One of the ways we learn is by comparing things; how they are different, how they are alike.
By Father James Doyle
4th Sunday of Matthew
The Centurion's Faith
In today's Gospel Reading, we hear the account of the Roman centurion who approached our Lord Jesus Christ with a request for Him to heal his servant who was stricken with the palsey and was grievously tormented. So Jesus told the centurion that He would come and heal his servant.
But the centurion told him, "Lord, I am not worthy that You may come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me; and I say to this man, Go, and he goes; and to another, Come, and he comes; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it."
When Jesus heard what the centurion had said, He marveled with great astonishment and said to them that followed Him, Truly I say to you, I have not found such strong faith such as this; no, not in all Israel.
Only twice does the Gospel tell us that our Lord Jesus was surprised at something. Both times, it is a question of faith. Let's compare them. The first episode happened at Nazareth, when Christ returns there. He teaches in the synagogue. Neither His person nor His message are accepted. That is why He cannot perform any great miracle there save that He laid his Hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them. And St. Mark Chapter 6, Verse 6 relates that "Christ marveled with great astonishment because of their unbelief." (ke ethavmazen dia tin a-pistian afton) The second episode we hear in this morning's Gospel. It happened in Capernaum. The Roman centurion is pleading for the healing of his servant who is paralyzed, probably dying. "I will come and cure him", says Jesus. The centurion protests: "I am not worthy that you should come under my roof; but only say one word." When Jesus heard the centurion, "he marvelled". (O Iesous ethavmase) He cures the servant from a distance and he declares that even in Israel he has not found such great faith. Let's compare these two episodes. For there is something really surprising here. The people of Nazareth are Israelites; they have the law and the prophets, an orthodox belief and ritual, temple, priests, sacrifices. The poor centurion is an outsider, a stranger to the people of the covenant, at most a convert. Yet, Jesus is amazed at the unfaith of Nazareth, and he's amazed at the centurion's faith. Nazareth's orthodoxy is not the living faith, the saving faith. If such a faith had animated them, the people of Nazareth would have opened their hearts to Christ. They abide by a precise and fruitless religion. Their hearts remain closed. We don't know exactly what the centurion's faith may have been. But we can say this about it. He did not know about Christ what WE have been given to know, but he opened his heart to Christ. He suspects in him a Saviour and a Lord. His faith is based on confidence and obedience, not on sentimentality. His faith is never an impulse of his whole being. He has no doubt Jesus can and will cure his sick servant. He stakes his life on Jesus' word: "Only say the word..." a humble and fervent expectation. We know now what Jesus calls unbelief, and we know what he calls faith, "such great faith." (toson megalin pistin) And Jesus see's what's in us. Does he find in us the faith of the centurion or the unfaith of Nazareth? At what would Jesus be amazed in us this morning?