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Jesus' Interfaith Encounter

Luke 7: 1-10

The idea that Jesus would have an exchange with a Roman centurion, a member of the brutal ruling class, is pretty shocking. And, while they never meet face to face, it’s clear that Jesus takes him seriously and responds.

What if we took this seriously as an interfaith encounter? What can we learn from Jesus about living in an interfaith world?

We don’t know this Roman’s religion. We know he’s not a Jew nor part of the circle of followers around Jesus. Statistically speaking, he would most likely have been a worshiper of Mithras, the preferred religion of military men. An interfaith encounter, to be sure.

Today tensions between faiths (for example, between Christians and Muslims) tend to focus on differing beliefs or differing practices. As Christians, we often think we have to determine whether we pray to the same God before we can meaningfully talk to a Muslim. Or we think we have to get all the differing beliefs mapped out to know where we stand first.

Yet Jesus offers us another way. Their differing faiths were not the main point of their exchange. In fact, they weren't even a minor point. Jesus does not set out a doctrinal test as a condition of responding to the centurion. Jesus does not ask, “Who does he worship?” or “What does he believe ?”

Neither does Jesus set out a membership test before deciding whether to engage. He doesn’t ask “Is he a son of Abraham?” “Does he follow the Covenant?” “Does he go to synagogue?”

Jesus hears the centurion’s cry for healing and heads straight to his house, no questions asked. He is ready to meet this person of another faith in his need, not focused on the man’s doctrine or religious affiliations.

What can we learn from Jesus here about interfaith encounters? Jesus takes this man seriously. Jesus doesn’t question his motives or legitimacy. Jesus meets him in his need. Would it make a difference if we followed Jesus’ approach and met people of other faiths in their human need, not in their religious status?

Dr. Amy Oden is Visiting Professor of Early Church History and Spirituality at Saint Paul School of Theology at OCU. Teaching is her calling, and she looks forward to every day with students. Her latest book (Right Here, Right Now: The Practice of Christian Mindfulness, Abingdon Press, 2017) traces ancient mindfulness practice for Christians today.

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