O Lord, I Am Not Worthy
A centurion came to Jesus, saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, 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.” – Matthew 8: 5-8 (adapted)
Catholics know the centurion’s reply by heart. They routinely recite it at every Mass, right before receiving Holy Communion: “O Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only speak the word, and my soul shall be healed.”
I haven’t met many Protestants who’d relish saying such a prayer before receiving Communion, or at any other time. Some Catholics don’t love it much, either. We have enough people telling us we’re unworthy, they say; we don’t need the Church hammering us, too.
But when I remember that it’s a powerful white guy who utters that prayer, a wisp of hope flits through those words. Here’s a man who strides though his world confident and unafraid, backed by imperial authority, accustomed to brute force. He could crush you on a whim, crucify you and not feel a thing.
If someone like him can come to Jesus and confess, for the sake of another, that his power is an ineffectual fiction and his worth is worthless, then maybe there’s hope for me, marinating oh-so-worthily in my privileged stew. Maybe there’s hope for you, too, in whatever illusion you’re lounging in.
And maybe there’s hope for all the world’s haughty powers, that one day they’ll utter an honest word, discard their deadly dominance, feel something for their victims, humble themselves before the One in whom all have equal and eternal worth, and pray with a faith that amazes:
“O Lord, I am not worthy, but only speak the word, and I will be healed.”
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.