Remember the angst of a few years ago (or for some a few days ago, like at Sunday Mass) when we changed the Liturgy and some of our responses at Mass. Remember how for at least a year parishes had the new wording in the pews? Almost all the priests I know personally still pull it out during the Nicene Creed. And, far less frequently now but it still happens, I sometimes still say “and also with you” instead of “and with your spirit.”
Well, while it wasn’t as troublesome as I though it might be (I imagined being much older than I am now and still using all the wrong responses), it took a while to get used to, for sure. I remember discussing it with my parents one Sunday and they both agreed that, for them was this, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof, but only say the Word, and my soul shall be healed.” That was changed from, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive You, but only say the Word, and I shall be healed.” I disagreed and voiced my personal problem remember the word, “consubstantial” vs “one in being with.”
I was, at that time moreso than now, one of those Catholics who did not really “know” her Bible. I’m better now, but trust me, baby steps. It was shortly after that conversation that a friend invited me to Bible Study Fellowship’s study of the Gospel of St Matthew. It happened to be the last Cycle A year prior to this one. Perfect timing, but as I’ve come to learn, the Holy Spirit really has perfect timing ALL.THE.TIME. When we studied the 8th chapter of Matthew, I was shocked to read those words I prayed weekly before receiving Jesus in the Eucharist. They were right there. In the Bible. In St Matthew’s Gospel. And they were spoken, by a Centurion. A Roman. Not a faithful Jew. The BSF teaching leader talked about this fact. The following Sunday, knowing the context (we Catholics REALLY need to read and learn our Bibles) I prayed it as I had never before. With a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.
This is by far my favorite miracle of Jesus’. And that’s for a lot of reasons. For one, the Centurion. Jesus used him and his faith as an example for the faithful. Not a Pharisee. Not a Chief Priest. A Roman Centurion. Someone who did not go to the Temple. It would appear that Jesus could not have picked a worse example to hold up to the people of this time, but it was the Roman Centurion. Because God uses unlikely vessels to bring us the good news.
Did I mention this was a Roman Centurion? Matthew and Zaccheus might have been tax collectors and publicans, but at least they were Jews. This nameless dude? He was Roman. He was most definitely not one of God’s chosen people who had been praying for the Messiah or even knew to look for Him. This is important because it would show that Jesus came for all humanity, not just a select few. It would be much later that He would explicitly spell this out but it’s right there, Jesus is for everyone no matter birth or circumstance, color or ethnicity. He is Lord of ALL.
We see the power of intercessory prayer. The Centurion had the benefit of Jesus being physically alive and present right then and there. We don’t have that benefit so it’s all about prayer for us. When we are struggling we ask others to pray for us. I’ve thrown out the prayer requests on social media and friends, some who share my faith and some who do not, generously respond. They are acting as the Centurion in that moment. And then there are the times when I don’t come right out and ask and people offer prayers. The way the scene in Matthew 8:5-11 plays out it doesn’t appear the servant asked the Centurion to seek Jesus out and ask for his healing. The Centurion recognized Jesus (despite not having the years of prophecy and teaching the Pharisees and Sadducees had) and went to Him asking for his servant whose suffering he recognized. When friends share they have been praying for a situation, I realize that I have been feeling those prayers all along. They are making a difference, whether the pray-er realizes it.
The Centurion admits to his own unworthiness before professing His faith. He asks but he also acknowledges his shortcomings. Blogger Christine Johnson recently remarked on Snapchat (okay, recent might be overstating a wee bit, it might have been in like September, or even August) about going to Mass at a different parish than her own with her daughter and being surprised about “how they do things around here…” in a manner of speaking. She went on in subsequent snaps to remind everyone that whether you have Gregorian chant or the My Little Pony Gloria at Mass, Jesus still comes. Jesus is still present at the Eucharist whether we are ad orientem or versus populum. And none of us deserves Him. Like the Centurion, none of us are worthy. We are, and always will be in this lifetime, fallen, sinful humans. We don’t deserve God’s forgiveness or mercy, but He still offers them freely if we ask. His grace is there if we are open to it but our sinful nature causes us to close ourselves off and we forget that God loves us anyway and if we truly want to be united with Him, reconciled to Him, we should ask because He is never a God of justice and vengeance because He gave us His only begotten Son. We, by our own strengths and merits are not worthy, but He can make us so.
Jesus met many people in his brief years on Earth.Not all of them are recorded in the Bible but this one was. This interaction between a Centurion and our Lord has survived all this time because it reminds us, ever so gently to be humble. We are not greater than God. We cannot command illness to leave. We must be totally reliant on Him. And we must remember we are truly unworthy of the entirety of what He has given us, but His love for us makes it all so.