“Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I say to you, many will come from the east and the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the Kingdom of heaven” (Mt 8:10-13).
The one to whom Jesus is referring to is a Roman centurion who approached Jesus seeking healing for his servant. I imagine that Jesus was not only amazed by the man’s humility, in recognizing his sinfulness and that he believed that Jesus could heal from a distance with simply his word, but also that he was aware of the need and suffering of his slave and willingness to do something about it. This Roman centurion, an occupying presence in Israel, clearly embodied the teachings of Jesus! It is from the centurion’s words that we get the words that we speak before receiving Jesus in the Eucharist during each Mass: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”
God chose the people of Israel not for themselves alone, but that they would be a light to all peoples. As Isaiah said, all nations shall stream toward mount Zion and “from Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem” (see Isaiah 2:1-5). Jesus echoes Isaiah’s prophetic words as is recorded in today’s Gospel: “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I say to you, many will come from the east and the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the Kingdom of heaven” (Mt 8:11). The centurion’s act of faith is the beginning movement, like a drop of water that is the beginning of a majestic waterfall.
The first point we can learn from the centurion is that he was aware that his slave was in need. A slave held no dignity, and yet, he was not invisible to the centurion. Nor was the centurion indifferent to his suffering and pain. We also need to be aware of those in our midst who are in need and resist the temptation to walk around, over, or by others and instead be willing to embrace the gift of the dignity present in each one of us.
Second, like the centurion, we need to embrace humility and acknowledge our own sinfulness, and when we do so, we are better able to see the needs of others. None of us are perfect. No one person is above any other. We all have gifts as well as shortcomings. We need each other because we complement one another and we are stronger together than apart.
Third, we cannot stand on our own. The centurion recognized his limitations. He acknowledged that he needed help. He needed Jesus. As do we. We cannot accomplish our salvation on our own merit or will power. We need a savior, for apart from Jesus, who we prepare to encounter this Advent season, we can do nothing, but with Jesus all things are possible.
Jesus is the Truth and the Fulfillment that we seek. He has sent out a universal invitation of communion for all, to Israel first and then to those from east and west, north and south. The Roman centurion modeled our response to Jesus’ presence when he recognized his own sinfulness and acknowledged it before Jesus. He was also aware of and sought healing for his slave. The centurion had faith and hope that Jesus could and would provide healing with just his word.
May we follow his example this Advent as we take time to examine our conscience, have the humility to confess our sins, to acknowledge that we need help from Jesus and others. May we be willing to seek forgiveness and be willing to forgive. May we be willing to resist the temptation to embrace fear and close ourselves off and be indifferent to the plight and needs of others, but instead assume a posture of openness to the gift of the rich diversity of our humanity.
We have so much to offer one another when we are willing to work together instead of apart from or against one another. May we who have received the forgiveness and grace of Jesus and felt the embrace of his love, reach out to provide hope and to empowerment for those who have been dehumanized, kept apart, or labeled “other.”
Painting: Sebastiano Ricci – Christ Heals the Centurion’s Servant, 1726-1729