04 December 2006

Faith, Authority, Redemption

1st Week Advent (M): Isa 2.1-5 and Matthew 8.5-11
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

Let’s get a clear picture in our minds of what’s happening here…Jesus gets to Capernaum and a Roman officer approaches him b/c the officer’s servant is in need of healing. The officer asks for Jesus’ help but acknowledges that as a Jew Jesus is not permitted to enter a Gentile’s home. This is what the officer means by “I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof.” The officer goes on to say to Jesus, “…only say the word and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me.” The officer is using an analogy to explain to Jesus why he believes that Jesus’ word alone is enough to heal his servant. He is saying: in the same way that I am subject to military authority and those under my command are subject to my authority, the diseases and injuries of this world are subject to your authority as the Son of God. Your authority, your rule can be exercised anytime, anywhere without the limits of time and space. What happens next is the joy of Advent!

Matthew reports that Jesus is amazed at the officer’s faith in his authority. Turning to those following him, Jesus says, “I say to you, many will come from the east and the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the Kingdom of heaven.” How do we understand this puzzling statement? The Council Fathers of Vatican Two write in Gaudium et spes that the Christian will die and rise again with Christ and that this promise of resurrection gives hope to those who suffer trials and tribulations for Christ’s name. They continue: “All this holds true not only for Christians, but for all men of good will in whose hearts grace works in an unseen way. For, since Christ died for all men, and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery”(n 22). Christ died once for all! The joy of Advent, therefore, is the coming of the Lord to the whole world!

The proper understanding of Christ’s authority as the Son of God will mitigate against what appears to be an argument favoring the heresy of universalism. Notice two essential elements of the exchange between Jesus and the centurion: 1) the centurion acknowledges Jesus’ authority by requesting his help, and 2) he submits to Jesus’ authority by trusting him to do what is right. It is the centurion’s acceptance of Christ as the Son of God and his trust in Christ’s authority that moves Jesus in amazement to say, “…in no one in Israel have I found such faith.” And then he makes the statement that gives us such joy in Advent: “many will come from the east and the west” and take part in the King’s banquet.

Many will come. Not all. Many will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Not all. Many will acknowledge his authority as the Son of God. Not all. Many will submit to his authority and ask for his healing touch. Not all. What is universal here is the invitation. Christ died once for all. And many will come. The centurion’s faith in Christ’s authority is evidence that anyone may be moved by mercy to seek out the Lord and say, “I am not worthy, Lord, to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and I will be healed!”

Rejoice! Your salvation is at hand.

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