Homily preached by the Rev. James La Macchia
Trinity Parish of Newton Centre
May 29, 2016
The Second Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 4C
1 Kings 8:20-21, 30-39
Luke 7: 1-10
Because we moderns are so far in time and place from the language, culture, and history of Jesus’ first-century CE world, we may often fail to grasp the truly breathtaking quality of many of the events related in the Gospels. This morning’s reading from the Gospel according to Saint Luke is just such an instance of what we can only describe today as an episode of profound “cultural dissonance.” According to Saint Luke, in this morning’s encounter between Jesus, the itinerant rabbi from Nazareth, and the Centurion, a regional leader of Rome’s brutal occupation of west Asia, we are witnessing a truly radical departure from ordinary and expected social arrangements in the fishing village of Galilee’s Kafar Naum.
Remember that the Galilee region of this morning’s Gospel has, by Jesus’ life and times, already seen several bloody uprisings against the Roman occupation of “Eretz Yisrael.” And although the Galilee had significant exposure to the Greek language and culture of its Greco-Roman world, the Jews of that part of the “Land of Israel”—including Jesus—were much more conservative and religiously observant than their brethren in Judea and Jerusalem. And they were also far more hostile to Roman tyranny over them. In fact, the Jews and the Romans of Galilee—the “people of God” and the “goyim,” the “nations”—were more hostile to one another there than probably anywhere else in the entire Roman Empire at the time. So, when a Centurion, the commander of an occupying Roman legion, makes a cautious plea on behalf of a valued slave—probably a Jew—to the itinerant rabbi from Nazareth with a reputation for the power to heal, we are witnessing a complete and utter reversal of social roles and the status quo: In first-century Galilee, Roman officers did not seek the patronage and assistance of Jews. But Jews, on the other hand, were entirely beholden to their Roman masters. Continue reading