Guest contributor: Ed Trego
As he entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, begging him, saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion answered him, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I 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 he does it.” When Jesus heard him, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment. (Matthew 8:5-13)
Do we have faith in Jesus and his ability to heal us? Is our faith strong enough? The centurion in the scripture above had faith far beyond that shown by most of the Jews, including, at times, the apostles. He also had far more faith than many Christians today. The centurion exemplified the kind of faith all people should have in our Lord.
A Roman soldier and occupier, this man would have been considered an enemy of Jesus by most of Israel. The Romans were the oppressors of the Jews and had killed many in the occupation. At the insistence of the Sanhedrin, they would eventually kill Jesus as well. Yet this Roman soldier had faith in Jesus far beyond what was evident in those Jesus had come to save. Some would certainly question the fact that Jesus even responded to him. Some might even consider Jesus a traitor for helping a Roman. But Jesus seemed to be constantly doing the unexpected. He was searching for faith, not nationality. Simply being a son of Abraham wasn’t enough. Recognition and acceptance of the savior was required. Even though his mission was to the Jews, Jesus obviously knew that others would be included in his mission. In fact, those who accepted him would eventually be ostracized by the Jews and forced to separate from them in their worship. How sad that his own people refused to acknowledge him.
As a gentile, the centurion had no reason to expect that Jesus would answer his plea, but he had faith that Jesus had the power to do what he asked. Without question, he recognized the authority of Jesus. His statements showed his understanding of Jesus’ power and authority. It’s apparent that the centurion did not believe that he deserved the mercy of Christ. “I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof”, he told Jesus. Interestingly, this same statement of humility is used at every Mass during communion. When offered the body and blood of Lord we respond, “I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed”.
It’s worth noting that his plea was not for himself or even for a family member. It was for a servant. Do we seek God’s help only when we or someone close to us are in need? Or do we, as the centurion, pray for those in need, regardless of their relation to us”
We should be very thankful for this healing performed for the Roman centurion. By responding to the needs of gentiles, Jesus demonstrated that his love and forgiveness was not limited to the Israelites, but would extend to the gentiles. There is another example of Jesus’ attention to gentiles in Matthew 15, verses 21-28. The Canaanite woman who approached Jesus asked for healing for her daughter who was possessed by demons. Jesus responded that it was not fair to take the children’s (Israelite’s) bread and throw it to the dogs (gentiles). But she persisted, finally saying, “Yet, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” At this Jesus answered, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
Our hope of forgiveness and salvation is expressed in these healings. Had Jesus restricted his help to the Jews we, as gentiles, would have had no part in his salvation. Instead, out of love, God granted his blessings to all. Because of this love and acceptance, we have been grafted into the family tree of God. Jesus is our brother and Mary is our mother.
In today’s world expressions of faith are hard to come by outside the safety of the Mass or church services. It’s rare to see or hear anyone speak of faith and belief in Jesus in public venues. Those who do are mocked and ridiculed by many. Satan seems to have plenty of agents available to effectively silence all but the most innocuous forms of public faith expression. When was the last time you noticed someone saying grace before a meal in public? Have you seen anyone advising a friend or co-worker that prayer might be the answer to their problems? Do we, as Christians, live our faith or do we just bring it out on Sunday for show and tell.
Unless we are willing and even enthusiastic in our faith and recognition of Jesus, how can we expect him to recognize us when the time comes? When we stand before him in judgment which will we hear? “Come O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world… .” or “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels… ” (see Matthew 25:31-46)
One final thought about the centurion; could this be the same man who was present at the crucifixion of Jesus? Matthew and Luke relate the story of the healing of the centurion’s servant. Both Luke and Matthew, as well as Mark record the centurion’s statements at the crucifixion. Matthew and Mark record his statement that Jesus was “the son of God”. Luke records the statement as “This man was innocent, beyond doubt!” (see Matthew 27:54, Mark 15:39, and Luke 23:47)