Worth: A reflection on Matthew 8:8

Worth is a common theme at the Wharton Business School. “Is this deal worth investing in?” “Is this club worth my time?” “What’s your net worth?” In order to prove our supposed “worth” on campus, we are pressured to succeed in all aspects of our lives. We need to get the best internships, be the leaders in all our clubs, have a 4.0, and keep a balanced social and personal life. We are called by our peers to become leaders in business worth working for. 

In accordance with this theme, we may feel a constant pressure to prove ourselves worthy in the eyes of others. However, should we try by our own will to elevate ourselves to a position of worthiness, we are acting in pure vanity as we will never reach the satisfaction we are searching for. The only one who has ever been truly worthy is Jesus Christ, who has met the perfect standard set forth by God. In comparison to Him, we will always be worthless despite our best efforts. We will always be worthless because of our falling short of God’s perfect standard, because of our sins. But thank the Lord that He sent His worthy Son down to die for our sins, not because we were worthy, but because Jesus is. 

In the times where I begin to think of myself as “worthy” to any degree by my own efforts, I am reminded of a particular part in the Catholic Mass where an adaptation of Matthew 8:8 is said in response to “Behold the Lamb of God.” After the reminder to the congregation of the Lord’s presence, the communal response is,

Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

This phrase is not said by a devoted acolyte of Jesus, but rather by a Roman centurion. The story referenced in Matthew 8 tells of a centurion in Capernaum who has come to Jesus seeking healing for his paralyzed and suffering servant. Centurions worked for the Roman government to keep the peace in the region, and for this reason, they were not viewed as righteous men. 

The centurion comes to Jesus and describes his situation to which Jesus responds, “I will come and heal him” (Matthew 8:7). As someone in a place of authority himself, the centurion recognizes the power of giving a command. After seeing Jesus, the authority over the world, the centurion had faith that Jesus’ commands would be accomplished in the same immediate way that his soldiers answered his own commands—but Jesus’ command had the supernatural power of God behind it  After hearing the centurion’s response, Jesus goes on to say, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith…Go; let it be done for you as you have believed” (Matthew 8:10-13). Then, the centurion returns to his home to find his servant healed at Jesus’ command.

Let’s break down Matthew 8:8 a little bit more:

Lord, I am not worthy

In times when I begin to recognize my growing pride and selfish ambition—which is often—I am reminded of these few faith-filled words. Whenever we address Jesus Christ, the Lord our God who has power and authority over all the earth, we need to recognize our stark unworthiness. We need to understand that we are talking to a God who has power over life and death, over creation and sin—the One who is truly worthy of all things. The centurion, a man of great authority and power over many men, shows true humility in the presence of God through these simple words. They are not intended to reject Jesus’ initial offer of visiting his servant, but rather to point out the kindness in the fact that such a perfect man as Jesus should coexist with such sinful beings.

that thou shouldst come under my roof

In the case of the centurion, this roof certainly refers to his dwelling place. However, should we take this metaphorically as the Catholics do, we can interpret this “roof” to be our bodies in which our spirits dwell (1 Corinthians 6:19). Being sinful creatures akin to the centurion, we are not worthy that Christ should dwell in our hearts even for a short while. Yet, in His perfect love, He willingly dwells in the hearts of all true believers. We are unworthy temples for such a worthy God to abide in us.

But speak the word only

In the early verses of Genesis, God creates through speaking (Genesis 1:3). His words are powerful. That’s why the centurion doesn’t petition Jesus to pray that his servant be healed as one might ask of a prophet. He doesn’t ask for a recommended physician as one might ask of a friend. Instead, he asks that Jesus would command such a healing to be completed. Knowing well the power one has in a position of authority, especially in Jesus’ unique position of authority in being the Son of God, he understands the chain of command and recognizes Jesus as omnipotent over disease. Psalm 33:9 attests to God’s commanding power: “For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.” These words are where the real faith comes into play. The centurion had true faith in the authority of Christ without letting his notions of human limitation get in the way. He simply believed and asked.

and my servant shall be healed

At His word, the servant was healed. Surprised? Didn’t think so. God keeps His word and has the power to accomplish it. However, you may notice that the biblical text is slightly altered from its responsorial counterpart. In Mass, the word “servant” is replaced with the word “soul,” implying a personal asking of the Father for forgiveness and healing of our own unworthy souls. And we are not restricted to asking only for forgiveness of our personal sins, but we are also able to pray for those around us that they may receive God’s grace. It’s important to note that the centurion asked for healing on behalf of someone else. In the same way, we should petition on behalf of those we care for, having faith that God’s will shall be done in their lives for the betterment of His kingdom.

Our school is immersed in the idea that we must try to gain a sense of worth for ourselves. Whether that be career success, academic excellence, exemplified leadership, or mere demonstrations of self-discipline and will, we are under constant pressure to do more and to be better. But no matter how hard we try, we will always fall short of the standard of worthiness to which God calls us (Romans 3:23). Instead of trying so hard to be perfect, we should humble ourselves as the centurion did, recognize our unworthiness, and allow the gift of Christ’s grace to cleanse our tainted souls, relying solely on His sacrifice to define your worth.

By declaring himself unworthy, he showed himself worthy, not indeed into whose house, but into whose heart, Christ the Word of God should enter. Nor could he have said this with so much faith and humility, had he not borne in his heart Him whom he feared to have in his house. And indeed it would have been no great blessedness that Jesus should enter within his walls, if He had not already entered into his heart.


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