The Gospel today is the story of a centurion’s encounter with Jesus from Matthew 8:5-11. When Jesus arrives in Capernaum, the centurion approaches him, saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, suffering dreadfully.” This one statement is enough for Jesus. Without pause or further petition, he replies, “I will come and cure him.”
That easily could have been the end of the story. The centurion could have said, “Oh that would be great, Lord, come on in.” But instead, he replies with an oft-quoted line: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.”
Centurions were leaders in the Roman army. This was a distinguished, powerful man, certainly more powerful than Jesus was in the context of the Roman world. We can imagine that his home wasn’t anything to be ashamed of. So when he counters Jesus, it isn’t out of a material humility, but a spiritual one. Despite all of his accomplishments and status, he comes before Jesus humbly yet boldly, knowing that one word from him will end his friend’s suffering.
The Church does something important and subtle here. The lectionary ends with Jesus standing amazed at the centurion’s faith. The rest of the story may be familiar – a few lines later, the servant is healed – but today’s reading ends before that. We are left short of the miracle.
Ready or not, we have entered a new liturgical year, a new season of anticipation, a new Advent. We have just trudged through the book of Maccabees, parts of Revelation – the darkest days of the year. This new beginning didn’t come with a burst of celebration, but the lighting of a single candle, the subtlest turn towards hope.
Each time we go to Mass, at the end of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, just before the Distribution of Communion, the priest holds up the consecrated bread and wine. “Behold the Lamb of God,” he says. And how do we respond? We are invited into the posture of the centurion. We are invited to humbly yet boldly say, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” Left short of so many miracles, we still turn to God in the Eucharist, in hope, trusting what is to come.