The Gospel for today is one of my favorite readings. In it, Jesus encounters a centurion, a Roman military officer, who seeks healing for his paralyzed servant. That a member of the occupying army should have been so concerned about a servant is in itself remarkable. That he would have approached a member of the occupied class for help is even more extraordinary. But what is so amazing about this encounter (even Jesus is amazed!) is the exchange between the two. It is almost as if they recognize something in each other.
What the centurion acknowledges in Jesus is his authority. He understands at once that Jesus does not need to come into his house to cure the servant. He knows from his own exercise of authority that all Jesus needs to do is say the word and the healing will take place. The centurion is clear on what is his and what belongs to Jesus. And he possesses the humility that allows him to say, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof.”
I Too Am a Man Subject to Authority
I think what draws me to this reading is the mutuality between two people who normally should not have been inclined to have anything to do with each other. Jesus is obedient to the centurion’s need and responds immediately. The centurion recognizes in Jesus something beyond the ordinary, though we do not know whether he understands that Jesus is the Son of Man. He does know that Jesus can give a command, and something will happen, just as something happens when he gives an order to one of his officers. In this dynamic of mutual obedience, there is a kind of love. There is faith and trust. I would like to think that the centurion and his family eventually became disciples of the Lord.
The Banquet in the Kingdom of Heaven
We have experienced this in many ways – in someone who went out of her way to help when she didn’t need to, in a professional who carefully explained things, in someone of another faith who grasped instinctively a human truth we all share. As we live in the mysterious and beautiful season of Advent, how will we recognize Christ as he comes to us?