1 Timothy 2:1-8
It belongs to the Church, whose missionary character is rooted in the apostolic tradition of Christianity, to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ among nonbelievers, so that we "may become one body, one spirit in Christ," as the formula for Eucharistic Prayer III states. But, what if nonbelievers, those we seek to convert to Christianity and more specifically to Catholicism, give us a stronger and more solid witness of faith, as occurs with the Roman centurion in today’s gospel. In fact, Luke’s Gospel, which is addressed to a Gentile-Christian community, shows us a Jesus who easily relates to Gentiles and so he is amazed at the centurion’s public declaration of faith. Moreover, he humbly remains open to learn from the faith of this man who loves the chosen people of Israel, albeit he belongs to the hated people of the occupying Roman force. We therefore see Jesus turning and declaring to his followers: "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith." Such a witness of faith effects a mission in reverse, as contemporary missiology would suggest, for a "nonbeliever" teaches "believers" something new and invigorating about faith in Jesus Christ. This thought deserves to be further developed from a biblical perspective.
It is in Matthew’s Gospel, which is addressed to a Jewish-Christian community, that we repeatedly hear Jesus refer to his disciples as people "of little faith" (6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8; 17:20), because they were a "doubting" people (28:17). Like Luke, Matthew also recounts the centurion’s faith story, but he further adds that "many will come from the east and the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 8:5-13). One thing is clear in all the gospels, that is, Jesus expected his followers, as he still expects from us today, to demonstrate an unwavering faith at all times and in all circumstances. For, aside from today’s story, the gospels give us more examples of such a faith from people who did not belong to the chosen people, such as the Syrophoenician woman who asked Jesus to "drive a demon out of her daughter" (Mk 7:24-30), the Greeks who wanted to see Jesus through Philip during a festival (Jn 12:20-33), or the Samaritan woman who believed Jesus was the Christ and so became his emissary to her people (Jn 4:4-42). Do we, like Jesus, learn from "nonbelievers" or people of other faiths? Or do we pretend to know everything and to have an extraordinary faith?
Jesus expects us to firmly believe, as the centurion did, that salvation is for everyone and that it is found in the will of God and the "knowledge of the truth," namely that "there is one God, [just as] there is also one mediator between God and [humankind], the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as ransom for all," as today’s reading from 1 Timothy states. Hence, Jesus expects us to fully trust in him as we pronounce the centurion’s words in each Eucharistic celebration, for we say: "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed." If we are people of unwavering faith, we should then trust that time and space cannot limit the redeeming, healing power and grace of Jesus Christ. For, where two or more of us gather to lift up "holy hands, without anger or argument," and offer "supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings" to God for everyone, Jesus Christ is in our midst interceding for us before God. We should therefore ask ourselves if Jesus finds in us the same type of faith he found in the centurion. Otherwise, let’s ask him to increase and strengthen our faith in him through his Holy Spirit at each Mass.
Fr. Alfredo Ocampo, C.P. gives retreats and parish missions. He is stationed at Holy Name Passionist Community in Houston, Texas.