Saturday, June 25, 2011

Making the Deal

When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him and saying, ‘Lord, my servant is lying at home paralysed, in terrible distress.’ And he said to him, ‘I will come and cure him.’ The centurion answered, ‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man 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 him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, ‘Truly I tell you, in no onein Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ And to the centurion Jesus said, ‘Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.’ And the servant was healed in that hour.Matthew 8:5-13

There were a couple of stories that captured my attention on yesterday's Morning Edition. The first story was Andrea Seabrook's review of Rep. Eric Cantor's pull out from the Congressional Budget Negotiations conversations. Seabrook suggests that Cantor was unwilling to discuss tax increases or eliminations of corporate tax breaks. You can listen to the story here:
Jena McGregor points out the problem with Rep. Cantor's unwillingness to negotiate. She writes: "Here’s the way a stalemate in negotiations usually comes about. One side gives up a little in exchange for something they want. The other side gives up a little in order to get something that matters to them."

Conversely, there was another StoryCorps article about John Bryne. John shares his story of his coming out as a gay man to his High School English class. He "just wanted to be himself." He finally summoned up enough courage to reveal his sexual orientation to his students who in turn embraced him for who he was. They selected him to be their graduation speaker. It's notable to observe how John was willing to set aside his authority as a teacher in order to become a more authentic person to his students and himself. He gained a great deal in the process. You can listen to John's story here:

It's certainly more difficult in some ways to resolve a multi-trillion dollar budget than it is for a high school teacher to disclose his sexual orientation to a class of predominantly liberal high school students. However, Jesus' encounter with the Roman Centurion is informative in terms of understanding both of these "current events." It is also enlightening in terms of identifying how we might best negotiate difficult debates and life experiences in terms of letting go of power and ideology even as we receive healing and become closer to God and the people around us. The Centurion possesses all sorts of secular power. He is almost assuredly a pagan or polytheist rather than a God-fearing Jew. His relationship with his servant might even be somewhat "suspect." (that fact is not quite as evident in this Matthean version - see Luke 7: 1-10). Nonetheless, he sets aside his pride and power in order to obtain what he wants. He's willing to recognize a peasant rabbi and healer who he believes can help him obtain his objective, the well-being of his servant.

Jesus, from his ethical and theological perspectives, tends to the needs of someone who is an agent of oppression and death, not someone from within his own social and religious contexts. He does so because he recognizes that person's worth and want. Both of them give up something in order to gain something. Jesus and the Centurion each set aside their cultural, economic, political, hierarchical, social locations in order to benefit one another.

Is it too much to ask of our politicians and civic leaders to compromise for the benefit of the people, not just the corporations they serve? Does the centurion's actions guide any or all of us who on how we should approach Jesus Christ when we seek his comfort or healing? How might God respond when we chose faith over pride?

I think that political and economic differences should not be stumbling blocks for our moral behavior as people and as a nation. Perhaps the ideological divides between us are in fact too vast. Surprisingly, that wasn't the case between a Roman soldier who recognized his place in the life when he humbled himself before the Son of God.

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