In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
As we have heard, today’s Gospel concerns the healing of the servant of the centurion. In the Roman Army the rank of centurion was given to a soldier who was at the head of one hundred soldiers. There are two particularly striking things about this centurion.
First of all he was clearly a man of virtue for he cared for the health of his servant. He was not one of those who considered human life expendable. He did not say to himself: ‘My servant is ill, I’ll let him die and tomorrow I will buy a slave at the market to replace him’. He must therefore have taken very seriously his responsibilities towards the one hundred soldiers under his command.
Secondly, his attitude towards other human-beings is confirmed by the fact that this centurion had implicit faith in Christ, the Creator of all human-beings, and in His power to heal. ‘Speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed’. This faith was far greater than that of the Jews. Despite their Old Testament heritage, all that they could do was criticise, find fault and destroy. The centurion, on the other hand, had complete faith in the power of Christ.
In return for these qualities Our Lord granted the centurion, and so all the faithful human race whom the centurion represents, two things.
Firstly, Christ grants the Kingdom of Heaven to the centurion and to all faithful humanity. The Kingdom is no longer for the Jews only, but it is opened up to all. ‘Many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven’. In other words it is no longer race that gives salvation, but faith. The Jews took it for granted in a racist way, that they would be saved and not the rest of humanity. But today it is revealed that we shall be judged according to our faith, not according to some external sign of nationality or facial features or skin-colour. Faith is now, in the words of Christ, the one quality that opens up the Kingdom of God. No artificial human boundaries and standards serve any purpose any longer, it is faith in the grace and power of God that saves.
Secondly and following on from this, this Gospel reveals to us that it is faith that determines not only our future in the Kingdom of God, but it also determines our present. ‘As thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee’. In the context of the centurion, of the man of faith, these words are comforting and healing. But these words are terrible for those without faith. They say that as we believe, so shall it be done unto us. If we believe in virtue, so we shall receive virtue. But if we believe in vice, so we shall receive vice. Those who live by the sword shall perish by the sword. If we love our neighbour, they will mostly love us. If we hate our neighbour, they will mostly hate us. Our lives are determined by the faith in them. Our lives are determined by our beliefs. Without faith, our lives are empty. With faith, our lives are full.
This understanding of this Gospel proves that our only chance of happiness in this world or the next is to believe in, and so base our lives on, the highest virtues. If we do this, then our lives will be transformed, not only in the here and now but also in the life to come. And what is the highest virtue? All mankind will agree that it is Love. And this is the Christian Revelation, in the words of St John the Evangelist, that God is Love.
From this day forth let us therefore shape our lives around the virtue of Love in the firm assurance and knowledge that all else will come aright as a result. For as we believe, so shall it be done unto us. Therefore let us live and believe with love for others.