Genesis 18:1-15; Luke 1:46-50,53-55; Matthew 8:5-17
Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…
These words of a Centurion, are so important that we say them together every time we receive Holy Communion. They come from todays Gospel in Mathew Chapter 8, in the middle of a series of healings that demonstrate Jesus’ authority and that he is God’s son.
A centurion in popular culture is often portrayed as a military man, capable of savage brutal discipline on his soldiers. Indeed – some centurions were, but this one, we see in Lukes Gospel is well liked by the local Jewish community, well known by the elders, and he had funded the building of a synagogue. Perhaps he was also acquainted with their scripture and would have been familiar with the story from Genesis this morning in which Abram welcomes the Lord into his camp, feeds him and listens to him. He certainly would have known about Jesus’s healings in his local community. These were foretold by prophets that he may have heard read, and had explained to him – which also told of unrest and restitution of land to the Jewish people. There was quite a stir about, large crowds were on the move to see Jesus! As the local military commander in charge of an occupying force he would certainly have concerns about keeping the local peace!
The Centurion talks about authority. He himself is in a hierarchy, and expects men to quick march if he commands it, to fetch him food on demand, to anticipate his will, as a wise servant must. Equally, he knows he must respect those in authority over himself.
This influential and powerful man recognises in Jesus a greater authority than any other he knows. He recognises his own place in the Lord’s hierarchy. He is below the believers – they can enter each other homes, but Leviticus forbids them to enter an outsider’s house which would make them ritually unclean and thus forbidden to enter the synagogue until purified. He places himself below a leper! Immediately before todays incident Jesus has made himself ritually unclean by touching a leper to heal him. But the Centurian does not ask Jesus to come in contact with his servant, nor indeed with himself. He is asking Jesus to heal a lowly, but loved person in his household without even coming to the threshold.
There is a tradition that this centurion was at the crucifixion and was the one who said (in Matthew and Marks Gospels) that truly this was a son of God and in Luke ‘this man was innocent’. He may be the same centurion Cornelius, who Simon Peter visited, and influenced him to go and take the Good news to the Gentiles.
Perhaps most striking of all, is the way in which the Centurian addresses Jesus. Jesus, the wandering, unusual preacher and miraculous healer – is addressed by someone who is effectively a local chieftain, as Lord.
Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof: but I know you only have to say a word for our souls to be healed.