I don’t like it when people that I disagree with teach me things that I should have known all along. Sound familiar at all? Let me give you some context.
My father spent some time in India serving the poor and making a pilgrimage. While he was there he engaged in a conversation with an Islamic man that greatly impacted him. It was through this man, that my father really came to question, “Who is my master?” I’m sure the rugged individual in him might want to scream “I am! I am! Don’t you know Henley’s poem, ‘I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul’.” But the answer that really came out of it was God. God is his master. As someone born and raised Catholic you might wonder why someone who was Muslim would have to teach him that, but I don’t think my dad is alone.
For myself, despite my Catholic upbringing it took my friendship with a Buddhist seasoned with some paganism to come to a re-acceptance of the reality of the soul and the spiritual realm. It really made me wonder how did I get to the point that I denied such things, but I think that that gradual loss of what is important is not new. For instance, my favorite passage/story in the Gospels is the Healing of the Centurion’s Servant (Luke 7:1-10), which I would argue showcases what I’m talking about. Here are God’s chosen people being reeducated about what it means to be reliant upon God by a gentile. I’d like to start with the verses at the end chapter 6 though where Christ says, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but not do what I command? I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, listens to my words, and acts on them” (6:46-47). I’m starting there because it puts the beginning of Chapter 7 in better perspective.
The Centurion is the one who is showing them what it means to listen to and act upon the words of the Lord. This is not some fluke, but through the grace and prompting of God, for Christ knew it was going to happen. In His humanity he may not of known how it was going to play out, but in His divinity He knew the lesson was coming. As the entire event plays out you can just imagine the discomfort of Christ’s disciples as they witness this scene, “when Jesus was only a short distance from the house, the centurion sent friends to tell him,
‘Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof. Therefore, I did not consider myself worthy to come to you; but say the word and let my servant be healed. For I too am a person subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.’
When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him and, turning, said to the crowd following him, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith’” (7:6-9).
Christ telling them that not even in Israel has He found such faith is tying them directly back to His words before they entered Capernaum. The centurion is fulfilling the role that Christ predicted. He, a gentile, is teaching the Jews about faith through his example. His lesson is so profound that Luke offers us these words, “When Jesus heard this he was amazed.”
Do I allow the words of non-believers to ever amaze me? Maybe they are the words of Ghandi. What about the words of a believer, but maybe a non-Catholic? Maybe they are the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Sadly, at times, I don’t. Sometimes I put up blinders and only allow myself to hear those that I already agree with, and I propose that that is a dangerous idea. I’m not proposing that we throw out prudence and listen without caution. But the reality is, my father’s faith was strengthened by a Muslim. My return to faith was in part initiated by a neo-pagan/neo-Buddhist. And Christ’s disciples’ faith was challenged by a Centurion. We even echo his words every Mass. I think these encounters are training for my relationship with God and yours. For if we only learn from those with whom we already agree, then we are excluding learning from God, because I guarantee that if God agrees with everything that you are thinking and doing… It probably isn’t Him.