“Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.
I say to you, many will come from the east and the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the Kingdom of heaven.”
The question we might ask of every reading during the Christmas and Easter seasons is, "Why do we hear this particular reading?"
The story of the centurion and Jesus is not taken from the beginning of Saint Matthew's Gospel. It does not concern the birth of Jesus. So why do we hear it today, as we settle into Advent?
My friend Chaplain Bishop at the VA "owns" this story as he comprehends like few others the centurion's reluctance to have Jesus enter under his roof. A man of terrible violence, he would not feel worthy at the approach of Jesus, despite his apparently desperate need. Jesus' entering the centurion's house might be too much for the commander who must maintain a stern countenance before his subordinates.
So perhaps we should first notice the awed deference at the Coming of the Lord. The fierce soldier is all but paralyzed by his sense of unworthiness and yet he cannot stop himself from asking for help.
His asking is even more astonishing when we consider the contempt the typical Roman soldier would feel toward the "locals." They are mostly "hostiles," but without the training and discipline of the most powerful army on Earth. To Roman eyes the Jewish men of Capernaum might be pathetic if they weren't so suspicious.
But this centurion has set aside his pride and has risked at least some of his authority to approach Jesus.
The Lord, fully aware of the gentile's predicament, is deeply impressed, "...in no one in Israel have I found such faith." He says that of no one else in the New Testament.
As we enter the season, this story invites each of us to consider our readiness to have Jesus "enter under my roof." Do I feel unworthy at the approach of Christmas. Do I take for granted that the Lord walks right into my heart as if he is welcome?
But the Lord does not go where he is not welcome; he "stands at the door and knocks." Is he, in fact, welcome to come in and rearrange my attitudes, habits and relationships?
We do well to begin Advent with the gentile centurion's words, "Lord, I am not worthy." Silenced by the approach of God, we might begin to appreciate "the real meaning of Christmas."