When Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him and saying, "Lord, my servant is lying at home paralysed, in terrible distress." And he said to him, "I will come and cure him." The centurion answered, "Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also 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 the slave does it." When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, "Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." And to the centurion Jesus said, "Go; let it be done for you according to your faith." And the servant was healed in that hour.
Meet an army officer (a centurion: in charge of a ‘century’, 100 soldiers) used to giving and receiving commands. Here we are dealing with a tight organisation with its clear-cut ranks – an army – and not with the shifting sands of ordinary life and speech. For this officer, language was as clear as everything else in army life. This clarity holds great attraction for some people, and they would love to impose it on the whole society. They are called fascists. This comes from the Italian word ‘fascio’, meaning ‘a bundle’ (it is related to the English word ‘fascicle’). Mussolini’s Fascists used to carry a bundle of twigs at the front of their marching columns, signifying the greater strength there is in a bundle of twigs than in any number of single twigs.
Armies look very efficient, but they are surely the most wasteful organisations in any society. Why do soldiers have to march rather than just walk? Because when they march they look more like a machine, and this is calculated to strike fear into everyone who sees them. Sartre wrote about the way we imprison ourselves in our roles: “A soldier at attention makes himself into a soldier-thing with eyes straight forward, eyes that do not see at all, since it is the regulation and not the interest of the moment which determines the point he must fix his eyes on (the sight "fixed at ten paces").” Uniformity is all right for things, but not for people. We have to beware of people who worship uniformity and ‘efficiency’ – in Church and state alike. It is only about appearances. There is infinitely more vitality and creativity in the drift of ordinary life.
But wait a moment! The army officer in today’s reading says to Jesus, “I am not worthy to have you under my roof.” He knew that Jews incurred ritual uncleanness on entering the house of a pagan, and he wanted to save Jesus this inconvenience. It was out of consideration that he said, “Say but the word….” He wasn’t an army man through and through. He was a human being. There is hope for every one of us!
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