Sunday, November 27, 2016

"LORD, I AM NOT WORTHY . . . "


Homily for Nov. 28th, 2016. Matt. 8:5-11.

          Immediately before the healing story we have just heard, Jesus has healed a leper by reaching out and touching him. Obedient to the law of his people, Jesus sends the man to the priests in the Jerusalem Temple. Jewish priests were also quarantine officials. With a priestly certificate of good health the leper, previously bound to live apart from others, lest they too become infected, could enter society again. There is irony here: later it would be Jewish priests who would conspire the arrest Jesus.

          The centurion who asks Jesus to heal his servant is a Gentile military officer. This is clear from his response when Jesus says he will come to heal the servant. The officer shows both courtesy to Jesus and respect for the Jewish law by saying: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof.” He knows that in entering a Gentile house Jesus could become ritually unclean. So he suggests an alternative: “Only say the word and my servant will be healed.” I do that all the time, he says. I give orders to those under my authority, and they do what I command.

          Upon hearing these words, Matthew tells us, Jesus “was amazed.” Normally it is the witnesses who are amazed at Jesus’ healings. Here it is the Lord himself who shows amazement. I have not found faith like this from my own people, Jesus says. This outsider, who has neither our divine law, nor our prophets, he tells the people, shows greater faith than you do. The words which follow about people coming from east and west to take seats at God’s heavenly banquet alongside Israel’s heroes are a prophecy of the Church. Originally a sect within Judaism, the Church would break out of its Jewish womb to become the worldwide community of Gentiles as well.

          The centurion’s words continue to resound two millennia later. “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof,” we say before we approach the Lord’s table to receive his Body and Blood, “but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.” Even after a good confession, we are still unworthy of the Lord’s gift. He gives himself to us for one reason: not because we are good enough; but because he is so good that he longs to share his love with us.