How to Approach the Lord with the Faith of the Centurion

In dealing with others, we often wonder how to approach them when we wish for them to hear our request and act upon it. We, likewise, may wonder how to approach the Lord Christ with the various problems that beset us. In the Gospel concerning the centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5-13), we are given some very clear instructions. In reflecting upon this Gospel passage, many often point to the great faith of the centurion, a faith so great that Christ Himself marveled at it. So, clearly approaching Christ with such confident faith was instrumental in the healing of his servant. But the question remains “how did the Roman centurion gain such tremendous faith?”  For if we know the answer to that question we will also know the answer to the question that is most relevant to us: “What should we do or how should we be in order to acquire his boldness of faith?”

If you reflect upon the words of the Gospel carefully and prayerfully, you will notice that the centurion possessed two underlying prerequisites to faith, namely, deep humility and meticulous obedience.  For humility and obedience are to faith what praxis is to theoria.  The consistent practice of the one leads to the gift of the other. If faith is a heaven-sent gift from God, humility and obedience are earthly offerings on the altar of the human heart. If faith is a sure sign of God’s providential love for each of us, then our obedience and humility are certainly signs of our childlike love for Him. This is the collaboration that marks the Christian life: human humility and human obedience on the one hand reaching up towards divine faith that moves mountains on the other.

Both of these traits are beautifully exemplified in the centurion’s response to the Lord. Initially, he says “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed,” thus revealing his humility in a phrase that would be enshrined in Christian liturgical tradition along side of the prayer of the publican. Saint Augustine notes that when the centurion humbled himself to the point of not considering himself worthy for Christ to come under his roof, Christ was able to come into his heart, a heart enlarged by a humble spirit (Sermon 27). Humility makes the heart spacious enough to receive the gift of faith. Next, the centurion continues, “For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.”

As a good soldier, the centurion understands the importance of obedience and the value of obedience even beyond the particular task being completed. Obedience brings forth obedience. As Abba Mios put it, “If someone is obedient to God, God is obedient to him” (PG 65.304) . Abba Romanos called obedience the salvation of all the faithful, the mother of all the virtues, the finding of the kingdom, the opener of heaven, the nourishment of all the saints, the fellow dweller of angels (PG 65.392). There can be little doubt about the importance of humility and obedience in the Christian life lived as it should be lived.

miracle-healing-of-the-centurions-servantDivine faith, like that of the centurion, is offered to us if we but cultivated a spirit of humility and a willingness for obedience.  At the other extreme, faith can also be destroyed by pride and disobedience.  As Milton’s Paradise Lost demonstrates, Lucifer’s non serviam (I will not serve) leads to disbelief and a distortion of the proper natural order created by God.  In this dysfunctional world, the man who utters non serviam makes himself the measure of all things much in the same way as the Pharisees did in the Gospel.  Saint Nikolai Velimorovich remarks on the difference when he writes, “The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldest come under my roof; but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. What a vast difference between this burning faith and the cold, legalistic beliefs of the Pharisees! A difference no less than that of fire that burns and a picture of fire. When one of the Pharisees invited Christ to his house for supper, he thought, in his legalistic arrogance, that he was doing the Lord honor by inviting Him into his house, and not that the Lord was honoring him and his house by entering under his roof. In his arrogance and overweening pride, the Pharisee neglected even the customary expression of hospitality: he neither brought his guest water to wash His feet nor greeted Him with an embrace, nor anointed His head with fragrant oil (Luke 7: 44-46).”

If we desire to approach the Lord about the suffering servant of our soul, if we seek union with the King of glory, there is hardly any example better than that of the centurion whose faith was a marvel even to Christ Himself.  The Lord has already promised us the gift of faith.  The acquisition thereof depends upon our willingness to collaborate with Him in humility and obedience, humility and obedience that can be best learned by being humble and obedient in the interactions that make up our daily lives, just like the centurion of old.

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