. Once again, the person had faith. Describing the return to faith, the person said:
“There were no words to record, no stones scored with a fiery finger, no thunders on Tabor. I had a Father and he knew me and the world was a house he had built for me.’’ After reading the passage, the teacher asked the students three questions.
First, she asked them, “Have you ever had an experience like the one described in the novel? Was there ever a time when your faith seemed to go behind a cloud—or even die?’’
To this question, all 22 students replied that they had indeed had such an experience.
The second question was this: “When did this experience occur?’’
To this question, 7 students said that it occurred in grade school, 11 said that it occurred in the first two years of high school, and 4 said that it occurred in the last two years of high school.
The final question was this: “Did your faith return again, as it did with the person in the novel? If so, what brought it back?’’
To this question, a sizable number of the students said that their faith in God did return.
The answers to “what brought it back’’ ranged all the way from getting help from a priest or counselor to doing nothing it simply returned on its own.
That survey fits in with today’s Scripture readings, especially the gospel reading. There Jesus praises the faith of the centurion, saying, “I tell you, I have never found faith like this, not even in Israel!”
The teacher’s survey of the students and Jesus’ praise of the centurion raise an important question: Why does faith sometimes seem to die or go behind a cloud for a while?
The answer to that question has to do with the nature of faith. When it comes to faith, we need to keep in mind three things.
First, faith is not something purely intellectual. It is not like figuring out the answer to a math problem. It is not like solving a puzzle. It is not suddenly “seeing the solution’’ to some intellectual difficulty that keeps us from believing in God.
On the contrary, faith is much more a thing of the heart than it is a thing of the mind. Faith is first and foremost loving trust in God.
It is trusting God, even in the face of intellectual difficulties. Recall the story of Abraham.
When God asked him to sacrifice his son Isaac, Abraham was confused. Sacrificing his son meant sacrificing the person through whom God had promised to give him descendants.
Had Abraham relied solely on his intellect, he would have set aside his trust in God. But he didn’t; he chose to trust God. And, as a result, God blessed him greatly.
Second, faith involves constant struggle. The journey of faith never ends. There is no such thing as “getting the faith’’ and never having to worry about it again. Once more, recall the story of Abraham.
When God promised to bless Abraham with offspring through his son Isaac, Abraham believed; he never doubted. Then, when God tested him by asking him to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham had his first reason for doubting God.
That episode taught Abraham an important truth about faith. Faith involves much more than a one-time decision to trust God.
Rather, it involves an ongoing series of decisions to trust God. Faith is a lot like marriage. As any married person can tell you, marriage also involves more than a one-time decision to trust and love another. It involves a never-ending series of decisions to do this.
Third, faith involves times of darkness. There are times when we find it hard to believe. Our faith seems to disappear, like the sun on a cloudy day.
In other words, there are times when God tests us. There are times when God invites us to deepen our faith, as God invited Abraham to deepen his faith, by asking him to sacrifice his son.
The nature of faith is such that no matter how faithful we are to God’s word, there are times when our faith becomes shrouded in darkness. There are times when our faith seems to flicker and almost go out.
Faith is a lot like life. It has its peak moments and its zero moments. It has its high points and its low points. It has its days of brightness on the mountaintop and its days of darkness in the valley.
And so by way of conclusion, faith involves three things: loving trust in God, an ongoing series of decisions to continue to trust God, and times of darkness.
Let’s close with these words, which Jesus addressed to Thomas the Apostle:
“Do you believe because you see me? How happy are those who believe without seeing me!” John 20:29
Series III 9th Sunday of the Year 1 Kings 8:41–43; Galatians 1:1–2, 6–10; Luke 7:1–10
Faith Faith gives us the strength to face all things. Jesus said,] “I tell you,I have never found faith like this, not even in Israel!” Luke 7:9 Bobby Allison is a legend in the world of stock-car racing. In his 33 years in the sport, he has won 600 races, including 84 Winston Cup events.
Everything was coming up roses for Bobby until one day, late in his career, when tragedy struck.
A crash at Pocono International Raceway ended his career, almost killing him. A few years later, his youngest son, Cliff, was killed in the Bush Grand National.
Eleven months after that his remaining son, Davey, was killed in a copter crash in Alabama. Finally, his good friend, Neil Bonner, was killed just before the 1994 Daytona 500.
Inside Sports magazine interviewed Bobby and asked him how he was able to accept these tragedies so calmly and peacefully. Bobby’s answer caught everyone off guard. He said:
“My Catholic faith has helped me, because I can get down on my knees and turn to God for strength.” The faith of Bobby Allison makes a good introduction to today’s Gospel.
There a Roman centurion had a slave who was dying. The centurion asked some Jewish elders to beg Jesus to come to his house and heal the slave. The elders gladly did so, telling Jesus:
“This man really deserves your help. He loves our people and he himself built a synagogue for us.” Luke 7:4–5
Jesus obliged and a crowd of people followed him to the centurion’s house.
Just before they reached the house, some friends of the centurion met Jesus and gave him this message from the centurion:
“I do not deserve to have you come into my house, neither do I consider myself worthy to come to you in person. Just give the order, and my servant will get well. . . .”
Jesus was surprised when he heard this; he turned around and said to the crowd following him, “I tell you, I have never found faith like this, not even in Israel!”
The messengers went back . . . and found his servant well. Luke 7:6–10 Sometimes you hear people say, “I’d give anything to have a faith like the centurions. Instead, I have a weak faith, like the man who once said to Jesus, ‘I do have faith, but not enough. Help me have more!’ ” Mark 9:24 That raises a question: How can we grow in our faith?
Responding to that question the Catechism of the Catholic Church says (CCC 162): “To live, grow, and persevere in the faith . . . we must beg the Lord to increase [it],” as the apostles asked him to do for them, saying,“Make our faith greater.” Luke 17:5
Secondly, “to live, grow, and persevere in the faith . . . we must nourish it with the the word of God,” as we are doing now.
Third, and finally, “to live, grow, and persevere in the faith” we need to reach out in love to our brothers and sisters, especially those in need.
Commenting on this final point, the Letter of James says:
Suppose there are brothers or sisters who need clothes and don’t have enough to eat.
What good is there in your saying to them, “God bless you! Keep warm and eat well!” if you don’t give them the necessities of life?
So it is with faith: if it is alone and includes no actions, then it is dead. James 2:15–17
In brief, then, to grow in our faith, we need to:
ask God to increase it, nourish it with God’s word, and reach out in love to others, especially the needy.
Of these three points, the final one is the most neglected and is very important in our world today.
That takes us back to the centurion in today’s Gospel.
The New Testament makes frequent mention of centurions. And each time it does so with respect.
Centurions were in charge of 100 Roman soldiers, and were chosen for their honorable character and leadership qualities.
This is especially evident of the centurion in today’s Gospel. For example, he treated Jews with respect and love at a time when other Romans did not.
He treated his slaves with love at a time when Roman law permitted owners to mistreat and even kill them. For example, Roman authorities recommended that as farmers examined their equipment yearly and threw away what was broken or old, they should do the same with slaves.
The centurion in today’s Gospel was a deeply spiritual man who lived by spiritual values and convictions. For example, he was humble and did not hesitate to lower himself in the eyes of the Jews who were enemies of Rome, by saying that he was not worthy to have Jesus enter his home. Finally, he was a man of deep faith. For example, he built a synagogue for the Jews to pray in and recognized in Jesus something special, something from God.
And Jesus, in turn, recognized in him something special from God, saying, “I tell you, I have never found faith like this, not even in Israel!”
Today’s Gospel invites us to be for our world what the centurion was for his world: a witness to what is noble and good.
It invites us to be witnesses to human dignity and faith in our world, just as the centurion was a witness to them in his world.
It invites us to grow in our faith as the centurion grew in his.