The Jerusalem Road Show - Lent 2017
The Experience of Cornelius (a first person account)
I was a Roman Centurion bound by duty to enforce law and order. Contrary to common perception and beneath the façade of sternness I wasn’t prejudiced against the Jews. In fact I had a secret admiration for Jesus. As it grew by the day, his popularity increased and I began to experience a sense of unease. It was not long before it would develop into a personality cult – the very opposite of what he stood for. The inevitable happened. They proclaimed him king. In a show of solidarity, they welcomed him with palm branches. The potential law and order problem was nipped in the bud. But the signals were clear. Compromises must be reached. Fake News to discredit him. Spin-doctors set the rumour mills in motion. Word reached the inner circle of his disciples. The deal was done. He must be stopped. The exit polls must be proved wrong. I could not believe what I saw happening and I was powerless to control it. Yesterday’s hero had become today’s villain. Slow to understand, many of the disciples themselves saw their dreams for places in the kingdom collapse. He had warned them about its dangers. They sought him only because he satisfied their hunger as he fed the five thousand on the hill side. Most of them walked away, disillusioned, their impressionable minds as malleable as soft clay. Strangely, he did nothing to stem the tide. The few that remained, did so because they had nowhere else to go. It did not however, make them less gullible. All the while, I could only think of my servant whom he had healed by his word from a distance. I remembered Jesus’ words reportedly asking his disciples the ultimate question. “But you, who do you say that I am.” (Mathew 16: 15) Over the next week, my faith in him would be put to the test. Was I his follower, only because he had healed my servant? Would I walk away after witnessing the inevitable rejection that was to end in his death.? Would I seek to compromise, like Judas and ingratiate myself with the establishment? Would I deny him like Peter? Would I abandon him like the others leaving only his Mother and John to stand by the cross on which he was crucified?
Providentially, I didn’t have to make that choice. Duty demanded that I be there, with them. In some strange way, I felt I had lost everything. But in that emptiness I experienced the fullness of his presence. I acknowledged him as the Son of God. I didn’t need to wait for that Easter morn. As I watched his life slowly ebb away. I saw all my perceptions of him disappear too, Preconceptions about him had led many to desert him because he didn’t fit into their scheme of things. I had none to begin with, but perhaps because of it approached him to heal my servant. As he did so, I experienced power going out of him much more than the relief that my servant was cured. I had experienced the stirring of something deep within me. I was inwardly transformed; a buried treasure had been unearthed, and I would sell all that I had to keep it. I would follow him to the end. The day after his burial, I still felt his presence. Now that he had died, would that be the end for me? What would being his follower mean after this? Would it merely be the cherishing of his memory? The experience of his power within me was central to my following him. His teachings were something new, but lest we follow him for the novelty that it was he had told his disciples that He himself was the WAY. I remembered and was consoled. The dark night in which I experienced his absence was illumined by the dawn of Easter I could still follow him now. Only one thing was necessary. I would choose the better part - Living out of the fullness of his presence, the Spirit of the Risen Lord within us, making it the source of all we are, everything we do.
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