Lord, I am Not Worthy…

Yesterday’s Gospel is one of my favorites. It’s Luke 7:1-10,

When Jesus had finished all his words to the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave who was ill and about to die, and he was valuable to him. When he heard about Jesus, he sent elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and save the life of his slave. They approached Jesus and strongly urged him to come, saying, “He deserves to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation and he built the synagogue for us.” And Jesus went with them, but when he was only a short distance from the house, the centurion sent friends to tell him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof. Therefore, I did not consider myself worthy to come to you; but say the word and let my servant be healed. For I too am a person subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him and, turning, said to the crowd following him, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” When the messengers returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

I love this passage, and the part of the Mass based on it is one of my favorite parts, as well. In the very last prayer before the Eucharist, the priest holds up the Body and Blood of Christ, and proclaims, “This is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,” quoting John the Baptist from John 1:29. We respond in a paraphrase of the Centurion’s message: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” In the New Missal, starting Advent of next year, we’ll say, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” I love the current prayer, but I like the new prayer as well — it’s more directly Biblical, and the parallel is more obvious (the roof of the centurion’s house, the roof of our mouth).

This Gospel passage is also about as intercessory as it gets. The Centurion, out of recognition of his unworthiness, sends his friends to intercede for him, so that he can intercede for his slave. Earlier, he sent “elders of the Jews” to summon Jesus. Interestingly, while the Centurion recognized his own unworthiness, the elders didn’t, saying “He deserves to have you do this for him.” They thought he’d earned Jesus’ time: the Centurion knew he hadn’t. That the Centurion recognized his own sinfulness, even as he seemed such an upstanding figure to the elders, is an excellent virtue.

While it is true that we may now “approach the Throne of Grace with confidence” (Hebrews 4:16), Jesus doesn’t condemn the Centurion (or the slave, for that matter) for not coming directly to Him. Rather, He was moved – even amazed – at the Centurion’s faith. “Amazed” isn’t a term we associate with God much, so this should be an area we pay close attention to: what are the things that get God’s attention in such a particular way? The answer, at least here, is a combination of total faith and humility — a recognition of our sinfulness and Christ’s sovereignty and power. The Centurion’s recognition of the Sovereignty of Christ is interesting: “For I too am a person subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” The setting for this statement is perfect. The Centurion doesn’t just send soldiers and slaves: in this passage alone, we see him sending Jewish elders and his friends, deputizing them as his personal messengers. Yet this man, whose power seems immense, is absolutely humbled and deferential to Christ. And what’s more, he’s not ashamed to let others know it. After all, Jesus hears these words of humility through the mouth of his messengers, and we’re told that it’s before a crowd. The Centurion isn’t even pretending to be all that people think he is: he’s openly prostrate before the Lord. He’s a model of humility and faith, particularly for those exalted in the eyes of the world.

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