The Lord has destroyed without mercy all the dwellings of Jacob; in his wrath he has broken down the strongholds of daughter Judah; he has brought down to the ground in dishonour the kingdom and its rulers. The elders of daughter Zion sit on the ground in silence; they have thrown dust on their heads and put on sackcloth; the young girls of Jerusalem have bowed their heads to the ground.
My eyes are spent with weeping; my stomach churns; my bile is poured out on the ground because of the destruction of my people, because infants and babes faint in the streets of the city. They cry to their mothers, "Where is bread and wine?" as they faint like the wounded in the streets of the city, as their life is poured out on their mothers' bosom.
What can I say for you, to what compare you, O daughter Jerusalem? To what can I liken you, that I may comfort you, O virgin daughter Zion? For vast as the sea is your ruin; who can heal you? Your prophets have seen for you false and deceptive visions; they have not exposed your iniquity to restore your fortunes, but have seen oracles for you that are false and misleading.
Cry aloud to the Lord! O wall of daughter Zion! Let tears stream down like a torrent day and night! Give yourself no rest, your eyes no respite! Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches! Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord! Lift your hands to him for the lives of your children, who faint for hunger at the head of every street.
When Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him and saying, "Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress." And he said to him, "I will come and cure him." The centurion answered, "Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes, and to another, 'Come,' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this,' and the slave does it." When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, "Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." And to the centurion Jesus said, "Go; let it be done for you according to your faith." And the servant was healed in that hour.
When Jesus entered Peter's house, he saw his mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever; he touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she got up and began to serve him.
That evening they brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah, "He took our infirmities and bore our diseases."
Well before he fulfilled the prophecy of the suffering servant by dying on the cross, Jesus was living out the prophetic words by his merciful responses to people in need. It seems he could not pass by a sick person, without being moved to compassion. The one asking for help might be a foreigner, even one of the despised Roman occupation force, or a leper, a poor widow, a raving lunatic roaming the countryside or a close friend like Peter's mother-in-law. The person's nationality, gender, social level, mental or moral condition made no difference. What mattered was human misery in need of healing, which touched the heart of Jesus.
Christ usually looked for trusting faith as the condition for being cured, an attitude sadly missing among the people of his home town of Nazareth where he could work very few miracles (Mark 6:5). Through his miracles he came to be known most of all as a man of compassion, reaching out to suffering people. As we read in Isaiah, he was "accustomed to infirmity" because the sick gravitated towards him. Many passages from Isaiah 53 read like a commentary on the public ministry of Jesus.
He aligned himself with a long biblical tradition whereby God's servants were conspicuous for their attention to strangers and sinners, the sick and defenseless. We read from the poignant Book of Lamentations. The bitter grief, the wrenching trials to which faith is often put, the seeming betrayal of divine promises for Jerusalem and the Davidic dynasty, all of these reactions to the destruction of the Holy City become the inspired word of God. "Pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord; Lift up your hands to him, for the lives of your little ones." These sorrowful lines not only describe the healing ministry of Jesus but also the innermost feeling of the eternal Father throughout Old Testament history.
The first reading today is from Lamentations. The title of the book aptly describes its sombre tone. The book is a series of laments that rise up from the people of Israel as they try to come to terms with the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and their land and the resulting experience of exile in Babylon. The most frequent type of psalm in the Book of Psalms is the psalm of lament. There are more prayers of lamentation in the Book of Psalms that any other type of prayer. That statistic may be saying something about the human condition; it may also suggest that we tend to approach God more in times of need than in times of plenty.
The gospel has the story of someone who approaches Jesus in his time of need, not a member of the people of Israel but a Roman centurion, a pagan. He comes before Jesus with a cry of lament, "my servant is lying at home paralyzed, and in great pain." He doesn't make an explicit request of Jesus, but his lament before Jesus has an implicit request, "help my servant; help me." Every lament is, at its core, a cry for help. This particular pagan displayed extraordinary sensitivity to Jesus as well as tremendous faith in him. He presumed Jesus a Jew would be hesitant to enter the house of a pagan and he believed that Jesus could heal his servant at a distance with his word. His initial lament found expression in a wonderful prayer of petition, "I am not worthy?" A version of this centurion's prayer of petition has become part of the text of the Mass. This morning we might take a moment to make this version of the centurion's prayer our own, trusting, as he did, that this is a prayer that Jesus will indeed answer.