SCRIPTURE READINGS: [1 Tim 2:1-8; Ps 28:2,7-9; Lk 7:1-10 ]
It is the centrality of Christian belief that “there is only one God, and there is only one mediator between God and mankind, himself a man, Christ Jesus, who sacrificed himself as a ransom for them all.” To this claim, St Paul and many missionaries after him were willing to sacrifice their lives for the salvation of souls. St Paul wrote, “I have been named a herald and apostle of it and – I am telling the truth and no lie – a teacher of the faith and the truth to the pagans.” It was believed by missionaries that there was no salvation outside of Christ. So, it was important that they laid down their lives for the service of humanity, by rescuing them from the possibility of going to hell forever without knowing Christ. This was the rationale for the Church’s mission to those who do not know Christ. This was the same reason why we seek to baptize our young infants within seven days after birth for fear that if something untoward happens to them, they might die without being saved.
In an age of inter religious dialogue and ecumenism, how do we conduct ourselves and proclaim in today’s context? To proclaim Christ as the Universal Saviour of humanity makes us sound as if we are overly triumphant in our claims. Many people would reject this claim and many more do not feel the need to have a savior anyway, as they believe in themselves and that the future lies in their hard work alone. Such a claim of Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life does not jive with the modern man anymore.
This happens because of various reasons, the lack of credible preachers, pastors and leaders to walk the talk. Scandals and the forced rediscovery of the humanity of our priests and religious have also lowered our expectations of them as we realize that they are weak and human like us after all. It means that they do make mistakes and are not always trustworthy as well. Secondly, because of the secular climate of individualism and materialism, the hope for life after death is hardly spoken of, or people just prefer to remain agnostic. So the world lives only for today and if they do not feel like living anymore, they just end their lives, thinking it is forever and they have no thoughts about the continuity of the soul. I think the majority believe that there are some supernatural or trans-historical events in our lives which we assign to God. Many, even if they do not go to Church, believe in God.
Thirdly, for the sake of a greater unity among humanity, there is that added need to accommodate each other’s views and sensitivities, his culture and religion, and to be more circumspect in our claims. That is why either we follow the Singapore way of recognizing the importance of religion in society and seek to preserve the harmonious relationship among the different adherents of their own religions or to follow the way of Europe where they deny their religious identity and make secularism a way of life, that is, by keeping God out of public life.
But should we, for the sake of a greater unity among religions, avoid mentioning our claims about Jesus? The truth is that this claim of Jesus as Lord and God, His life and teaching, is something that we all claim not out of reasoning alone or intellectual speculation but a personal encounter with Him. The apostles, and especially St Paul, encountered Jesus as the Risen One and as God. So to deny what they saw and came to conclude that Jesus is Lord would not be right either. We would be cheating not others but ourselves because we believe in Jesus as Lord. St Paul wrote, “He is the evidence of this, sent at the appointed time.” Our position and belief is based on personal experience and testimony. In the final analysis, it is not what we say about what we believe in and why we believe, that would convince people to accept Jesus but how we encounter God and allow God to transform our lives.
Today, we are called to learn from the Centurion how he personally attended to the needs of one of his favorite servants“who was sick and near death.” Although not a follower of the Lord and not a Jew, he was a man of generosity, compassion and inclusivity. For him to lower his status and plead with Jesus to heal his servant shows that he did not regard his servants as mere slaves. He treated them as if they were his own children and looked after them when they were sick and unwell. He was truly an example of a good boss who looked after his staff and appreciated them and loved them as he loved his own loved ones. He was a man who put status and money as secondary to the life of a person who was suffering and dying.
Secondly, he was a good friend to all, regardless of their beliefs. He was not just nice to the Jews under his jurisdiction but he was also supportive of their culture and faith. He respected the beliefs of those whom he ruled directly. But more than just respect alone, he went ahead to build a synagogue for the Jews. “When they came to Jesus they pleaded earnestly with him. ‘He deserves this of you’ they said ‘because he is friendly towards our people; in fact, he is the one who built the synagogue.’”
Thirdly, he was sensitive to the culture and beliefs of others. Hence, “having heard about Jesus he sent some Jewish elders to him to ask him to come and heal his servant.” And the reason for not welcoming Jesus personally was not because he was of status and did not want to lower himself, but rather because he did not feel worthy to have Jesus come under his roof and get contaminated. Hence when Jesus “was not very far from the house when the centurion sent word to him by some friends: ‘Sir’ he said, ‘do not put yourself to trouble; because I am not worthy to have you under my roof; and for this same reason I did not presume to come to you myself; but give the word and let my servant be cured.”
Fourthly, he recognized the supreme power of God over his own life and that of his loved ones. Although, a centurion who was in command, he knew that his authority came from God and not from himself. He did not abuse his authority to serve himself, but used his power of influence for others. He was receptive to the Lord Jesus and made a confession of faith in Him. He uttered the words which we pray at every Eucharistic celebration, “I am not worthy to have you under my roof. For I am under authority myself, and have soldiers under me; and I say to one man: Go, and he goes: to another: Come here, and he comes; to my servant: Do this, and he does it.”
We read that “when Jesus heard these words he was astonished at him and, turning around, said to the crowd following him, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found faith like this.’ And when the messengers got back to the house they found the servant in perfect health.” Indeed, the centurion is a shining example of inter-religious dialogue. He was truly a man of God because the love of God shone through him. Although not yet a full believer of the Lord, he was receptive of the healing grace that came from the Lord Jesus.
So, too, in our relationship with people who are of different faiths or without faith, we must treat them with respect and acceptance; the way the Centurion lived out his faith and life. Beliefs and faith cannot be imposed but accepted in all humility. We can only share our faith in testimonies and in witnessing of life and love. This is the safest way to share our faith today, not through intellectual discourse, which will come about when we enter into their religious mindsets and experience. Being in good rapport with people regardless of faith, culture and language is how we help people encounter God’s love and open themselves to the fullness of truth which we believe is found in Jesus Christ. For salvation is ultimately to arrive at the fullness of truth. St Paul says, “To do this is right, and will please God our saviour: he wants everyone to be saved and reach full knowledge of the truth.”
So, let us build good relations with others. Setting aside our prejudices, let us enter into religious dialogue with them. Only by appreciating other people’s beliefs and customs, can we help them to be more receptive to our own proclamation of Jesus. People must be loved unconditionally before we can share our faith with them. Through inter-religious dialogue in good relationship, harmonious living, compassion and forgiveness, we cement our relationship with each other. In this way, we grow together in understanding of the truth of love and continue to be a light to the nation.
Finally, we must pray and intercede for our nation. St Paul urges us to pray “especially for kings and others in authority, so that we may be able to live religious and reverent lives in peace and quiet.” Praying for both religious and political leaders is very important for the good of those under their care. If the leaders live a righteous and proactive life, they can raise the community to a higher level. But to pray well, we must let go of our anger and vindictiveness. “In every place, then, I want the men to lift their hands up reverently in prayer, with no anger or argument.”
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
Note: You may share this reflection with someone.