And the centurion said, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.”
The first three of the ten miracles that Jesus performs after He had delivered the Sermon on the Mount were to social and religious outcasts; the leper, the centurion and Simon’s mother-in-law. The modern mind may find such a thought laughable that a woman, an ‘outsider’ and a diseased man were all scorned upon; yet it is to these that Jesus, perhaps purposefully, reaches out. There are two miracles narrated in today’s gospel; the healing of the centurion’s ‘servant’ and that of Peter’s mother-in-law.
Roman centurions oversaw a hundred soldiers and this man was likely in the service of Herod Antipas’ garrison town. We are told that the centurion has a ‘servant’ who is paralysed and in distress. The Greek translation of the word servant in this passage is παῖς (pais) which translates as boy, and thus son. John’s gospel, narrating the same incident, refers to the paralytic as the son of the centurion (John 4: 46).
Be it a son or a servant, it took the centurion great courage to come before Jesus. Being a civil servant, the centurion most certainly had his ear to the ground and had surely received reports about this compassionate rabbi. Jews were not known to be kind to their Gentile occupiers and the hatred was mutual, for the Romans saw the Jews as a difficult bunch of religious fanatics.
The centurion, who held civil authority, could have demanded that Jesus be brought to his house, but he is sensitive. If a Jew entered the home of a Gentile, he would be defiled. The centurion is thoughtful of these cultural and religious traditions and proclaims the words that have forever found a place in the Eucharistic liturgy of the Latin rite as a confession of unworthiness to receive the Lord; “I am not worthy to have you come under my roof but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
Jesus is amazed at such faith which He has not seen in Israel. Such a comment must have stung the Jews, for they took pride in their righteousness over that of the pagan Gentiles. It was their boast that, at the messianic banquet it would be the Jew, not the Gentile who would sit with the patriarchs. Imagine their disbelief when Jesus tells the Jews that they wouldn’t find themselves on the guest list, but a hated enemy would. Once again, Jesus makes the point He has been hammering in; the kingdom of God is not claimed by convention, but by conviction.
While the centurion voices his faith in Jesus’ authority to heal, Peter’s mother-in-law was too sick to even ask. This gives us a great insight into the Lord; He sees, He knows and He cares. There seems to be no ‘demonstration of faith’ on the part of Peter’s mother-in-law, or so it may seem, and yet one sees faith in action.
Peter’s mother-in-law is healed and she lives her faith; she begins to serve the Lord. Her faith is seen in her action; she understands that she is saved to serve! Matthew strings these miracles together because his community was plagued by the scandal of a lack of faith in Jesus as Messiah by the Israelites. Matthew highlights these miracles of faith as an example to his community. If they who are religious and socially ostracized can demonstrate such faith, then how much more should his community? How much more should we?
Fr Warner D’Souza
References from the JBC