No one could believe it.
Not the Jewish elders.
Not the Centurion's friends.
Not the Centurion, himself.
Not the Centurion's slave.
Not the crowd following Jesus.
Not even Jesus.
No one could believe Jesus would heal this one who
does not bear citizenship in the Empire of Rome.
Does not bear citizenship in the people Israel.
Does not bear anything
other than the hardship of indentured servitude.
Does not even bear a name.
this nameless one.
This one without any good reason to be healedâ€”
being valued as a slave is not something God abides.
This one Jesus never meets in person.
Is the first to whom
Jesus extends the citizenship of the kingdom of God.
Following that magnificent beatific sermon
on the plain.
The first to receive the promise of God.
And all its joy.
As those Beatitudes put it.
The first to receive the promise of new life.
In the gift of healing.
With only a word,
and this crucial comment.
"Not even in Israel have I found such faith."
Saint Luke's Gospel
is a sort of Midrash
on the ever-expanding nature of faith,
ever-expanding nature of God's promise.
First to Israel.
And then to all the ends of the earth.
God's promise to those who expect it.
And those who don't.
The Torah of God,
given as a gift to God's people of old
and, in these last days, a gift to the whole world.
The arc of Saint Luke's exposition
begins with this Roman Centurion's slave
and reaches its climax
on the Day of Pentecost.
When the word of God
â€”the promise of Godâ€”
is, by the gift of the Holy Spirit,
not simply proclaimed,
but intelligible to each according to his or her own language.
Not simply given,
Not simply offered by Jesus to people like this nameless one,
but offered by the Church of Jesus Christ
to any and all persons
in any and all need.
No one could believe Jesus
would heal this Roman Centurion's slave.
But, from Saint Luke's perspective,
no one should have found it a surprise, either.
The pervasiveness of the promise of God
is, Saint Luke argues, what Torah is all about.
In healing the Roman Centurion's slave,
God in Christ Jesus caries out precisely King Solomon's plea:
God hears the prayers of the foreigner,
not part of God's people Israel,
and responds just the same.
And in doing so, reveals the greatness of God.
Mercy higher than the mountains.
Grace deeper than the seas.
Nothing shy of God giving everything
not simply for God's people Israel,
but for the sake of all people.
The Good News of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ
is that God's promise knows no bounds.
The Holy Spirit is that powerful.
On that first Pentecost Day.
And every Holy Spirit-infused day since.
Pray for it, Saint Luke urges us.
Pray for it and expect it.
Insist the Church of Jesus Christ proclaim
this all pervasive mercy and grace of God.
And see in the living of such greatnessâ€”God's greatnessâ€”
the very kingdom of heaven
stretching to all peoples of the earth.
Now and unto the end of the ages.
How does Saint Paul put it?
There is no other Gospel.
Proclaiming this Gospel,
living this Gospel is no easy task.
It was not easy for God's people to receive a Centurion
of an empire known for stringing up people on crosses,
killing its religious and secular enemies
in the most brutal of ways.
Killing Jesus, himself, on the cross.
Perhaps this is why Saint Luke tells of Jesus healing the Centurion's slave,
rather than the Centurion himself.
Making the Good, but challenging, News
a little more palatable to those who hear it.
And to us.
We know well the challenge of corporate Centurions.
Will they care for anything other than the bottom line?
Will they regard as valuable those
who call this city home?
Will the Centurions of our own time understand
that their actions directly affect
the most vulnerable of God's children?
Yes, Saint Luke tells us.
Yes, the Holy Spirit can and will work in such all-pervasive ways.
Pray for it.
And expect it.
Expect it of our corporate partners next door
at Boston Properties.
Pray for it.
And expect it of ourselves.
For many of us hold such positions.
Call it vocation.
That is, our daily work,
infused by the power of Holy Spirit,
to serve God and neighbor,
in the building up of the kingdom of God.
Not begging God to be counted good.
But praising God that in Christ Jesus we are counted good.
And living a life worthy of that calling.
Once asked how someone could live such a life,
Martin Luther reflected on the life of a shoemaker
and is said to have counseled,
that praising God,
praising God as a Christian, as a person of God's promise
is not about putting crosses on shoes,
but simply about making good shoes.
Not perfect shoes.
But the very best shoes we can make.
What is true about cobblers.
Is true about every single vocation.
Every single person.
From the garbage collector,
to the priest.
From the teacher and doctor and lawyer,
to the corporate Centurions around us.
We live in a time obsessed with what something looks like,
what it appears to be.
A time more interested in putting crosses
â€”proverbial and actualâ€”
all over the place,
than doing the important and time-consuming work of doing
something good and meaningful.
This sort of shallowness is a threat in the church.
Just as it is a threat in society.
A threat to all of us who live in and love both.
Societies thrive when decision are made
by and for the wellbeing of all people.
What nearly sank
in our negotiations with Boston Properties
for their lease of our property next door
was not a real estate partnership,
but a remarkable partnership
entered into for the well-being of people.
Concern for the almighty dollar nearly trumped
concern for society.
And that's a real threat
in a world of increasing globalization
where money is made above all else,
and where people affected by that money making
can't even be seen or perceived
because they are half a world away.
If we nearly experienced as much
here at 54th and Lexington,
in the heart of one of the most powerful places on earth,
Imagine other parts of this city.
Imagine others regions of the country.
Imagine the developing parts of our world.
Which makes what we do here.
What we witness to in this place.
Each of our participation in the mission and ministry
of creatively shaping life in the city
All the more important.
Our prayer, our expectation
that our life's work,
and that our relationships with others as the body of Christ,
and yes, even the Centurions around us,
â€”especially the Centurions around usâ€”
in the work of the building up of the kingdom of God.
Our prayer, our expectation that
elders, friends, foreigners to the land,
people of all and every sort when they reach out
â€”when we reach outâ€” at this table
each receive the living God.
Each are bound up into the body of Christ.
And each are empowered by the gift of the Holy Spirit
for the work of ministry, for vocation.
in our daily lives.
To which Jesus exclaims:
"Not even in Israel have I found such faith."
Yes, right here in the midst of the City.
It might be hard for us, for others to believe.
when they see it.
hear of it.
perhaps even are touched by the ministry of this place
â€”undertaken with corporate centurionsâ€”
they'll know that
the laughter â€” as the beatitudes put it â€”
the healing and wholeness offered to all people in this place
is the work of God.
The work of the Holy Spirit.
Who from that Pentecost day
And in the ages to come.
Keeps on surprising us.
Keeps on showing us higher heights
and deeper depths.
Keeps on showing us more of God's people, too.
Jared R. Stahler
Saint Peter's Church
In the City of New York