Let our words be few – Saturday, 12th week in ordinary time – Matthew 8:5-17
Chapters 8 and 9 of the Gospel of Matthew is composed of ten miracle stories punctuated by three teachings on discipleship. The first of these teachings on discipleship would have been the text of the Gospel for Monday, the 3rd of July but that day is the feast of St Thomas the Apostle of India and a special set of readings will be proclaimed on that day. If you want to read a teaching on the first of these teachings on discipleship in the Gospel of Matthew, you can simply click this link. https://www.pottypadre.com/serving-or-self-serving-monday-13th-week-in-ordinary-time-matthew-818-22/
For now, we will look at the second and third miracle narrative found in Chapter 8 which form the Gospel text of today. On descending the Mount where he gave a long sermon spanning three chapters, Jesus encountered a leper whom he healed. He now arrives at Capernaum. Capernaum is where Jesus is going to set up his ‘head quarters’ for most of his ministry. This is where he will teach the bread of life discourse. This is where he works many miracles. This is where many disciples will abandon him; they will find his teaching too hard to follow.
On entering Capernaum, Jesus is approached by a centurion. The very word centurion tells us that he had a hundred men under his command. This was a civil servant with some respectable rank. Yet, like the leper in the previous narrative he too is humble. James 4:10 reminds us to ‘humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, for He will exalt us.’
This man of rank and stature loses all composure before Jesus. His need ironically, is not for himself but for a servant in his household. He cannot bear the ‘distress’ of his servant brought about by paralysis. The centurion does not ask Jesus for a healing, he does not ask Jesus to come to his house and lay his hands on his servant. While he may not have said the obvious, his presence before the Lord was clearly and indication of his need. Think about it, we too need to just go to the Lord, let our words be few for the Lord knows our need. He has seen our heart.
Jesus’ response was startling. He offers to come to the centurion’s house. No self-respecting Rabbi would ever go to the house of Gentile. The very act would defile him. Jesus did not come to encourage silly and nonsensical social niceties that this world practices, even today. He came to save all and that included the Gentiles.
What transpires next has become the stuff of legends. We immortalise the lines of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie terminator when he said, “I’ll be back,” or the words, “Elvis has left the building.” Here is a line that has become the core of faith in the Catholic world; words spoken by a believer who technically was not a Christian, not a Jew but a man of deep faith. “Lord I am not worthy to have you under my roof but only say the word and my servant will be healed.” This line, with a tweak at the end, has been placed in the liturgy of the Eucharist as the words of faith that we profess before we receive our Lord in Holy Communion.
Jesus’ acclamation of the centurion’s faith was as surprising as the words of the centurion. Jesu said, “Nowhere in Israel have I found such faith.” Remember that Matthew is writing to a Jewish Christian audience and most of the while he keeps in mind the Jewish sensibilities. In quoting the words of Jesus, in which he suggests that it will not be the Jew but the Gentiles of faith who would be seated with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and even more in suggesting that the ‘heirs (read Jews) would be thrown into the outer darkness,” Jesus was setting himself on a warpath with the Jewish religious establishment.
While we focus on the miracle or on the faith of the centurion we should also sit up and pay attention to the words of Christ. Heaven is not the prerogative of the Christian only. Christ never came only for the Christian; he came for all and all who accept his words and live it will find a place at the table of grace. So don’t be surprised if you are asked to get up and offer your seat to a Hindu in heaven.