Grace to you!
Yesterday, I used the example of the man the Blessed Lord healed his leprosy (Mt 8:1-4) to share some faith dynamics. Here, I will build on the same theme by considering the Roman Centurion's striking faith, whom the Lord healed his servant (Mt 8:5-17).
The Centurion was an officer of the Roman army. He was an officer who controls one hundred soldiers (Centurion means one hundred). It means he wielded some considerable power and had servants who attended to his needs as an officer.
However, he needed some help that he couldn't solve. He heard about Jesus (Lk 7:3). He knew it would be difficult for him to move freely around Capernaum, the Galilea territory, without some caution. It was a time in history when sporadic riots against the Roman rule was rampant. Though Galilea was more culturally diverse than Judah (where the riots were more intense), it was still not easy for gentiles to seek religious help in the area. Also, at the time, he knew that an average Jew would be slow to embrace such a gentile into their prayerful encounter, such as petitions of healing for the sick. He may have heard how compassionate a person, and a miracle worker, Jesus was otherwise he wouldn’t be seeking his help for the healing of his servant. Capernaum was the right place to meet the Lord.
This background information may help us appreciate the striking faith of this man and learn from it. As the Gospel of Matthew documents, the man came to Jesus as Jesus entered Capernaum. The Gospel of Luke suggested that the man sent some elders of the Jews to talk to Jesus on his behalf (Lk 7:3). This view relates to the fact that breaking the barrier between the Jews and gentiles in the time was difficult. There was a history behind it which I can't cover here for shortness of time.
However, the Centurion knew that a person of faith does not see national, class, racial, and cultural barriers. The person sees God's opportunities to speak the healing Word and bring healing to those in need. No obstacle can stop the work of God. It is we who prevent God from being God in our hearts. When we look beyond the barriers, we see God's miracle right there for us to encounter.
The Gospel of Luke says that the elders pleaded on behalf of the man and offered to Jesus three reasons the man’s request should be granted. One was that he was worthy of it. Second that he loved their nation, and third, he has been a great ally (Lk 7:4-6). The Gospel of Matthew, however, did not provide these details but suggests that the man came himself before the Lord. By the way, Matthew was from Capernaum.
Whether the man came in person or sent someone to speak on his behalf, or even did both as we know could have happened, is not the main point here. Sometimes, we can send a delegate and later come ourselves to restate the request. The central issue is that he had come for his servant, and he had a need God alone can meet.
Observe that the Gospel of Matthew says the man came and beseeched the Lord: “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress.” And Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him” (Mt 8:6-7).
Notice that the Lord was the one who made the offer to come and heal the servant. The Centurion did not make a direct request. Probably because of his politeness, humility, or reservation about not being sure how the Lord would see such. The man has so many virtues one could emulate. He was a person who cares for his servant to go the extra mile to help bring him healing. He was also aware of cultural differences. He wouldn't want to use his authority to impose his will. Besides, he knew how to dialogue with a disposition of respect and humility. Top all these up with incredible faith—all qualities from a so-called Gentile.
The man tells the Lord not to worry about coming. He believed that even a spoken word from the Lord would grant healing to a distant person. God's Word is powerful, alive (Heb 4:12), recreates—for creation happened when God spoke (Gn 1:1-28). The Word shatters walls as well (Jer 23:29).
The man has wielded authority. He knew that the Word of a Lord carries as much weight as if when that Lord was present. It is a tacit acknowledgment that Jesus is Lord, and when he speaks, there is life in every word, letter, syllabus, and breath he utters. The Lord grants the man the healing his servant needed because he had an irresistible faith in God's power to heal. It was a faith, the Lord said, not found even in Israel.
This story has so much for us to tap. Distance is not a barrier for God to do what he wants to do for us. It takes faith, a humble faith. It also takes a heart ready to break the walls that pit us against another—superior against those under them; one race, class, culture, country, etc. against another.
The Lord already knows our need and wants to see a heart ready to be touched. We are unworthy, for sure. The Lord calls us from our unworthiness and makes us worthy to receive because we are ready for it.
The Lord continues to heal. He continues to speak the Word and bridge any distance and break any walls. He continues to save. Embrace this message and find healing.
Lord, thank you for speaking your Word and healing our diseases, including the diseases of discrimination. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Saturday, Ordinary Time Week 12: Lam 2:2, 10-14, 18-19; Mt 8:5-17]
Author and Goal
Father Maurice Emelu PhD., provides a daily blog of reflections based on the Scriptural readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. The goal is to teach, inspire, encourage, and foster healing through the grace of God's word. They are written in a language that is appropriate for a general audience. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration, and developing your thoughts. They may also be useful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.