“This centurion loves
He built us
ἀγαπᾷ γὰρ τὸ ἔθνος ἡμῶν καὶ τὴν συναγωγὴν αὐτὸς ᾠκοδόμησεν ἡμῖν.
Luke uniquely said that these Jewish elders continued praising this centurion, who loved the Jewish people, their people (ἀγαπᾷ γὰρ τὸ ἔθνος ἡμῶν). He had built a synagogue for them (καὶ τὴν συναγωγὴν αὐτὸς ᾠκοδόμησεν ἡμῖν). There were many instances of Roman soldiers adopting the religious practices of the people where they were staying. However, building a synagogue seems a bit much. It may have led to better community relations. Although he was not Jewish, this centurion had been very favorable to the Jewish people by helping them build a new synagogue. There was no mention of this synagogue in the Matthew story about the centurion. Would you be favorable to a religion not your own?
Religion is about belief and behavior. How we behave depends on what we believe. The “what” and “why” of life feed into each other. By doing a certain thing we understand why we are doing it. We start to do it by first believing it worthwhile. Behavior is determined by belief, but belief is also determined by behavior. Praxis is acting and doing. Theory is thinking and understanding. We live according to what we believe. We believe according to the way we live. There is a circular interplay. True religion is an integrating force in our lives, so that the whole person is really an integrated personality. Religion is not a view of life, but a way of living. A person’s view of the world reflects a way of living. We express our ethical beliefs in both a concrete and symbolic way. We have to understand what is being done, in order to understand what is said. Religion is a life style, not an idea. Are you challenged to be yourself? Do these religious practices increase your identity? Do they challenge you to be freer? Do they open new horizons? Do they have value? Is your human existence better off? These are the questions you must ask about your religious practice.
Some worship the almighty dollar that they can see. Others worship the unknown, the unseen. No religion is purely transcendent centered, but also involves to some extent the here and now, immanence. Our happiness comes in becoming part of others, caring for one’s neighbor with an ego-transcending embrace of others. If we say that God is love, love is many splendid things. The difficulty is always the ideal versus the reality of what we experience. We are striving for perfection, not necessarily reaching it. Thus, we worship this transcendent God in our lives.
“However, Mattathias answered in a loud voice.
‘Even if all the nations
That live under the rule of the king obey him,
If everyone has chosen to do his commandments,
If everyone of them abandoning the religion of their ancestors,
I, my sons, and my brothers will continue to live
By the covenant of our ancestors.
Far be it for us to desert the law and the ordinances.
We will not obey the king’s words
By turning aside from our religion to the right hand or to the left.’”
Mattathias shouted out his response. Even if all the nations of the world choose to follow the king’s commandments by abandoning the religion of their ancestors, he, his brothers, and sons would continue to live under the covenant of their ancestors. They were not going to desert the Mosaic Law and ordinances. They would not obey the king’s words by deserting their religion to the right or to the left. There could be no misunderstanding about the words of Mattathias.