O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
defend your Church from all false teaching
and give to your people knowledge of your truth,
that we may enjoy eternal life
in Jesus Christ our Lord.
To you I call, O Lord my rock;
be not deaf to my cry,
lest, if you do not hear me,
I become like those who go down to the Pit.
Hear the voice of my prayer when I cry out to you,
when I lift up my hands to your holy of holies.
Do not snatch me away with the wicked,
with the evildoers,
who speak peaceably with their neighbours,
while malice is in their hearts.
Repay them according to their deeds
and according to the wickedness of their devices.
Reward them according to the work of their hands
and pay them their just deserts.
They take no heed of the Lord’s doings,
nor of the works of his hands;
therefore shall he break them down
and not build them up.
Blessed be the Lord,
for he has heard the voice of my prayer.
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
my heart has trusted in him and I am helped;
Therefore my heart dances for joy
and in my song will I praise him.
The Lord is the strength of his people,
a safe refuge for his anointed.
Save your people and bless your inheritance;
shepherd them and carry them for ever.
Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now
and shall be for ever. Amen.
After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. 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.’ And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, ‘Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set 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 this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.’ When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.
There are few jobs that involve absolute obedience to those in authority. It is generally considered to be a positive thing to listen to those in lowlier positions within an organisation because their intimate knowledge of the day-to-day workings of that organisation may lead to more efficient and profitable practices. But, there are still jobs where obedience is essential. Those who serve in the armed forces are trained to obey orders instantaneously. Such a level of blind obedience may be a matter of life and death. Similarly, and perhaps surprisingly, those who are ordained ministers in Christ’s Church also take an oath of obedience. In fact, that oath is repeated at their ordinations into the diaconate and the priesthood, and on every occasion they are licensed by their bishop into a new position of responsibility. Of course, these two examples are quite different in nature. For military personnel it can be a matter of life and death, for the clergy person it is a matter of spiritual discipline.
In today’s reading we hear of a centurion who is absorbed in the world of discipline and order. A centurion was a middle-ranking officer in the occupying Roman forces. As his title suggests he would have had one hundred men under his direct command, as well as his domestic servants. However, this centurion was different. He had obviously served in the area for some time and had become well-acquainted with the local community, even helping in the building of their synagogue. The respect he had earned from the local population would have been exceptional, as was their request that Jesus should help him.
The rest of this story is well known: Jesus responds to the local Jewish elders, sets out for the centurion’s home and is then greeted with a powerful testimony of faith and obedience. As we read this account again, let us ask ourselves whether we could have been substituted for the faithful centurion?
We do not like authority. We certainly do not like obeying instructions that do not agree with our view of life. We rebel; we lash out; we disobey. That is part of our human nature. Sadly, we behave in the same way in our spiritual lives. Too often we want the life of our churches to conform to our likes and dislikes. If we come across a challenging passage in scripture, we either gloss over it or try to apply some convoluted analysis which waters it down and makes it palatable to our sensibilities. We disobey the commands of God.
Let us pray that we might be given the gift of humility in our lives. Let us pray that we might hear the commands of God, and obey them. Let us pray that we might set aside our human need to command, and learn to be faithful servants of Christ in this world.
Prayers of intercession
Let us pray with confidence, trusting in the power of God.
Fill the Church with faith, that the words of healing may be spoken through her. Keep her ministers and leaders mindful of their responsibility to serve in humility for the sake of the gospel.
Give to those in authority the wisdom to know that all power comes from you alone. Fill them with compassion and a true desire to work for the good of those they govern. May all men and women have the grace of respect for the sincere beliefs of others.
Although we are unworthy that you should come under our roof, bless our homes with your presence. Give to us, to our families, friends and neighbours, the spirit of compassion for one another in times of need.
Bring healing to the sick in mind of body. Give skill to those who care for them, and comfort to those who sorrow for their pain. Have mercy on all who are close to death, and ease their passing.
We give thanks for all who have left the pain and sickness of this world and are at rest. May they be made whole in the glory of God.
We offer our prayers in the name of Christ, by whose word our souls are healed.
Prayer for the week
Into the hands of your love and mercy,
O God our Father,
we commit our lives this day:
our work and the tasks that await us;
our homes and the members of our families;
our loved ones and especially those in need.
Give to us your guidance,
your strength and your protection,
according to our needs
and throughout this and every day
keep us abiding in your love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.