Isaiah 2:1-5 / Matthew 8:5-11
Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.
These words of the centurion in the Gospel we make our own at every Mass before we receive Communion. In fact, those of us in the English-speaking world will be able to do so even more manifestly in our new translation of the Mass, placing these very words on our lips. So, it is clear that the Church intends all the faithful to identify with this virtuous pagan whose faith excelled those of the chosen people in Israel.
Yet, in what way are we to take these centurion's words? It might seem, on the face of it, that we are to make ourselves more keenly aware of our moral failings, of the ways that we have cooled to the very fire of charity which is signified and effected by the Sacrament. Certainly, in light of St Paul's admonitions in the first letter to the Corinthians or receiving the Body worthily, this is sage and sound advice.
All the same, in context, sinfulness does not seem to be the principal concern. Rather, what the centurion attends to is the question of authority. The centurion, that is, says he is not worthy precisely because he knows one word from the Lord Jesus will be sufficient. Say only the word, and my servant shall be healed. As in the prophecy of Isaiah, the centurion is willing to go to the mountain of God to be taught and judged because he recognizes that there is a truth there to which he will happily submit, a truth that exceeds even his best efforts to do right by his servant. In fact, this latter truth makes clear to us that the centurion's acceptance of the authority of Christ is not about passive submission. Rather, he can recognize the authority of the God of Israel not merely because he is subject to others, but precisely because he knows what it means to have others subject to him. More specifically, it is his experience of exercising his authority on behalf of those who are subordinate to him, seeing to their needs and concerns, that the centurion is led to his confession of faith, professing the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Advent calls us all to profess our unworthiness as the centurion did, that is, through recognizing more clearly the authority of Jesus Christ. Yet, it also asks us, as does every Mass, to recognize that authority not by mere submission, but just as much in our use of our own power and authority, however limited it may seem, on behalf of those who are placed in our lives and under our care. When Jesus returns, whose Advent we celebrate and await this season, may we too hear him say of us as he said of the centurion, In no one ... have I found such faith.