JUNE 30, 2007- GENESIS 18:1-15; MATTHEW 8:5-17
JESUS SAID: "WHAT YOU ASK SHALL BE DONE BECAUSE YOU TRUSTED." When we read this story attentively, we notice that already in his first moment of encounter with this Roman army officer, Jesus committed himself to healing his seriously ill son. Matthew does not tell us why our Lord was so responsive to his request that he volunteered to leave Capernaum and travel with him to his home. After all in this fishing village at the head of the lake of Galilee some of his disciples lived and, like Peter, made their homes available to him. There too many others were seeking healing from him, as we are informed in the sequel. No doubt the Lord must have immediately perceived that this distressed man had an uncommon belief that in Jesus he was dealing with a person who had healing power. Even so, upon hearing the officer’s reply to his offer to travel to his home, Jesus marveled at the depth of his conviction. The centurion’s suffering had brought him to a rarely experienced level of life that evoked a response of his whole person. His desperation had become an occasion of a new measure of hope as his thoughts turned to the stories he had heard about the Jew who healed in the name of God. For he was a simple and honest man of honor who was able to recognize a truly sound character when he dealt with one. One of the reasons Rome had managed to conquer and administer an empire composed of many diverse peoples was that she had formed many of her leaders in the rigorous discipline of justice expressed in law. This centurion exemplified the best of those leaders who were not corrupted by the excessive ambition for power that proves the ruin of so many. It is remarkable that in the Gospels and Acts of the apostles the several stories concerning Centurions present them, without exception, as simple, honest and decisive men of devotion to duty.
The Church recognized the virtue of such men, pagans though they were, and officers in the army of occupation during our Lord’s lifetime. At each Eucharist, all of us are taught by the liturgy to learn from the faith and humble confession of this honest soldier, to acknowledge at once our belief that Jesus is sent by God and that he comes to us who are sinners. In the original Latin version of the post-Vatican Eucharistic liturgy, we make this confession using the very words of the Centurion, only substituting ‘I’ for ‘my servant’: "Lord I am not worthy "ut intres sub tectum meum" ("that you should come under my roof") say but the word and I shall be healed".
Faith in Jesus is regularly depicted in the New Testament writings as more than intellectual assent to truths of doctrine; it certainly includes that; but invariably it refers to an attitude of personal trust. Such confident belief that Jesus is not only sent by God with power to be our Savior, but is also personally disposed to meet us as we come to him in our personal need. Today’s Gospel text reminds us that in the face of such trusting faith Jesus who was prepared to leave his familiar and welcoming surroundings in order to go heal the dying son of a pagan officer, is ever ready to come to us who seek to follow him wherever he leads, provided only that we truly place our hope and our trust in him and in his mercy. This exchange of loving mercy for our trust is reenacted even now in our liturgy this evening.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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