The Centurion’s Faith and Humility

The Gospel lesson of Matthew 8:5-13 reads:

As he entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him,    beseeching him and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion answered him, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard him, he marveled, and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.”  And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; be it done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.

St. Gregory of Nazianzus (d. 391AD) says that  the centurion’s faith and approach to the Lord offer all of us an example of how to approach Christ in humility:

“Wherefore we must purify ourselves first, and then approach this converse with the Pure…be like the Centurion who would seek for healing, but would not, through a praiseworthy fear, receive the Healer into his house. Let each one of us also speak so, as long as he is uncleansed, and is a Centurion still, commanding many in wickedness, and serving in the army of Caesar, the World-ruler of those who are being dragged down; ‘I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof”.”

(Archbishop Dmitri, The Miracles of Christ, pg. 103)

The centurion has not given up his position in the Roman imperial army when he approaches Christ.   From a Jewish point of view, the centurion is entangled with all manner of religious heresy, false practice and belief, worldly values, and additionally is there in Israel for no other purpose than to oppress God’s people.   So when he says he is not worthy to have Christ enter his household, he is not speaking  so much humbly as he is  honestly.   He has not given up his position of power nor his involvement with the Roman legions (which by definition means he was involved in pagan sacrificial rites).  Again from a Jewish religious point of view, the centurion in fact was “commanding many in wickedness” (in the words of St. Gregory Nazianzus).    And yet, though he represents the political power and military might of the empire and all its legions and gods, he seeks mercy from Christ not for himself but  for one of his servants.  Christ sees through all of the signs of power, and sees the honest and humble heart of the man before him.  Christ sees his faith and hope, mercy and compassion; He sees a man after his own heart and responds in kind.