The story from today’s Gospel, at first glance, feels like a healing story. It has all the elements of a healing story – a character that is sick or dying, a crowd of people following Jesus, Jesus moving from one place to another, a miraculous achievement at the story’s end. It feels like, sounds like, moves like a healing story. And perhaps the absolute best way to understand this particular story from the Gospel according to Luke is as a healing story, but it is not the healing of the centurion’s slave that deserves our greatest attention. The fact that Jesus heals the centurion’s slave because the centurion (not the slave!) deserves it is evident from our first reading of the text. We know that the slave is healed before we get to the end of the story. The real question for us to consider is how does the story that we read in Luke’s account also work to heal us? How does it challenge us to move forward in our lives with a re-membered reality – a reality that is taken apart and put back together again? How does the story challenge our own assumptions about the realities of human life, of human tragedy, of human triumph, of human calling?
At a deeper level of is a story of the ways that boundaries are broken, ignored, transgressed, shattered. It is a story about the courage of two characters doing the unacceptable in order to convey some new truth about the creation in which we live. It is a story about two characters that enter into a faithfulness that will always batter the walls of the accepted in order to achieve the impossible. It is a story that pushes us to grapple with what we understand our call to be as disciples of Jesus Christ, which is also a grappling with who we understand Jesus to be. Today, we are confronted with a story that is begging us to begin tinkering with everything that we know in order that we might begin to hear the whispers of God as they travel across the water of the soul.
Listen – closely, carefully, intentionally. You don’t want to miss those whispers. They carry a profound and life changing meaning. They carry the force required to breech the walls of the impossible; they effortlessly invite a harmony unheard on earth. The susurrations of God echo across the chasm of time and reverberates within the walls of space. They are holy murmurs gently calling, lapping at the edge of the soul, to sing to a new melody, a new dance.
But of course, it is difficult to hear these murmurs of God’s being in the reality of today. The booming bass line of the world beats on booming out a message of true reality. “I’ve have all the answers!”, booms one voice. “Believe me!” it continues. And then, quite as loudly, “I am really what you need! I bring experience to this table!” chimes in another. And yet still there is the loudest voice of them all that says, “Blame that group there, for your tragic downfall!” Add to the cacophony those voices that exclaim, “Protect what you have, lest it be taken! Strengthen the walls, let us never be shaken!” and the voices that extol the virtues of the human economy, the human solutions to everything. Suddenly, it becomes very difficult indeed to hear the whispers of God.
The voices of the world make all these, and other, proclamations while the whispers of God travel unabated across the mirrored surface of the soul that is hoping, yearning, begging. If only God could speak a little louder, if only God would say something more profound than silence, if only God would say anything above a whisper. Perhaps then I might begin to listen…
And then, I begin to re-member that God once spoke in a most profound manner.1 God sent that one word into the world to call me into re-imagining what is possible, what is true, what is filled with hope. It is a word that continues to echo across the cosmos, and it is the word that continues to shape who I am because it is in this word that I find the authority of truth. I begin to re-member my being as I listen to that same word in my own time, my own space, my own small universe. I hear it as loudly as when it was first spoken and feel its strong grasp as it sinks deeper and deeper into my soul. Suddenly, I understand that it is the centurion that has a faith greater than mine. It is he that put his faith in that same mysterious word that I hear shouting at me in the tones of a whisper. It is he that understands what it means to trust in the one with all authority.
To approach that word and to ask it to be the word of my own life means that I have to be willing to break the boundaries of my own time, my own space, my own universe. To approach that word means that I have to be willing to live out the truth of that word – the truth that tells me to love my enemy, to love my neighbor as myself, to bless those that curse me, and to do good to those that hate me. To invite that word deep into my soul means that I would have to find the courage to love the enemy that lives next door. It means that I would have to recognize the authority of the truth, spoken once, for all.
The whisper, which had been so light before, takes on new weight. The whisper becomes my anchor – the truth to which I am tethered. The volume of its echo in my soul drowns those that once were shouting, clamoring for my attention. I tune into the truth – that holy echo, that holy whisper.
The Palestinian whisper2 – spoken out of the nature of God – changes me completely, and I begin to recognize that this whisper has already re-membered my reality. The whisper calls the members of humanity to understand that the calling of those that would be its disciples is a calling not only to hear the whisper but also do the same as the whisper has done and is doing and will continue to do in the future. It is recognizing that by committing the self to the new truth found nailed upon the cross for us to see means that we too are called into a life that breaks our known boundaries. It is the recognition that, by following a holy whisper and by forgetting the false promises of the world, we will break boundaries, we will proclaim a re-membered reality. We will become part of that holy whisper traveling across the chasm of time and that reverberates within the boundaries of space. In our prayer, “Lord, help me in my unbelief,” we join the faithful centurion as we recognize the power of love that travels within that single, decibel shattering whisper. In this moment of recognition, we can find the courage and the faith to approach the cross on behalf of our selves, our friends, and our enemies. We are able to look deep within the word nailed to a tree to discover that it is not only Christ that we nail to there; we are finally able to see that it is also us hanging for all the world to see.
All because we listened to the truth, the authority of that holy whisper spoken once, for all.
- R. S. Thomas, “Nuclear” in Collected Poems: R S Thomas (London: Phoenix (an Imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd ), 2000).