When I flipped to today’s Mass readings, the gospel was highlighted. I haven’t marked in this bible very much, so I don’t take it as coincidence. Luke 7:1-10 presents a touching vignette in the story of the Centurion’s servant. If you are Catholic, you know at least part of the story because we repeat the centurion’s words at every Mass, at the end of the Eucharistic liturgy:
“Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but say the word and my servant (soul) shall be healed.”
What struck me most was that Jesus marveled at him. He marveled at a Roman soldier begging, as He had put it in a similar instance, scraps from its Master’s table. Was this man not an enemy? Not simply a half-breed Samaritan, but a pagan in full military regalia. To the Jewish mind, his uniform was a constant reminder that they were an occupied people; that a descendant of David was not on the throne.
The Centurion’s stark figure presents us with a contradiction. Who was he? Was he at the Crucifixion? Was he an important figure in the early Church? What happened to him that caused Jesus to marvel and declare that he had not found such faith in Israel?
The whole story is touching because you can almost feel the flames of love welling up within Our Lord over this man’s faith. Did His own sacred heart assault the Centurian’s heart with the arrows of divine fire?
Now, look at this interesting play on words that people miss. The Jewish elders pleaded with Jesus to heal the man’s servant. They told Him that he had helped to build the synagogue. They used a word to describe him: Worthy.
But when Jesus approached the house, the Centurion sent friends to intercept him on His way with a singular message: No! I am not worthy.
Worthy. Not worthy.
He gave a message for Jesus to his friends, and they ran down the steps and out into the street to intercept the approaching Lord. “I know, Lord. I know what it is to tell my soldiers, “do this” and they do it. And somehow I sense that you have not one hundred fighting men, but countless legions under your command. Speak a single word and I know that my servant will be healed, but I am not worthy, as your elders stated, even that your shadow should melt into the shade beneath my roof.”
What was Jesus thinking of this sweet denial? Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. Moses hid himself in the cleft of the rock. What to do with this believing occupier, this Holy Roman Contradiction? We know that the story ends well for him – his servant was cured “that very hour” as they used to say when the sundial was the closest thing they had to a clock. Instantly healed, you might say. But did Jesus smile and command a hundred angels to wound this Centurian’s heart with the wounds of love, as the Saints often tell us he does?
“Indeed, I have legions at my disposal. Your servant is healed, but your heart…”
“Give me your heart.”