Maybe I’m Amazed
For Paxton, who keeps me honest and knows my heart and loves me still. These are his words from the sermon he gave today and my heart is full. I love you, kiddo.
“When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.”
When I first sat down to read these lessons, the word “earnestly” jumped out at me. I consider vocabulary a personal strong suit of mine, but I admit earnest is a word that I leave to context clues to decipher. However, this being the Gospel, I decided to learn it once and for all.
Many people I asked for suggestions about my reading immediately gravitated toward the emotion of Jesus (amazement), but my eyes drifted not to Jesus’ feelings, but those of the centurion, and by extension the Jewish elders who spoke with such strong conviction (earnestly) that it was able to get Jesus’ attention enough to enact one of his few long distance miracles, healing a person close to death through unknown distance and the walls of a dwelling.
This centurion, a Gentile in a Jewish world, made a jump to an unknown source of aid, mirroring my own path away from tried and true after high school plans. I say this because while most graduates decide to enroll in one of their so-called safety schools, after being denied admission to their dream university, this is not the route I chose. Rather than settling for a subpar education at a lackluster institution, I decided to throw the Hail Mary. I cannot explain the apprehension I felt from my closest family members as I decided my plan for my first year out of high school; I would take the often misunderstood gap year. I might not have made this bold move, but schools like Harvard in Cambridge, UNC in Chapel Hill, and Reed in Portland, Oregon obviously do not know me personally, as they placed me on the waitlist. For those of you unfamiliar with modern college admissions, it means the admissions committee was too polite to turn me down entirely, so they let me wait around to see if any of those actually accepted to a school like Harvard or Princeton decided to pursue their higher education at another institution. Sounds plausible right? They ought to have known I would do everything I could to be on the list, not the waitlist.
As the centurion heard of this faith healing rabbi known as Jesus, it is easy to imagine a dumbstruck man in clanking armor scratching the bristles of his horsehair crested helmet. But rather than siccing the 68 or so commandos he had under his command in order to apprehend Jesus without fail, the centurion chooses the measured approach, knowing full well Jesus could simply say no to his request for care to aid his dying slave. The centurion arrives to his last option, much like my own option of pursuing the dark and mysterious gap year, for saving this slave not out of desperation, but out of pure hope for the arrival of the mysterious cloaked figure, with that same hope permeating to his feelings about the downed servant.
Before I myself decided to pursue this year abroad, working in exchange for accommodation and experience in a country that is not my own, I would have certainly considered the gap year a seemingly useless tool of those more affluent than myself in their glamorous lifestyle that offered them limitless routes to take following high school. In a similar fashion, this centurion could not have seen Jesus as a viable option for his slave’s sanctuary from death, and yet had no choice but to extend a welcome wagon to Jesus, known to most people at the time as the all-time zealot of Judaism. With no other paths to take, this centurion was in full reliance of an outlet he could not have had the utmost faith in. The centurion had faith not that Jesus would be fully capable of healing his servant; his faith was that of a man who understood that hard work pays off, and that this action symbolizing his last-ditch effort of his slave’s salvation would pay off simply because he willed it to. To this same degree, I have decided to will this gap year to fruition. I have heard others say I was great for many years recently, and this gap year is my agreeance. I am only as confident as each action I take, and if I wish to attain the centurion’s success, I must first gather his conviction.
In a way, my mother’s recent spiritual trials have mirrored my own in the world of competitive academia. When I entered my 8th year of education, formally known as the beast that is 7th grade, I first heard my mother speak of her call to become a priest in the Episcopal faith. I still find it difficult to describe a light in her eyes that I had not seen for many years leading up to that moment. She had a goal, and had decided, along with her beyond supportive son of course, to pursue her goal of ordination.
I watched the first year as she was challenged every Monday in her Education for Ministry classes, eating many frozen meals and Big Macs due to her earnestness in carrying out her life choice of pursuing a deeper relationship with god, which is fraught with its’ share of meetings, don’t get me wrong. After a hectic year of discernment committees, spiritual pathway writing, and intensive advice from me, her favorite son in addition to Dave our priest, my mother’s earnestness towards her goal was rewarded with a denial of acceptance from the diocese of Texas in response to financial strain seen of her credit reports and tax returns, in addition to other, unnamed factors.
But I didn’t learn my own traits of stick-to-itiveness and far-reaching confidence out of a book I learned these from my mother. For even as she explained the reasons of her denial, the light never faded from her pupils. If anything she worked even harder in EfM and her second round of discernment, but was met with similar pushback and ultimately was denied again.
Put in her position, that would have been my last year putting myself through those spiritual strains, but thankfully, I am not my mother. Her going through her third year of discernment was actually the most apprehensive I have been about anything, ever. That being said, I understood deeply that my mother was indeed called to this line of work and she would have to be accepted eventually. However, the crushing weight of a third denial is enough to ruffle even the most convicted feathers.
I still see my mother as that woman with fire in her eyes talking feverishly about episcopal doctrine, but if anything she is now that much more prepared for her journey. She has lived through the hardships she will someday have to offer counsel on, giving her a leg up on all those who made their way to seminary without strife.
For now she has decided to break from the spiritual tribulation that is the process of discernment in favor of more internal exploration, confident that what she does is better preparing herself for the alb and pulpit. I cannot think of anyone acting more earnestly than a person striving to attain their goals, while knowing completely that there is a chance their goal is unattainable. Truly that is the faith that Jesus was amazed by, when he speaks of the centurion.
The Centurion’s moment of earnestness is what moves Jesus so much, not the fact that he reached out at all. His conviction is such that he decries the traditional Roman methods and reaches out to a rabbi, going so far as to understand Judaic customs. He knows that should Jesus, a rabbi, enter his household he would then be unclean. Just as he was rigorous in his own centurion training, he is also just as particular about the customs and culture of the foreign nation he currently occupies. I must keep this in mind when exploring a new culture, as ideas and customs I would not normally open myself up to might be the only options available to me. Broadening my notions of what is and is not my norm, which I’m imagining will not be much of a norm once I return.
Jesus is amazed by the centurion for a reason that can be difficult for some of us to act out changing our culturally rooted ways in favor of foreign methods previously unknown and mysterious to us.
Surely the faith intended by Jesus is that of this lowly centurion; the ability to go about with free will, knowing without a doubt that what we do influences what we wish to be done in our collective future. Amen.