"I assure you I have never seen this much faith in all of Israel " Matthew 8: 10. There is a gold mine hidden in every life. A young man found a vein of gold in a mountain. He tried to get it out himself but kept repeatedly failing. He felt like giving up, but instead he went into town and asked a mining agency to come take a look at it. The mining company surveyed the mountain and the vein of gold and wanted to buy it. They offered the young man a huge amount of cash if he would sell it to them. He thought about it and decided that rather than selling it to the mining company, he would keep it and learn all he could about mining. Over the next year he studied practically day and night. He read every book on mining he could lay his hands on, took every course on it he could find and talked to every person who would give him any information about it. He did nothing else for that entire year but learn about mining. He laid aside everything else in life in order to devote his entire attention to learning how to mine gold. At the end of that year he went back to the mountain to dig out the gold. It was tremendously hard work but in the end he had millions and millions of dollars.
The lesson inherent in this tale is that many people, perhaps most people would have taken one look at the mountain and the hard work required to get the gold out of it, and they would have taken the offer of the quick and easy money. They would not have wanted the hassle, the aggravation, they would not have wanted to give up a year of life to study when they could have been having a good time. Instead, they would have taken the "right now" alternative.
How many people are there who never have what they could have because of that kind of mindset? The young man could have done that too, but if he had, he would never have enjoyed the full benefits of that vein of gold. The pagan commander in today's gospel narrative could have taken the easy way out, ignored the symptoms and sickness of his servant boy and just secured another one on the market if he ended up dying. But instead, he invested his entire store of faith in Christ about whom he just heard a few times who could accomplish by heavenly power what he could only dream of achieving. Yes the servant was valuable and yes it would be good to continue having his devoted and attentive service, but suppose Christ refused? Suppose the pagan was rebuked and ignored? He took the chance of being embarrassed in public.
Does what happened in today's gospel narrative say anything to us? Does it light a fire in us? Does it move us to strip off everything else that has been hindering us from staying focused on developing our inner potential as created in God's image? Like the young man, like the pagan legionnaire, it does take some effort, but if we stay focused, if we are persistent in prayer, we will eventually hit gold, the gold of enjoying the benefits of living a totally fulfilled purposeful life. "Therefore, since we for our part are surrounded by this cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every encumbrance of sin which clings to us and persevere in running the race which lies ahead" Hebrews 12: 1.
If we are going to run our race, if we are going to live our life, we must lay aside every weight and run with patience; literally do what our God tell us to do. Running the race with no hindrances means stripping for the contest. St. Paul is drawing a parallel which then was much better understood than it is today. In those days, runners conditioned their bodies for a race just as we do today. But at the time of the race, they stripped off their clothing so that when they ran there would be nothing to hinder them. They also oiled their bodies with fine oils. In the same way we need to be well oiled or anointed with the Holy Spirit if we are going to win our race. We also need to remove anything from our lives that would hinder us in running the race set before us.
There are different hindrances to running successfully in a race. Too many wrong and inappropriate commitments divide our time away from what is most important in life: saving our soul. The devil can come up with a thousand ways every week to entangle us and get us into something that is going to prevent us from doing what God expects us to accomplish. Everything seems so important, like an emergency and it seems they all have to be handled right now because we are the only ones who can do so.
If we are going to do what God has called us to do, we are going to have to stay focused because the world we live in is filled with distractions and entanglements. We are supposed to be in worship on Sunday and holy days, but we make up all kinds of reasons why we are elsewhere. God expects too much we think to ourselves; we just have so many hours in the day; there are more important responsibilities we have to fulfill. God is always placed second on the list so He is never given the value and priority He deserves. Then we wonder why we are ill, confused, in pain and isolated, why we look to fellow fools for completion and fulfillment instead of to God himself.
The Roman company commander knows how to secure and remain focused and prioritized. He has heard a few things about the Lord and he believes them. So he directly approaches Christ for a blessing. He believes what he has witnessed about the Lord. He has cause to expect an astounding and immediate response. He does not want to forever live on a crazy merry-go-round with no way off. He knew what he was supposed to do because he wanted to safeguard and protect a worthwhile servant boy. God put a vision in him; God gave him the grace to pursue it to its likely end. He did not want a frustrated life. He stayed focused. He was sincere in pursuing the fulfillment of his need and ambition.
And just like St. John the Baptist whose feast of the Nativity we celebrate today as well, we know what we seek and we pursue it with living faith. We are inspired by the words of St. Paul, "I do not run like man who loses sight of the finish line. I do not fight as if I were shadow boxing. What I do is discipline my own body and master it, for fear that after having preached to others I myself should be rejected" 1 Corinthians 9: 26, 27.