Chapter 8: Healing the Servant of the Centurion
Jews thought they were the only ones destined to be saved, as they were the “Chosen People” of God; there was no possibility of any other people entering into the Kingdom of God. However, Jesus came to open wide the door for everyone to be saved, under only one condition: faith. He said, after healing the servant of the Centurion, that “nowhere in Israel have I found faith like this” (Mt 8:10).
You, who have believed and have wanted to follow Jesus as you prepare for him in the catechumenate, are similar to the pagan Centurion in your faith. You may hear an inner voice whispering: “Your faith is greater than that of Christians themselves for whom it has become habit.” What is important is that you should show your faith in words and in deeds, without comparing yourself to others. The Lord watches you in person; he loves you and calls you to redemption.
2- Reading and understanding the Gospel: The Faith of the Centurion (Mt 8:5-13)
5When he went into Capernaum a centurion came up and pleaded with him. 6 “Sir,” he said, “my servant is lying at home paralyzed, and in great pain.” 7 “I will come myself and cure him,” said Jesus. 8The centurion replied, “Sir, I am not worthy to have you under my roof; just give the word and my servant will be cured. 9For I am under authority myself, and have soldiers under me; and I say to one man: Go, and he goes; to another: Come here, and he comes; to my servant: Do this, and he does it.” 10When Jesus heard this he was astonished and said to those following him, “I tell you solemnly, nowhere in Israel have I found faith like this. 11And I tell you that many will come from east and west to take their places with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob at the feast in the kingdom of heaven; 12but the subjects of the kingdom will be turned out into the dark, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.” 13And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go back, then; you have believed, so let this be done for you.” And the servant was cured at that moment.
2. 1- Explanation
Jesus entered Capernaum and, when the Centurion came forward to him explaining the condition of his sick servant, Jesus at once went to heal him. The initiative of Jesus is a clear demonstration of how he superseded the Jewish tradition that prohibited Jews from entering pagan homes for fear of impurity. This universal opening to redemption is clear in Matthew’s Gospel, from the very first pages, when the Magi came to worship the Child Jesus. The great desire of Jesus is to bring salvation to all people, provided they have faith in him. Jesus dispenses all ethnic differences, and offers salvation to everyone, irrespective of ethnic origin or nationality.
This initiative of Jesus is followed almost immediately by the most humble response in faith by the Centurion, who considers himself unworthy of welcoming the Messiah, sent from God. He elaborates, saying that he orders his soldiers from afar and does not need to face them when giving them orders. He suggests that Jesus can do likewise and heal “from afar”, without having to touch the patient.
At this point, Jesus praises the faith of the pagan Centurion, who shows deep humility and surrender to the powerful word of Jesus. The people of Israel have failed to reach such faith, despite the firm promises of salvation at the end of time. The image of a banquet in the Kingdom of Heaven is not a material expression, but a biblical symbol (Is 25:6; Ps 107:3), indicating the super-abundance of unending joy. In conclusion, Jesus sends the Centurion on his way with confidence, saying: “you have believed, so let this be done for you.” Jesus shows us that thanks to faith, we can have our sins forgiven (Mt 9:2), perform miracles (Mt 17 20), and receive everything we ask for (Mt 21:22), for our eternal salvation.
2. 2- Summary and Practice
This passage of the Gospel brings good news to us: it shows how the powerful word of Jesus can heal from afar, and unveils the universal dimension of salvation granted to us by Jesus, knowing no limits of ethnicity or nationality, but relying totally on genuine faith in the Word of God.
From this follows on this question: “How do you describe your faith in God?” Do you fervently desire Paradise and its material rewards in embracing the Christian faith? Are you living your progress in faith with humility and submission to the will of God or else do you constantly resist all that afflicts you in life? Are you aware that Jesus is omnipotent and can transform your worries and illnesses into glory and resurrection? Through his Incarnation, death and Resurrection, Jesus did not do away with evil from the world, but has transformed it, in ourselves, into blessed hope. Jesus came to liberate humanity from the most painful form of slavery, that of sin. Therefore, we are required, before it is too late, to repent of our sinful past, and to commit ourselves to the Kingdom of God, in a life of faith, in our words and in our actions.
3- Theological and Spiritual Teaching: The Value of Faith
God created man with an innate thirst for Him and a natural readiness for faith in Him. Jesus indicates this when he says: “No one can come to me unless he is drawn by the Father, who sent me” (Jn 6:44). This thirst for God is a common theme is the Psalms: “Like the deer that yearns for running streams, so my soul is yearning for you, my God” (Ps 41 . God’s grace does not stop at this inner yearning but comes forth to meet man. Indeed, the inner yearning is not enough; otherwise, God would be a projection of what we carry in our imagination. God comes forth to meet man in the heart of this world, in the heart of history. God has revealed Himself to humanity in many ways: He has spoken to us through prophets and has intervened to save His people on many occasions. In these last times, He has sent His own son – His Eternal Word – the fullness of Divine Revelation.
Faith is man’s answer to this twin call: that which is inscribed in the very depths of his being, and that which is in harmony with God’s revelation. It is a thirst that is felt within and, at the same time, a call which we hear. Faith calls for man to listen intently to this inner voice, understanding all in the light of his knowledge of the Lord Jesus. Also, when one hears the words of Christ, one may sense within oneself, love, joy and peace, indicating that whoever utters these words is indeed the one who created us and planted in us the love of his words.
That said, faith remains a free choice. Had God chosen to force people to believe in Him, He would have revealed Himself to them some other way. The relationship between Man and God is based on a free offering on which Man may build. Like all relationships in love, signs found there are many, including the fulfilling presence of God in our lives. It is desirable that a believer should know how to read these signs, and to listen to the voice of God, which calls him, at every moment, to live according to the teachings of such faith.
Faith bears fruit and believers feel safe when they submit their life in the hands of God. This does not mean, however, that God decides for us, but God cares and protects us from the falls and hardships of life. God has created and established the laws of nature and intervenes to protect His children from the forces of nature, and not change them. God is the Father of all and “causes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good …” Believers accept God as their companion who inspires them at all times and to whom He gives the fullness of life with God. Faith requires big trust in God and this is what Jesus has repeatedly called for: “Just believe!” … “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed …”
Church plays a central role in passing on faith. Everyone lives his own experience on the journey towards faith in God, and Church has remained the guardian of faith since the time of the Apostles, with the help of the Holy Spirit, taking the charges delivering Christian teaching and catechism of faith.
4- Reading and Meditation: A Reading from Karl Rahner (1904-1984)
Faith in the Church of Sinners
The authentic faith of the Church is that of the sinner who, whether believer or not, returns to faith incessantly by the power of grace. It is the faith that endures the darkness of the world instead of squandering it through argument. It is the faith which confesses God instead of defending the poses that give to the Church a human strength or a dogmatic appearance, embodied in a social entity. It is the awakened faith that can receive justification not in the eyes of the world, but by becoming a force of love, sacrificed in the service of one’s neighbour. It is the faith that, instead of being enclosed within sphere of private life, shines in specific work through hope, responsibility and commitment in the affairs of this world. It is the faith that, instead of diverting itself in the world of controversial thoughts, obeys the prompting of prophecy and grace, to escape the vicious circle caused by pure reason. It is a faith that enters the world of the real,and which demands a Christian commitment.
Such faith is a grace, but more than that, it is God Himself. It is the work of man; and every work of this kind finds its foundation and its nature in grace; in other words, faith is the work of the man who prays.10