It is also clear that he is a good man, and a person who regularly crossed boundaries in order to help others. Which brings us to the faith aspect of this story. Before today's story begins, the centurion had won the respect and gratitude of the local Jewish community by building a synagogue for them. This was unusual and an expression of this man's willingness to cross over - to learn from the spiritual traditions of others and to contribute to the spiritual well being of those of another faith. Jesus specifically commends his faith, saying 'nowhere in Israel have I found faith like this' and we realise that this causes Jesus also to cross over, to let go of the idea that faith is confined to one religion or group of people - something that happens to him in other places, when for example he heals the daughter of the Syro-Phoenician woman. For Jesus too is transgressive, which is one of the things that makes him so unpopular with the Jewish leadership of his day. Both Jesus and the centurion show us some things about faith that we do not often consider. Their faith is courageous, and does not hold back because of what others might think or say. It is public - both of them express their view openly, regardless of what criticism or loss of status they may incur. And their faith is unselfish, focussed on the needs of others above their own. Their faith is transgressive, in the sense that it is not afraid to cross the boundaries of convention. And why?- because their faith is about relationship rather than law or personal interest. The centurion trusts Jesus enough to cross the boundaries that separated their two worlds and ask for help - and he has faith that a word from Jesus will be enough to bridge the gap in return. This healing takes places because both of them cross those boundaries together - attraversiamo, let us cross over.
And what is it that enables them both to cross boldly where we and many others might hesitate or hold back? It is love. The divinely inspired love for another that enables us to set aside our own needs and priorities to bring wholeness in our world. Jesus loves deeply all whom he encounters, even his enemies, and shows us how to exercise healing compassion for everyone. The power of deep, compassionate love, which flows from God and returns to God, holds everything together in our universe. It is this deep love which inspires the actions of the centurion and of Jesus himself in this story. This love is unstoppable and brings wholeness wherever it is allowed to flow.
Throughout human history our desire for power and control has tended to build barriers to the free flow of love and healing in our world. Where we have the courage and the faith to cross those barriers, love can flow once once more, but it demands that like Jesus and like the centurion in this story we be boundary crossers, transgressives. So may we pray for the love, the faith and the courage to be like Jesus and respond to the need to cross over. Attraversiamo - let us cross over. Amen
by Penny Jones, for 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, Year C, 29 May 2016