Just Say The Word
There is an interesting story in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew that I was reading about today, and it got me thinking about faith, liturgies, and where traditions come from, among other things.
Here's the text from Matthew's account:
5 Now when Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, 6 saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented.”
7 And Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.”
8 The centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed.13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment.
(Matthew 8:5-8, 13, NKJV)
Verse 8:8 might seem familiar for those raised Catholic because it's an important part of every Mass.
The words in the Mass are changed a bit:
“Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed”
This response at Mass comes after the priest elevates the body of Christ in the sacred host and says, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to receive the supper of the Lamb” (the reference to John the Baptist’s words when he observes the coming of Jesus).
A lot is going on underneath the surface of this story, and also with the various interpretations that resulted in that one verse becoming such a powerful part of the Mass.
First, the centurion who approaches Jesus does so with great humility. This guy is not only a part of the Roman military complex assigned to keep a fragile peace in the Judean region of the Empire but is also a high-ranking officer.
His presence is not welcomed by the Jews in Judea. He represents decades of oppression, unfair and exorbitant taxes, and violent responses to anything that hints at rebellion.
In fact, before Jesus was born, the Romans had destroyed an entire Galilean city, killing and enslaving thousands, only to rebuild the city to fill it with Roman sympathizers.
But this centurion comes to Jesus with his helmet in his hand, so to speak, asking for the healing of one of his servants. The story reveals a Roman officer who has compassion and who also is respectful of Jewish customs.
He knows it is unlawful for Jews to enter the house of a Gentile, so he offers an alternative. And his faith that Jesus could heal his servant with a word overwhelms Jesus, who exclaims that he has not encountered such great faith "in all of Israel."
The words changed in the liturgy of the Mass invite us to go deeper into the story itself. They allow us to internalize the truth of the story.
We are both the centurion and the servant--sometimes one or the other, but most often both simultaneously. We come to Jesus as those who only sometimes get things right when it comes to him. Most of the time, we need to truly understand who we are dealing with.
In this, we are invited to abandon our pride, status, and all the things that we cling to when we want to feel in control and powerful and surrender our lives to Jesus, who is the Christ.
We are also the servant in the story in that we need healing. Our spirit needs revival; we need to experience restoration and renewal. We need the healing touch of the Christ to follow him more fully and to be Christ's hands and feet in the world.
This story resonates with me because it speaks to how I sometimes approach Jesus in my own life. I am all too aware of how I fall short of following Jesus' example, but I also know that there is grace, mercy, and love on the other side of my pleas for help.
The healing that I seek for my soul is always there when I am ready to let go of all of my pre-conceived notions and come to Jesus with what faith I have, humbling myself, releasing my ego, and trusting in the One who went to the furthest lengths possible to rescue me.
May you realize this, too. And may this realization bring you hope, healing, and peace.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.