The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (8:5-13)
“Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” This is a most unbelievable reaction of Our Lord Jesus Christ in today’s gospel passage. Something surprised and astounded the Lord of glory. And this was passed down to us 2000 years later so that we would have insight into the heart of Our Lord and learn about the ways of the kingdom.
So what was it that surprised and astounded Our Lord Jesus? What happened that caused Him to gush forth with such praise? It was the faith that He witnessed within a man who had no business being faithful at all. Who was this man? We are told that he was a Roman centurion, a high ranking soldier. He was not a Jew, but a pagan gentile. He was not of the seed of Abraham, or of those who followed the God of Abraham. Yet somehow in the midst of his lack of religious training and influence, somehow, the truth shined brightly in his heart and he grabbed hold of it. And this truth wasn’t a source of pride and selfish egotism. The truth actually brought this man to a healthy sense of shame and humility. The truth became to him, a light that revealed his unworthiness to have ever been granted such a blessing.
His faithful humility changed the way that Jesus Christ interacted with him and because he was humble and faithful, he saw the Son of God work a great wonder. There should be no doubt that it changed his life forever.
The centurion asked for the Lord to heal his servant who was lying paralyzed at home. And the Lord generously agreed to come and to heal him. Of course our Lord had no need to do such a thing, especially for one who wasn’t a Jew, yet even here we see the Lord’s overwhelming grace and mercy. He is more than willing to come and to heal the man. And this is precisely when the centurion surprised Him with profound and deep words. The centurion said “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.”
“I am not worthy.” Is there any more rare saying in our current age? People go to the streets to protest their “worthiness” of all sorts of things. Modern people live with this perpetual chip on the shoulder as if they are owed everything in life and if something of their choosing is denied to them, it is considered a great travesty, insult and injustice. But we don’t want to follow the example of the modern man. We want to be in rhythm and harmony with those who are well pleasing to God.
How did the centurion receive a great response from the Lord Jesus Christ, and in turn, how can we receive a warm and joyous response from the Lord in our own lives? He started from a point of humility and an overwhelming feeling of unworthiness. He knew that Jesus was special, that some believed Him to be a great prophet and likely that some even thought He was the Messiah, the anointed, holy one of Israel.
And in hearing all of these wonderful things about Christ, the Roman man felt quite unworthy of the Lord. But in his humility, he maintained faith in the ability of Jesus Christ. He believed that Jesus was powerful enough to heal his servant with a mere word. And this man was right! Christ is the word of God and He created the whole of creation by the power of His word! With just a word, the Lord can transform everything. With one word, the Lord made the demons to depart from the possessed man. And with one word the Lord of power commanded His friend Lazarus to rise from the tomb after 4 days. The Lord can do this and will do this for each of us. He will speak a word on our behalf, into our lives, into our hearts and souls. He will do powerful work in the midst of one who is humble and faithful.
This mindset is even apparent in the routine life of the Orthodox Church. For instance you can see it in the prayers of preparation for Holy Communion. In one of the prayers of St. John Chrysostom, a great saint of the fourth century, he wrote these words, “O Lord my God, I know that I am not worthy nor sufficient that thou shouldest enter under my roof into the habitation of my soul.” Here St. John uses the exact words of the Roman centurion in order to “warm” the heart of the Lord towards the one who comes to partake of His holy body and precious blood. This is one of the ways that we prepare our hearts to receive Christ and all of His blessings. We prepare the heart through a humble disposition that is also full of faith.
St. John of Kronstadt tells us what it looks like when we are humble. He says, “To be humble means to consider ourselves deserving, for our sins, of every humiliation, injury, persecution, and even blows; and to be meek means to patiently endure injustice, abuse, etc., and to pray for our enemies.” And my brothers and sisters, this is the way to enter Christ’s heart and the way for Christ to enter into our hearts fully. By God’s grace, I desire this for each of you and for myself. May we learn from the centurion’s attitude and may we cry out to the Lord Jesus, “I am not worthy of you, but only say a word and I will be healed!” AMEN.