(This sermon was preached in the Gurukul Lutheran College, Chennai on June 27, 2010)
1.When Jesus had finished saying all this in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2.There a centurion's servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. 3.The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4.When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, "This man deserves to have you do this, 5.because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue." 6.So Jesus went with them.
He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: "Lord, don't trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. 7.That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8.For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and that one, 'Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it."
9.When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, "I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel." 10.Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.
1. Relationships should bring hope not just despair- Society at the time of the centurion can be gauged to have been divided into a master-slave dispensation. But there is a tension in the text as the centurion valued his slave a lot, which may not have been the usual relationship between a master and slave at the time. If this is converted into a news story it gains immediate news value as this news attains human interest because it is odd. Therefore one can say that the story of the centurion and his slave would have grabbed headlines during the time of Jesus. It is odd and sad that the relationships we get to see today are those which have no hope in them. But even though the story of the centurion and his slave is news worthy it is also one which brings about the sense of hope in an otherwise hope-less world. So despite it qualifying as news it instills in us a deep sense of hope. So we not only hope that something is going to happen in the story, but we get a foretaste of hope itself. But do we get to see similar stories of hope in the media or does the media reflect a largely cynical view of who we really are? Let us listen in to a news story about crimes against dalits.
A random sampling of headlines in mainstream Indian newspapers tells the story of dalits: "Dalit boy beaten to death for plucking flowers"; "Dalit tortured by cops for three days"; "Dalit 'witch' paraded naked in Bihar"; "Dalit killed in lock-up at Kurnool"; "7 Dalits burnt alive in caste clash"; "5 Dalits lynched in Haryana"; "Dalit woman gang-raped, paraded naked"; "Police egged on mob to lynch Dalits". Smita Narula, author of Broken People: Caste Violence Against India's "Untouchables" writes that "Dalits are not allowed to drink from the same wells, attend the same temples, wear shoes in the presence of an upper caste, or drink from the same cups in tea stalls."
By and large stories of violence and discrimination against dalits are not covered in the mainline media because it is not seen to have any news value. It is interesting that the centurion goes against accepted norms. His relationship with his slave is thus hope filled in every way. When we compare this with what happens now, the story of the persons who experienced hope through their relationship appears out of the passage.
2. Authority, its use and misuse- The use and misuse of authority is another key element in the passage. The centurion brings in another twist to the passage which already presents a surprise element. His friends stop Jesus’ entourage and pass on his message to Jesus. There is no need to come to his house he informs Jesus. Several questions may arise out of this twist. Did the centurion consider his house impure for Jesus to visit? Did he see no need for Jesus to come and meet his slave who was on his death bed? Therefore did he on second thoughts send a delegation to dissuade Jesus? But on the other hand we can also see a very positive meaning of authority and position emerging from the passage. We are used to an authority which seeks to perpetrate injustice and stand for the cause of a dominant community. But that does not mean that authority is a lost cause. The centurion rather proposes a true mandate for which authority should stand for, which is to seek out hope for the oppressed, who are diverse. We can say that the courage to state this may have come as an after thought but never the less it comes through in the form of a road block of Jesus. Jesus does not question this late development but rather affirms that authority becomes authority when used for the betterment of people. In a way Jesus is made speechless and he readily disengages and disbands his group which included some influential Jews who had recommended the centurion’s case to Jesus.
M.L. Brite, the secretary of Kodaikanal Public School has been accused of molesting a 14 year old girl student. A case has been registered against the 73 year old man. The school principal maintains that the girl’s parents had not complained to the school authorities. But this has been proved false. The police are on the look out for the absconding man. After the media reported the case, more girls have come forward complaining that the secretary of the school had sexually abused them. There have been protests from several corners that the authorities of the school are protecting the accused.
This is yet another case of how authority is misused in India today. Fortunately the CSI church through one of its pastor’s has been helping the girl concerned and is hoping that Mr. Brite will be held accountable for his actions and justice is implemented for the concerned girls of the school.
3. The word/intention/deed when meant for the good of another becomes the act of God by itself- This is the hope we have amidst the diversity we live in. The centurion expresses the hope of God which he sees in his diverse context. He overcomes his limitations and expresses his word of intention which is intertwined in the hope he felt. Jesus accepts his understanding and commends the centurion’s faith which he has not seen in anyone else. There is then no need for him to go to the house because the house lives in hope. This is the hope amidst diversity in a multi faith context. We usually over ride this hope by saying that we have to say the word and only then there will be hope and the saving grace. But this passage shows us again that hope is not limited to a certain religion or dispensation but to all who claim it.
Rehmatullah is a 60 year old Muslim man who was wrongly accused in one of the 1992 Mumbai riots cases. He married a Hindu woman Mutkamma and adopted his wife’s sister’s daughters when their parents died. His wife and he brought up the adopted daughters Deepa and Suman as Hindu’s and then got them married according to Hindu marriage rites. He and his wife never asked and forced them to convert to Islam but accepted them as they are.
Another story is from Bhagalpur, Bihar, where boys were always preferred over girls, as in the rest of India. But this changed when the village decided that whenever a girl child was born, the family would plant 10 tree saplings at the least and nurture the girl child and the trees. When the girls attained the age of marriage, the trees would pay for their wedding expenses. In one swift act of faith the village has managed to solve the problems of dowry, global warming and female foeticide. No girl has died in the village ever since. Every birth of a child now brings forth hope to the family, the village and the world.
Communicating hope amidst diversity. The challenges remain but multi- faith communities are showing us the way forward. They are bringing out the aspect of hope, which we have been searching for generations. Our relationships, use of authority and intentions and actions should all reflect this deep sense of hope amidst diversity. Amen.