After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, "He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us." And 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; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For 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." When 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."When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health. -Luke 7:1-10
The Self-Guided Retreat
About the Meditation Prompts
When I attended Roman Catholic masses regularly, I loved that just before communion we said a prayer evocative of the story of the Centurion: Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.
The emphasis often fell on the “shall”. I shall be healed. As confidently as that. I grew up with the “prayer of humble access” which occurs at that same part of the Eucharist, evoking the Syro-Phoenician woman “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs gather the crumbs that fall from the table.” (We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table.) From that prayer I also knew, even as a very little girl, that God was the same Lord whose “property is always to have mercy.” How I knew what properties were, I don't know, but I did. I also knew that it was not sin which made me unworthy - but simply the awe-full wonderful otherness of Divine Reality.
This week's self-guided retreat begins with a prayer by Eleazar Azikri, a 16th century rabbi (meditation one). A friend recently sent me this quote, and to me the prayer sounds so much like the cadences of the story - only say the word and my servant shall be healed - that it resonated with me all week. Will I let God shape me to the divine will? Am I humble enough to ask to be healed?
The quote by Isaac of Syria (meditation two) made me think of the goodness of the Centurion, who, despite being an intrinsic enemy to the people around him, reflects the divine nature in his own goodness. Can I learn to see the divine essence in others? In myself?
The integration prompt (meditation three) invites you and me to incorporate these interior prayers and draw our attention toward the borders of society where “the perpetually displaced God who addresses us from the edge of human affairs, who has chosen the place of the excluded” acts.
Don't you just love this Centurion? -Suzanne
Meditation One (introit) shape your servant to your will
Beloved of the soul, source of compassion, Shape your servant to your will. Then your servant will run like a deer to bow before you. Your love will be sweeter than a honeycomb. Majestic, beautiful, light of the universe, My soul is lovesick for you; I implore you, God, heal her By revealing to her your pleasant radiance; Then she will be strengthened and healed And will have eternal joy. Timeless One, be compassionate And have mercy on the one you love, For this is my deepest desire: To see your magnificent splendor. This is what my heart longs for; Have mercy and do not conceal yourself. Reveal yourself, my Beloved, And spread the shelter of your peace over me; Light up the world with your glory, We will celebrate you in joy. Hurry, Beloved, the time has come, And grant us grace, as in days of old.
-Rabbi Eleazar Azikri 1533-1600 Beloved of the Soul (Yedid Nefesh)
Lord, I am not worthy
to receive you,
But only say the word
and I shall be healed.
I wonder what would happen if I treated everyone like I was in love with them, whether I like them or not and whether they respond or not and no matter what they say or do to me and even if I see things in them which are ugly twisted petty cruel vain deceitful indifferent, just accept all that and turn my attention to some small weak tender hidden part and keep my eyes on that until it shines like a beam of light like a bonfire I can warm my hands by and trust it to burn away all the waste which is not never was my business to meddle with.
Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven. He said, "O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart. Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name --for they shall hear of your great name, your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm--when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and so that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built.”
-I Kings 8:22-23, 41-43
The healing of the Centurion's servant, Walters Digital Manuscript, W. 592 fol. 18a, Egypt, 1684
Meditation Two (insight) let compassion be a mirror
Ever let mercy outweigh all else in you. Let our compassion be a mirror where we may see in ourselves that likeness and that true image which belong to the Divine nature and Divine essence.
-Isaac of Syria d. ca 700 Directions on Spiritual Training
Meditation Three (integration) at the edge of human affairs
...there is one story, which contains all others; and the center of that story is the perpetually displaced God who addresses us from the edge of human affairs, who has chosen the place of the excluded. Culture is not to be rejected or given theological legitimacy; it is a fact with which we have no choice but to engage. However, our engagement as Christians must be determined by the question of who or what the culture is currently forgetting, since it is there that we are likely to find God waiting for us. This cannot therefore be a prescription for liberalism or for conservatism. The more fashionable a cause, the more likely that the crucified God has moved on; the more embedded a practice or trend, the more likely that God is elsewhere. There is nothing to be recommended except the daily development of the mind of the crucified, what some recent theologians like James Alison (following Rene Girard) have come to call 'the intelligence of the victim'.
-Rowan Williams Dietrich Bonhoeffer - Archbishop's Speech to the International Bonhoeffer Congress, Poland, Friday 3rd February 2006
The Last Word
He built their synagogue. What kind of person is this who not only is unprejudiced towards someone else, but is willing to build a temple for their religion. Imagine a Jew in Israel building an Arab mosque? Does that make sense? Or a Palestinian building a Jewish synagogue? Or a Hindu building a temple in Pakistan? Or a Pakistani building a temple for his enemies in India? What kind of person is this centurion? ....
-Edward F. Markquart Sermons from Seattle (textweek.com)
The Centurion deeply loves his servant. You get the sense that this love exceeds a mere “valuing” of the sick man's household functionality or productiveness. This relationship transcends the power disparity between master and slave. This man loves other people under his authority, as well. He even built a synagogue for the Jews living under his jurisdiction and they honor his generosity. “He loves our people” (vs.5). He is the kind of man who has friends (vs.6). He's thoughtful. Anticipating that direct contact with him might compromise Jesus politically or in terms of purity laws, the Roman soldier refrains from approaching Jesus himself, trusting elders and friends to deliver the messages on his behalf. And, he trusts that Jesus, with a word, will heal the beloved servant.
“I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith,” says Jesus. It is as if the Centurion knows that love works on a plane outside of power dynamics and societal boundaries.
The Centurion, though a man of power, is still an outsider. Rather than making him arrogant and hostile, his outsider status develops empathy in him. He is anxious on behalf of one who has no power, no voice, no authority at all. And so, he appeals to Jesus. God's power glows, glimmers, ignites upon boundaries.
It takes a lover to recognize a lover. It takes a person of authority to appreciate a person of authority. It takes an outsider to appeal to the boundaryless love offered by the One whose Love is boundless.