How big is the house of faith and who lives there? Is it the group that can only be entered via creedal assent or baptism or by dint of race or nation? Apparently not. Jesus saw faith in a Roman commander; one of the pagans; one of the most unlikely.
Under the leadership of its own civil and religious leaders, Israel had begun to imitate Canaanite evils including ritual prostitution. They felt safe to do so as long as they continued to observe the temple services according to the Law of Moses. But religion's forms are no substitute for religion's true heart. The knowing of God is never disconnected from the living of God.
Did Jesus go with the synagogue elders because the reason proffered for doing so was compelling? If so, he would have endorsed the subtext of many of our prayer requests. We suppose that God values people who prom our interests. No. Jesus had his own reasons. The centurion and his servant were members of the human race. No one needs the good opinion of anybody in order to deserve God's attention.
To be born is to be thrust into a world of potentiality. A person has no choice but to 'make something' of his/her existence. Much is at stake. It is possible, by laying down a pattern of choices, to build a life which is able to withstand all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. For this reason Jesus and his teaching ought to be seriously contemplated.
Far too many are shy when it comes to faith. They reason that they are not well suited to the religious life. They suppose that such a vocation is only for a relatively rare kind of person with natural propensities for holy things. Here that 'reason' is blown out of the water. It has no basis in truth or fact precisely because God is inclined to welcome people who are strangers to him; who have no taste for him; who are not like him at all.
In Israel's collective remembrance the Valley of Achor was not a pleasant chapter. There, Achan brought disaster on all the people. They were routed by their enemies. It was a time of lessons learned through bitter experience. It is not what we would expect, but hardship--even pain--can, under God, become portals through which we pass to toward hope.
At the very least, Jesus presents himself as a teacher of deep wisdom corresponding to ultimate reality. So confident is he of the essential truth of his words, he is not cautious to invite people to build their life on them. This is either rampant hubris, or the wisdom of God!
Few metaphorical representations of divine-human relations are as poignant and potent as that used here. God is seen in a vexed and impossible position in the face of human evil. He is a cuckolded husband. His wanton spouse has treated him badly. Nonetheless here he is, full of romantic intent, determined to recapture her affections. He muses his feelings aloud. He has been made to look ridiculous but his passionate regard remains undiminished. No loves as God loves.
A religious outlook on life that thinks of ethical improvement in 'correctional' terms, will fail. Externally imposed moral renewal is a myth. Goodness is a personal quality, and it requires dedication of the whole personality. Love alone can capture a person in his entirety and marshal every facet of his being toward its objectives.
How remarkable that God should find it necessary to remind his people, 'it's not about them.' No creature is our superior. We alone are able to contemplate our own being. We alone know that we know. Yet, despite our grandeur , we are dependent, derived and accountable. For his own reasons God has moved to incorporate us into his far-reaching purpose. God never is the patron of our ideas or plans. We are at our highest being his people, the sheep of his pasture.