by Rev. John Chakos
One of the most meaningful prayers prior to receiving Holy Communion
reads as follows: "You have smitten me with yearning, O Christ, and by
your divine love you have changed me." To be smitten by Christ is the
most profound of all mystical experiences. Jesus Himself, as it were,
wounds our hearts with His love. From that moment we can never again be
the same. One desire is only to be with Him, to serve Him and to make
Him known to others.
story of a Roman centurion (Math. 8:5-13) presents us with a moving
testimony of the heroic lengths to which love will go. He was a man who
willingly crossed the lines of a rigid caste system to seek healing for
his paralyzed slave. As if that were not enough, he crossed the
imposing religious divide that separates Jew from Gentile. Finally, he
crossed the greatest barrier of all and manifested a faith that knew no
spatial limitation when it came to healing. He knew that Jesus only had
to say the word and his servant would be healed. And by this he proved
that his was a caliber of faith that had never been seen in all of
Israel. This is what can happen to us when we are smitten by Christ. We
will cross every barrier and confront every obstacle for the sake of
One such barrier that the Centurion nimbly vaulted
over was his ego. In the Gospel passage we read that he was a man used
to issuing commands. But because of his humility he dared not ask the
Lord to come under the roof of his house.
He also knew that it
was not lawful for a Jew to enter the house of a Gentile, since the
dwelling places of Gentiles are viewed as unclean in Jewish law. The
fact that he humbled himself before Jesus is in itself amazing, since
most Gentiles harbored a deep hatred for Jesus, who were considered to
be haters of all humanity. In Alexandria the story went that Jews had
taken a deliberate oath never to show kindness to any Gentile, and it
was said that the Jewish ceremonies involved the yearly sacrifice of a
Gentile. This would make them nothing less than satanists by today's
standards. But to the Centurion none of these deep prejudices mattered.
Humility impelled him to breach the social etiquette of his station.
The love he felt emanating from Christ made every obstacle appear
This humility was also in evidence in the way the
centurion treated his slave. His was not the double standard of many
who say they love the Lord but despise a brother or sister. In the
Centurion we find that perfect blend of love of God and neighbor. He
loved his slave, thus proving himself to be an unusual man.
antiquity a slave was an object. To quote Aristotle: "a master and
slave have nothing in common; a slave is a living tool, just as a tool
is an inanimate slave." Varro, the Roman writer on agriculture , has a
passage which divided the instruments of agriculture into three
classes- the articulate comprising the slave, the inarticulate late
comprising the cattle, and the mute comprising vehicles. The only
difference between a slave and a beast or a wagon was that the slave
could talk. Any and all ill-treatment was completely justified by the
law. In the words of Petrus Chrysologus, "Whatever a master does to a
slave, undeservedly, in anger, willingly, unwillingly, in
forgetfulness, after careful thought, knowingly, unknowingly is
judgment, justice and law."
In an age such as ours when much
attention is given to human rights, we can see that in the ancient
world the slave was not only devoid of all rights, but his very
humanity was denied.
Besides profound humility and love of
neighbor, there was a third ingredient in the mix of the centurion's
incredible personhood faith. What was so amazing about the centurion's
faith that even Jesus marveled at it? He believed that all Jesus had to
do was "say the word" and his servant would be healed, even without
This kind of wonder-working faith is needed by
all of us, not just faith in the existence of God. Many people believe
in the existence of a deity, or even in the dogma of their faith, but
how many believe~in the possibility of miracles. "Only say the word,
and my servant will be healed," the centurion declared. It's this kind
of faith that inspired the following hymn of our Church: "Who is so
great a god as our God. You are the God who performs wonders."
the centurion was smitten by Christ and transformed by His love cannot
be denied. It brings to mind the prophecy of Jesus about those who
would one day sit at table with Him in the kingdom: "I tell you, many
will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and
Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be
thrown into the outer darkness" (Math. 8:12).
Let me conclude
with one such contemporary account from the mission field about Joseph,
a Masai warrior, who was smitten by Christ like the centurion. His face
bears the ritual scars every young man receives after killing his first
lion with only a spear and a shield. One day, as he was waking along a
hot, dusty African road, he met a missionary who shared the Gospel of
Jesus Christ with him. So taken was Joseph by this disclosure that the
first thing that he wanted to do was to return to his own village and
share that same Good News with the members of his local tribe. He began
going door-to-door, telling everyone he met about the Cross of Jesus
and the salvation it offered, expecting to see their faces light up the
way his had. To his amazement the villagers not only didn't care, they
became violent. The men of the village seized him and held him to the
ground while the women beat him with strands of barbed wire. He was
dragged from the village and left to die alone in the bush.
somehow managed to crawl to a water hole, and there, after days of
passing in and out of consciousness, found the strength to get up. He
wondered about the hostile reception he had received from people he had
known all his life. Impelled by the wound of love, he decided he must
have omitted something or told the story of Jesus incorrectly. After
rehearsing the message he had first heard, he decided to go back and
share his faith once more.
Joseph limped into the circle of
huts and began again to proclaim Jesus. "He died for you, so that you
might find forgiveness and come to know the living God," he pleaded.
Again he was grabbed by the men of the village and held while the women
beat him, re-opening fresh wounds that had just begun to heal. Once
more they dragged him unconscious from the village and left him to die.
To have lived through the first beating was truly remarkable.
To survive a second was nothing short of miraculous. Again, days later,
Joseph awoke in the wilderness, bruised, scarred- and determined to go
back. He returned to the small village and this time, they attacked him
before he had a chance to speak. As they whipped him for the third and
probably last time, he again witnessed to them about Jesus Christ.
Before he passed out, the last thing he saw was that the women who were
beating him were now trying to save his life and nurse him back to
health. The entire village had come to Christ.
Joseph is no
longer known by the ritual scars carved in his face. He is recognized
by the wounds he suffered for the sake of Christ. These wounds are not
only on his skin, but also in his heart. They are the very wounds of
love that Jesus Himself endured for our salvation. He will suffer in
every one of us again and again until every precious soul is redeemed.
Christ wants to wound each one of us so that we, too, will never cease
loving and serving Him. Let us open ourselves up to this wondrous
action of grace, this mystical stabbing of our hearts. Let us gladly
endure the scars that the piercing love of Christ inflicts. Let us
faithfully persist in our resolve to carry out every commandment of
Jesus, even to the point of death. Then Jesus will say to us, as He did
to the centurion, "...not even in Israel have I found such faith"
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