When we ask God for something, how do we do it? Do we demand? Do we plead? Do we try to bargain? Or compromise? With what attitude do we typically approach God?
In today’s Gospel story, we see a Roman officer approach Jesus in a surprising manner. The centurian has a sick slave, and when he approaches Christ, Jesus agrees to go to the home of this non-Jew. The officer, though shocks Christ when he says, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come into my home; only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. As a soldier in the army, I understand obedience. If you only say the word, I know that the sickness will obey you and my servant will be healed.” Jesus marveled at the faith of the centurion and responded, “Truly I tell you not even in Israel have I found such faith… Go, let it be done to your servant according to your faith.” And in that moment the servant was healed.
Jesus marveled at the faith of this foreigner because He found a sincere, deep and humble faith in a man who was not even from the chosen people of God. This man was the commander of an enemy army. Yet Christ looks beyond the prejudices of His people, breaks the traditional laws of the Hebrews, and readily offers to go into the home of an “impure” non-Jew. Why does Jesus do this? Because He is open to all people, and always sees the heart of faith within each person. In this case, He sees an authentic, humble faith, a faith from which we all can learn today.
First, we see that the centurion’s faith is not simply an intellectual faith, but a faith of action. The soldier comes to Jesus with hope in his time of need. He doesn’t sit at home wishing that his slave would get better. He doesn’t wallow in self-pity, complaining about his situation. He actively seeks out Jesus. He displays a strong desire for something to happen. Always remember, faith only in the mind, without action, is not complete. Many times our faith demands that we make some action to show the sincerity of our faith.
Second, the centurion reveals the connection of faith with love. The centurion approaches Jesus because he loves his servant. Why should the centurion go out of his way only for the sake of a slave? Slaves in the time of Jesus were non-persons, a piece of property. The Gospel shows, however, that the centurion had compassion on his slave because he saw him as a person, as a brother in need. Love could not allow the centurion to remain passive. Authentic faith goes hand in hand with love. As St. Paul clearly states, “If I have such faith that I could move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”
Another side of the centurion’s faith is his extreme humility. The centurion was an important Roman soldier in charge of 100 other soldiers. He was a man of authority and power. Yet he humbly approaches an itinerant Jewish rabbi. He does not demand help. He humbly asks, hoping that Jesus will answer his request. And when Christ agrees to heal the servant and come to his house, the officer shockingly responds, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter my house; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed.”
“I am not worthy to have you enter my house!” What extreme humility!
St. Augustine writes about this lesson, “The centurion counted himself unworthy that Christ should enter his house; but the centurion was found worthy that Christ should enter his heart.” Pride kills faith. Pride hinders us from finding God. Pride even dulls our desire for God! Faith and humility go hand in hand.
Also, the centurion’s humble faith doesn’t need concrete signs to validate it. He tells Jesus, “Only speak the word and my servant will be healed.” How many of us are like St. Thomas, instead of like the centurion? Thomas didn’t believe the resurrectional account of the other disciples: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” And yet, our Risen Lord reprimanded Thomas’ lack of faith: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” In contrast, the centurion had a faith which didn’t need to see; he didn’t demand proofs or reassurances. He simply said, “Speak the word, and I know my servant will be healed.”
Finally, the centurion’s faith goes hand in hand with obedience. As a Roman commander, the centurion understood obedience. When he commanded a soldier to do something, he knew that he didn’t have to say the command a second time. Soldiers were taught to immediately obey. In like manner, the centurion understood that Christ had ultimate power. Therefore, he trusted that if Jesus gave a command, the spirit of sickness would immediately obey. Understanding this aspect of obedience made his faith complete.
A faith of action. A faith of love. A faith of humility. A faith of obedience. A devout and authentic faith!
As we reflect on the centurion’s faith, how does our own faith compare? When we turn to God in times of trouble or challenge or difficulty, how do we approach Him? Do we demand? Or plead? Or bargain?
Or do we turn to God with a faith that is filled with action, with love, with humility, and with obedience? Are we ready to believe without seeing, telling Jesus only to say a word and we will be content? Today, let us strive to increase our faith beyond the level of only an intellectual belief. Let our faith be combined with a strong desire, with unconditional love, with extreme humility, and with absolute obedience. Then we will rise to the level of the centurion, and Jesus will also marvel at our faith, saying, “Not even in the house of Israel have I found such faith.”
Facing Our Uncertain Future
Love Until It Hurts
Our Orthodox Faith
House of God: An Explanation of the Interior of Orthodox Churches