At that time, when Jesus had entered Capharnaum, there came to Him a centurion, who entreated Him, saying, Lord, my servant is lying sick in the house, paralyzed, and is grievously afflicted. Jesus said to him, I will come and cure him. But in answer the centurion said, Lord, I am not worhty that You should come under my room; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man subject to authority, and have soldiers subject to me; and I say to one, “Go,” and he goes; and to another, “Come,” and he comes; and to my servant, “Do this,” and he does it. And when Jesus heard this, He marveled, and said to those who were following Him, Amen I say to you, I have not found such great faith in Israel. And I tell you that many will come from the east and from the west, and will feast with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, but the children of the kingdom will be put forth into the darkness outside; there will be weeping, and the gnashing of teeth. Then Jesus said to the centurion, Go your way; as you have believed, so be it done to you. And the servant was healed in that hour. -Matthew 8:5-13
In the Greek, the word used for servant is ‘pais’.
It could mean son or boy; it could mean servant, or it could mean a particular type of servant one who was his master’s male lover.… In the course of expressing his faith in Jesus’ power to heal by simply speaking, the centurion says, “When I tell my slave to do something, he does it.” By extension, the centurion concludes that Jesus is also able to issue a remote verbal command that must be carried out. When speaking of his slaves, the centurion uses the word duolos. But when speaking of the one he is asking Jesus to heal, he uses only pais. In other words, when he is quoted in Matthew, the centurion uses pais only when referring to the sick person. He uses a different word, doulos, when speaking of his other slaves, as if to offer a distinction. (In Luke, it is others, not the centurion, who call the sick one an entimos duolos.) Again, the clear implication is that the sick man was no ordinary slave. And when pais was used to describe a servant who was not an ordinary slave, it meant only one thing: a slave who was the master’s male lover.… Thus, all the textual and circumstantial evidence in the Gospels points in one direction. For objective observers, the conclusion is inescapable: in this story Jesus healed a man’s male lover. When understood this way, the story takes on a whole new dimension. (Michael J. Bayly, http://thewildreed.blogspot.com/2008/06/jesus-and-centurion-part-1.html)
Several years ago I read through the Bible cover to cover, and I tried to make time to read each night before I went to bed. Sadly, I’m out of practice today. Something I remember from that practice was when reading certain passages, I was moved by something beyond myself; I had a strong feeling that I was reading something that wasn’t going to be seen in the same context as someone who wasn’t queer. The moments written about between Jonathan and David for example sing to queer people of the love they had for each other. We know it instinctively and intrinsically. Jonathan and David were more than friends, more than just “brothers”. And when we read this, we know it to be true.
But there are places in scripture where these same queer moments exist–but we have to look for them, and sometimes they don’t come to us easily, or we may not have certainty. I became aware of one of my favorites when listening to a recording of Venerable Bishop Fulton J. Sheen talking about Palm Sunday. He speaks about Jesus telling his disciples to go into the city, and find a man with a water pot on his head. That man will have the young mule that Jesus will ride into Jerusalem that day, and the sense from reading that passage is that Jesus and this man with the water pot have either communicated directly or indirectly. Sheen says, “What kind of a man wears a water pot on his head?”
We know. We know because we experience life in this way. For us, it’s not just a strange man. This is someone who is gender fluid, someone who is perhaps trans!
The reading today reminds us not only of faith, and the kind of empty embrace faith sometimes presents to us; the reading reminds us that, in our community, many of us are unseen, or we are seen because we are “unworthy” to have Him enter our house. For many years, I walked trying to find a faith path that would open that door to allow Him to enter. Those who would bar the door to me, to allow me to practice my faith as I know it, my vocation in honesty that I know (my Franciscan vocation, my Queer vocation, and my Priestly vocation), are actually outside barring themselves from entry. What has seemed to us as a barring of our entering is in fact the prevention of anyone entering into the faith, into the house. We know the truth of love from our birth, maybe even our conception. We know this means that everyone can enter if they knock. We know that those who would bar us from entering bar Jesus from entering as well, and do so without knowing He stands in their midst!
In the Mass, before I take the bread, I say the words in Latin: Domine, non sum dignus, ut intres sub tectum mean: sed tantum dic verbo, et sanabitur anima mea. Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof, say but the word, and my soul shall be healed.
In the Sacrament in which me meet the Lord, we say the very words of the centurion. We are reminded before taking the Sacrament that our faith embraces us even deeper when we allow ourselves to open to Christ, we recognize that no door can be an obstacle to God, or God’s love. We must only be willing and open to accept that Christ is present within us, that the presence can only increase in size, in warmth, in power, when we surrender our fear, our hate, our desire to block the door from anyone who wishes to enter.
One thought on “2-The Queer Centurion”
Thank you for the riff on Sheen’s reflection, insightful.