Real authority | National Catholic journalist

“Let us walk in the light of the Lord! (Isa 2: 5).

Isa 2: 5; Matthew 8: 5-11

Today’s readings contain two very familiar phrases. The first is from Isaiah 2: 4: “They will turn their swords into plowshares and their spears into secateurs. It is part of an inscription on a wall at the United Nations headquarters in New York. The second that we say at each Mass before taking Communion: “Lord, I am not worthy to bring you under my roof; but only speak the word and my soul (servant) will be healed. What connects the two quotes thematically is that Isaiah’s vision of world peace resonates with the story of a Roman centurion humbly acknowledging Jesus’ authority to heal his servant from a distance.

The centurion is in charge of 100 soldiers, and his authority, in person or implied in any order sent to his subordinates, must be obeyed. He knows that the first thing a soldier learns is the chain of command and his duty to obey a command. The centurion recognizes this same authority in Jesus, but also that his is far superior because it is over life and death. The centurion calls him Lord because Jesus is at the top of the chain of command and his word carries absolute power to do what he commands.

Illness, like demonic possession, was seen in Jesus’ day as the work of an evil spirit. When Jesus casts out an unclean spirit that makes someone sick, or when he frees a possessed person, crowds are more amazed than amazed because they have witnessed divine intervention, the power of God present in Jesus. Likewise, the peace that Jesus gives is more than worldly peace, a truce between combatants. It gives total rest, fullness at the level of the soul.

Jesus praises the centurion for his faith because he understands that Jesus is not just a healer or agent of calm in conflict. He is Lord. Jesus praises him in the same way that he will praise Peter in Caesarea Philippi (Mt 16: 13-20) for having recognized that he is more than a prophet. He is the Christ of God. Jesus laments that he did not find this kind of faith in Israel, but he rejoices to find it in this foreigner, even an unwanted member of the Roman occupation. God freely pours out faith on strangers, like the Syrophoenician woman beyond the border who begs Jesus to heal her sick daughter (Mt 15: 22-28).

Advent invites us to deepen our faith in the One who comes and has the power to bring us healing and freedom. Through his Incarnation, Jesus announces to us the fullness of our own humanity created in the image and likeness of God. Jesus is the new Adam who reveals the new creation. By welcoming it, we find our true self and our divine destiny. What Isaiah foretold on the mountain of the Lord will be revealed. Wars will cease, the nations of the earth will sit together at the Lord’s banquet. The sovereignty of God will reign over all as justice and love restore peace and harmony. This must also be our vision and our commitment.

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