“Lord,…I Am Not Worthy”
There is something that every person in this world has in common, something that is part of our human nature. All of us, whether young or old, black or white, male or female, Christian or non-Christian, has need to be worthy…just to be worthy…just to be worth something to ourselves and to someone else.
Yet, the understanding of true worthiness found in the Gospel has been greatly distorted. It has been greatly distorted by our equally unifying problem of sin, greatly distorted by our own desires for prestige and power, and greatly distorted by the standards and values of the world.
Consider the value of worthiness in the area of education. Most people graduate from high school, many people go on to college, some of those graduate, and some of those go on and get advanced degrees like a masters degree, and then some of those with masters degrees go on to get even higher degrees such as PhDs.
It is obvious in our society that those with higher degrees are considered much more worthy than those who don’t. Those with higher degrees have much more authority than those who don’t.
In the end, the Gospel’s understanding of worthiness is blurred and ultimately exchanged for what our egos desire most of all…authority, because in this world, if we have authority then we are in control, we are able to do things for ourselves, able to decide our own future, able to do things without others, the need of others, and sometimes even against others. Through the world’s eyes, worth and authority go hand and hand.
Think about jobs. Those who have a higher status job is considered much more worthy and have much more authority in our society than someone with a lower status job. Doctors, scientists, scholars, professors, lawyers, etc, etc, society considers all of these jobs to be worthy and the people with these jobs have great authority.
But not everyone has or needs a high status job. There are people who have had the same job for many, many years. Many people haven’t felt it necessary to look for other jobs. They have been satisfied with what they have. Yet, even these people want to be worthy. They too want to be valuable and important. They define their worth and authority by their experiences, by what they have done in their life. Stories of accomplishments and successes serve as their resume so others might look upon them as being worthy and having authority.
Our text today tells us about one such person and their encounter with the living presence of our Lord Jesus. Yet, it is his encounter with Jesus, it is OUR encounter with Jesus, that turns our understanding of worthiness and authority on its head, and redefines for us what it means to be worthy.
If there was anyone who fits the description of someone who is worthy, it was the centurion, who was the pride of the Roman Army. Let me describe to you for a moment of just how worthy a centurion was. The biggest body of men in the Roman Army was called a legion, which consisted of anywhere from 5000 to 6000 men. Throughout the history of the Roman Army the number of legions ranged anywhere from as low as around 20 to as high as 33, that’s roughly about 100,000 to 200,000 men at any given time.
Each legion consisted of ten cohorts, each cohort was divided into six centuries comprised of about 80 to 100 men. Most of the senior officers were relatively inexperienced. They were usually aristocrats who were members of the Roman Senate. The real professionals of the Roman Army were the centurions, and there were sixty of them in a legion, one for each century. The centurions were highly experienced soldiers, that badest of the bad, the best of the best.
Apart from the career prospects, it was financially very advantageous to be a centurion, who could make up to 16 times that of the basic legionary salary. A centurion could also be promoted to more elite centuries thus increasing his status as a military officer, therefore a centurion in the Roman Army could gain an incredible amount of prestige, power, authority as well as achieve a high status militarily, socially, and economically.
It is interesting to me then that the centurion in our text sends some Jewish elders to meet Jesus and ask him to come heal his slave. The centurion tries to convince Jesus to come by using people who the centurion considers to be “closer” to Jesus than himself in order to make a case for his own worthiness. And the centurion isn’t the only one who does this.
All of us at one time or another have asked someone to speak for us, to do things for us, even to pray for us, because we believe they are “closer” to Jesus than we are, they are more “religious”, more “pious”, more “faithful”. Many people believe Jesus only comes and helps those who are worthy, who have the credentials, who know the right people, who do the right things. But both the centurion and the Jewish elders misunderstand what it means to be worthy of Jesus’ presence. They misunderstand whom Jesus has come to save.
But something happens to the centurion as Jesus nears the house. Instead, of encouraging Jesus to come, the centurion sends out his friends, to encourage Jesus not to come, the centurion tells his friends to say to Jesus on his behalf, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you”. What in the world would have made the centurion say this, to completely change his mind? I believe the centurion experienced the presence of the living Spirit of Christ.
In the time between when the Jewish elders came to Jesus and the time when the centurion’s friends came to Jesus, the Holy Spirit came to the centurion and he experienced the presence of the living Christ. This man of power, prestige, and authority was brought to his knees in the light of the only one who is in authority. In the light of the one in authority, he suddenly realized how truly unworthy he was. When we experience the presence of the living Christ we too realize just how unworthy we are. Just how unworthy we are in the presence of the Almighty, Sovereign God. No amount of work we do or the people we know, neither our social status nor economic status makes us worthy enough to deserve the grace of God.
The centurion was right, he is not worthy to have Jesus do this for him, BUT…BUT…listen to me now…BUT the centurion would have been wrong if he thought that he needed to be worthy in order to seek and get Jesus’ help.
You see…when we experience the presence of the living Christ and stand in the light of Christ’s glory, our unworthiness and brokeness is exposed, we come not as those who are worthy but as those who are unworthy. When we look upon his face, all we can do is confess as the centurion did, “Lord, I am not worthy”…, ”Lord, I am not worthy”…, ”Lord, I am not worthy”.
It is in the depths of our unworthiness that we can be assured that we have been made worthy. Made worthy not by our own authority, but by the authority of the only one who is worthy, the one who took upon himself the unworthiness of the world. The centurion came to Jesus not as a man who was highly valued and important in the society, not as a man with a great amount of worth and authority, but as a man who was unworthy, as a man who was under the authority of the Son of God.
Yet, in humility and reverence he still called upon Jesus. He called upon Jesus to just say the word and he believed that his slave would be healed. He believed in the power and authority of Jesus’ word, the word that transcends space and time. The word that is still active today because it’s power and authority comes from the Almighty God.
Jesus was right, the faith of the centurion was greater than any in Israel, to believe in a single word of Christ over one’s own power, authority, prestige is not only a great act of faith, it is the epitome of discipleship, and the mark of a true relationship with our Lord and Savior.
My friends, stand firm in the fact and believe with all faith, that even today, Jesus still only has to speak and our lives are made whole. Amen.