Most Holy Name of Mary

Lectionary: 443

When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him
and, turning, said to the crowd following him,
“I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”

The Gospels of Luke, Matthew and John give us three different versions of today’s story. In Saint Luke’s version the centurion does not approach Jesus but sends messengers. Saint Matthew says he came directly to him and Saint John says a “royal official” came to Jesus. In the synoptic accounts the patient was a servant; in Saint John’s account, he is the centurion's son.

What unites the stories is not so much their broad similarities as their message, belief in Jesus. In every case we are impressed by the petitioner’s humble approach to Jesus and his willingness to accept a word from the Messiah. They do not require that he come to the sick boy and do something spectacular; they only ask that he give the word even at some distance from the invalid. 

You will remember that Jesus also healed the Canaanite woman’s daughter at a distance. In every case the petitioner requires no more than a nod from Jesus; they return to the sickroom with confidence in his word.

If someone wants to make a case for heavenly patronage – and a homily around the “Most Holy Name of Mary” – he could point especially to Saint Luke’s version. The centurion first approached Jesus through Jewish connections and then with his own servants. Stricken by a sense of unworthiness he can neither approach Jesus directly nor allow him under his roof.

A culture like ours, with pretensions of egalitarianism, might argue that God neither requires intermediaries nor listens to them. Everyone should approach the Lord directly for their needs. They should ask boldly and persistently. There are plenty of scripture stories to back that argument.
But Roman culture was built on patronage. It was not what you know but who you know that made the difference. No one in his right mind would dare to petition the emperor, the king or a god unless he had some very high station in this world, but anyone might court patronage in the halls of power to win specific favors. Those who know how things get done in the United States admit not much has changed since 33 AD. 

What is striking about Luke’s story is that a Roman Centurion who had enormous social capital trembled in the presence of a poor, itinerant preacher. He might be proud to welcome a king or an emperor into his home but was too ashamed to permit Jesus. He sent Jewish friends and slave messengers instead.
Jesus, recognizing the man’s humility, honored his request. He says to the crowd, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”

With this story the Evangelist gives us a new understanding of faith. It’s not what you know or who you know; it’s how you respond to the presence of God. Jesus' recognizes "faith" in those who honor him as the Son of God. The faithful accept Jesus' word without question; they know the deed is done; they need no further demonstration. 

Daily we present ourselves before God. We often have particular needs in mind, but we always pray, "...thy kingdom come, thy will be done...." We do so in the spirit of Mary who prayed for the birth of the Messiah, never dreaming that she might be the Virgin Mother of the Messiah. We prefer not to imagine how God might use us for his purposes; we don't need to be a heroes. 

Invariably we receive a word of reassurance from God, for God's is the kingdom, the power and the glory, now and forever. Amen! You can take that to the bank.

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.