Thus says the Lord: "On that day the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and glory of the survivors of Israel. Whoever is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem, once the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning.
Then the Lord will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over its places of assembly a cloud by day and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night. Indeed over all the glory there will be a canopy. It will serve as a pavilion, a shade by day from the heat, and a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain."
When Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him and saying, "Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, 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 one in 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."
The weekdays of Advent offer us Isaiah's vision of universal peace. He cherishes the hope that all nations and races will come together harmoniously to worship the God of Israel. The Advent vision sweeps far beyond our narrow boundaries so that all nations and ethnic groups are streaming toward the Lord's temple. Are we Catholics willing to open our doors and welcome all these people, so different from ourselves?
Jesus is invited to the home of a Roman centurion – an officer representing a foreign, oppressive power – and he accepts! When the Roman who hesitates, feeling unworthy to have this holy man visit his home, Jesus is amazed at such humility, then commends the centurion's care for his slave, who would have been from some defeated nation. The centurion bows before Jesus, a Jew, for the sake of his slave!
Jesus praises this outsider as a man of integrity, a spiritual descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This advises us to reevaluate some unlikely places and people in order to follow the mind of Christ. He tells us too, "I have never found this much faith" in your midst. During Advent can we learn from outsiders how to live worthily in God's holy presence? From unexpected sources we can learn so much.
The prayer of the Roman centurion in today's gospel is very familiar to us. Before receiving Holy Communion we repeat it almost word for word. The centurion expresses two convictions: he recognises his own unworthiness to have the Lord share his home, and he shows tremendous trust in the Lord's word. These convictions are what Jesus identifies as his faith.
The centurion's outlook is worth cultivating this Advent. We begin Advent aware of our own unworthiness, aware of our need and our longing for a fuller coming of the Lord into our lives. We also begin Advent with a trust that the Lord wants to respond to our need and longing, with a conviction the word of the Lord can heal and renew us, recreate and refashion us. Out of our poverty we pray with great confidence, "Come Lord Jesus." [MH]