4When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, 5for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” [That was strange enough. That a centurion was considered a friend by these Jews.] 6And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; 7therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. 8For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” 9When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.
This was unheard of. A centurion of the Roman occupation army – the enemy, would ask Jesus for help. And he had a deep faith, so deep that he believed Jesus could heal even without coming into the house. And he was right. Jesus healed the servant. The people must have been shocked. How could Jesus heal the servant of their enemy?
But you see Jesus does not see
“Pope Francis reminded us of this in a sermon. During a homily at mass at the Vatican, the Pope said that all people are redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice and invited his hearers to meet all people, whether they believe or not, at the place of doing good works. The fact that the Pope included atheists among those who are redeemed by Christ and invited to do good works shocked many. But perhaps what we should be surprised at is not that unlikely and unexpected people demonstrate and do good works, but that we consider them unlikely and unexpected in the first place.” (source: David Lose, http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=2592)
We all know people who either profess to be atheists or who do not practice an active life of faith. We might consider these people, like the centurion, to be enemies of Jesus. We might expect them to be the last people to show faith. They are not moving forward the mission of the Christian faith. However, we just never know how God might use them in the same way that God used the centurion. Might our friends or relatives who seem far away from God, be the ones who will show deep faith at any moment, like the centurion? We just don’t know how God might be at work in their lives.
I, for one, want to pray for my friends who seem far away from God. If God can bring a Roman centurion to trust Jesus then I believe God can bring anyone into a trusting relationship with God. I invite you to think about the people you know who seem to be far away from God. We don’t know their stories. We don’t know what is separating them from God. They may be good people doing good works but they have not made the connection that their good works are of God. Let’s pray that God might surprise us in the same way that God surprised Jesus with the centurion.
But then let’s make another bold step. Let’s pray for our enemies. We don’t have an occupation army in the United States. But we all have people we would consider enemies. It might be someone we have been close to, that we’ve had a falling out with. It might be terrorists who threaten the well-being of our country. Who is your enemy? Someone who has wronged you? Someone who has stolen something precious from you? Someone who has hurt you? Get a face in your mind of someone you would consider an enemy. Now imagine that person turning to Jesus like the centurion. Wouldn’t that be a surprise? Wouldn’t that be a blessing? It could happen.
You see, we see things in sharp categories: good and evil, hot and cold, with us or against us, but Jesus breaks down those categories. There are no enemies when it comes to Jesus. We are all one in Christ. We are called to love our enemies. We trust them to God.
When it comes right down to it, there are things about us that make us unlovable. But God loves us. I’m going to let you in on a little secret, someone else may see US as THEIR enemy. But Jesus loves US. And that other person, the one we see as the enemy? He or she is loveable to God. Deep inside we are all loveable to God. No matter what horrible things we have done, God will still forgive us and love us. And if God will forgive us we can forgive one another.
This is what it means to follow Jesus: to love and forgive one another. No one expected Jesus to heal the slave of that centurion. The Romans were the enemy. But Jesus did not see enemies; he saw only beloved children of God, in need of God’s healing love. That’s what he sees when he see us, and that’s what he invites us to see.
So Friends love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. It’s a Jesus thing. Remember that you are loved and your enemies are loved by God too. Amen.