Do you ever find yourself frustrated when trying to share your faith and the person you’re talking to just can’t seem to grasp it? You present evidence and testimony that, to you, seem irresistible. Sometimes even two people raised in the same house can wind up with one person firmly believing in Jesus and another indifferent. Why couldn’t Jesus have made his identity more obvious? He could have manifest himself in a way that no one would be able to miss. Why did he leave things so open to misunderstanding?
We find one perplexing example in today’s gospel. Jesus heals a leper, an event that surely would get people to believe in him. Yet, he tells the man to remain quiet and not tell anyone about the healing. What? If I were the messiah and my goal was to get everyone to accept me, then doing lots of public miracles seems to be a good place to start. Perhaps part of the answer is that Jesus continues the approach that, as God, he has used from the beginning of time. God does not impose himself on us in way we can’t refuse; rather he proposes. He gives us just enough and then allows for the free response of our will.
In this light, we can see why the centurion in today’s gospel is so impressive to Jesus. The Jews had been preparing for centuries for the coming of the messiah. Yet, when he came, many saw the signs he was doing and determined that he was possessed by a demon. The centurion heard about what Jesus was doing and made a conclusion not just about what Jesus could do (heal people), but about who Jesus is. He has authority. The centurion understood authority and Jesus has an authority that the centurion knows is far beyond this world. How can this gentile centurion “get it” when others miss it? What does he have that others don’t? Jesus gives us the answer…it’s faith.
There is something mysterious and supernatural about the response of the centurion. He understands not just things about Jesus, but intuits something deeper about who Jesus really is. As we go about trying to help people come to know Jesus, we should keep these stories in mind. It’s not about the crowds. Jesus sends crowds away. Crowds often misunderstand Jesus. We can present the truth about Jesus and people will reject it and not understand. But some, like the centurion, will respond with faith. While there is much practical work to be done in spreading the gospel, we can never lose sight of the fact that the primary work is on the level of grace. God is the primary worker. He is the one that ultimately proposes.
So as we go about sharing the good news, most especially don’t get discouraged with what seem to be the results. If we try to be “successful” in spreading the gospel we are doomed, as we always measure success on worldly terms. Mother Theresa offers what I think is the best advice. God calls us not to be successful, but to be faithful. So go out and make Jesus manifest; continue his epiphany. Perhaps not many will accept God’s proposal. No matter. Be faithful. Share your joy. God might just surprise you with a centurion when you least expect it.