Jesus knows our faults. He wants to be close to us anyway.
A Reflection for Monday of the First Week of Advent
Find today’s readings here.
Do you remember what we used to say at Mass? “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” Which is fine, but not especially compelling. I was so grateful when, back in 2011, the words of the Eucharistic prayer were revised to more accurately and rigorously reflect the original Latin. Now we say, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.” This prayer is based on what the centurion said to Jesus in today’s Gospel reading. This more specific, concrete, and intimate expression of humility in the new translation still grabs my attention every time and compels me to internally look up and recall who I am about to face when I walk up to receive Communion. It’s a newer translation that recalls us to a very old reality.
When the Centurion sees Jesus coming, he goes out to meet him and asks him to heal his servant. Jesus offers to come to his house and cure the man, but the Centurion instantly demurs and says: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.”
Then the centurion goes on to remind Jesus that he has a specific place in the Roman army: There are people who can command him and people (at least a hundred of them, which is where the word “centurion” comes from) whom he commands.
The Roman military was hyper-organized. There were rules and conventions for everything and an extremely well-defined hierarchy of authority. When the centurion looks at Jesus, he immediately recognizes him as a big deal, a superior, someone who is, in a sense, too big to fit under his roof. Saying “I am not worthy” is not just a bit of polite flattery. He really means it. YOU, come into MY house? This is not a thing that would normally happen! It’s not in the right order of things!
The Gospel says: “When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, / ‘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.’”
Because, after all, how has Jesus been received by his own people? Some of them take a long time to recognize who he is (the snarky skepticism of “Can any good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn 1:46) comes to mind). And when they do identify him as the Messiah and start to follow him, they immediately get a little too comfortable and start taking him for granted.
Contrast “I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof” with what Peter babbled in Matthew’s Gospel when he saw Christ transfigured: “Let’s make three tents, and you and Moses and Elijah can come live in them!” I’m not really criticizing Peter, who loved the Lord with all his wobbly heart, but it is funny comparison. Even when he sees the Lord blazing with blinding glory, the first thing that pops out of his mouth is, “Get under my roof!”
Sometimes it takes an outsider to remind you of who you are, and what you’ve got, with Jesus. Sometimes it takes a new translation to remind you of an ancient truth.
The real definition of “humility” is not considering oneself a lowly worm, but seeing clearly who you really are and where you really stand. The centurion gets this right away. He knows he has some standing, but compared to Jesus, he’s too small. Humility means standing before God and saying, “I know who I am, and I know you know who I am.” So this is what we say in the Eucharistic prayer.
And then comes the really startling part: We say these words right before we receive Communion. Jesus knows exactly who we are and who he is. He knows he is the holy immortal one and sees us in our humility, in our smallness, and then he says, “Let me come under your roof anyway.”
Strange. Shocking. Something to remember for the next time we go to meet him.