Today’s first reading reminds me of times growing up when I’d laugh at inappropriate times, which was pretty often. Come to think of it, some things might not have changed that much, but I digress. But growing up, especially when there was tension, I’d often laugh, and I’d hate it when I got caught. “Who me? No, I didn’t laugh…” That kind of sounds like the conversation between the Lord and Sarah today. Yesterday, it was Abraham who laughed, and for the same reason. They simply could not believe that God’s generosity and blessing could overcome the limitations of their advanced age. But God had plans for Abraham and his family, and so age and even laughter could not prevent the beginnings of the covenant.
Contrast their incredulity and lack of faith with the faith of the centurion in today’s Gospel. Jesus didn’t even have to go to his house to cure his servant. The centurion’s faith was so great that even distance provided no obstacle to blessing. As I mentioned yesterday, we can’t be too hard on Abraham and Sarah. They didn’t yet have the experience of the Lord that we have, or even that the centurion had. That centurion had seen Jesus’ mighty deeds and probably had come to believe because of that.
This raises a rather uncomfortable pastoral question, I think. How many good, faithful people, have prayed their hearts out, totally trusting in God’s power to heal and save, and yet their loved one remains ill, or perhaps was not saved from death. That’s a hurt that a lot of people carry with them for a long time, it may even be that they have felt they had done something wrong or perhaps didn’t have quite enough faith. The answer of course, is that none of those are true. God’s answers to prayer can take a lot of different forms, and sometimes he doesn’t answer the way that we would have picked. That doesn’t mean that God is not merciful, just, or good, and it doesn’t mean that we are not faithful. It just means that whatever the blessing is, it’s different that we expected, and perhaps we can’t even see it just yet.
The responsorial psalm today is actually Mary’s Magnificat, her song of praise and faith. What a wonderful model this is for all of us who struggle with faith and who struggle with the way God answers prayer sometimes. Mary’s life was not without its struggles and pain, but still she was able to sing, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” That is the prayer for all of us who struggle but still have faith.