“Eugene Theodore Polley was born in Chicago on Nov. 29, 1915. During World War II Mr. Polley, on loan from Zenith, worked for the United States military on bomb fuses and ship-detecting radar. After the war, as TV sets began to colonize American homes, Zenith’s president, Eugene F. McDonald, faced a quandary. Mr. McDonald, who held a utopian view of the new medium, was certain that viewers would revolt en masse against television commercials, by his lights a growing scourge. But until that halcyon day arrived, Mr. McDonald knew, he needed to offer consumers a stopgap, and he enlisted the company’s engineers to make it.” Enter Eugene Polley, “an inventor whose best-known creation has fostered blissful sloth, caused decades of domestic discord and forever altered the way consumers watch television. As Mr. Polley, by then 86, proudly told an interviewer in 2002: “The flush toilet may have been the most civilized invention ever devised, but the remote control is the next most important.”1
Ah, the power of the remote control. How many of us feel like Darth Vader using the force to change channels or turn up the radio or do any of the thousands of other things we can now do using a clicker? And yet, none of us have any real power in ourselves to control anything; even Lord Vader had a control radius, we have to hope that the batteries don’t die.
Jesus, on the other hand, seemed to have infinite remote control properties. Today’s Gospel is a lesson on our Lord’s control over all that is seen and unseen, and introduces us to a man, a Roman centurion, who has had a huge influence on the Faith.
As Scott Hoezee pointed out, “The deeper you get into this brief story, the better the anonymous (and never-seen) centurion looks. First we hear this Roman higher-up has a sick servant, and just this far into the story you could read that as meaning that this man has a piece of property who is not performing well. To certain upper echelon types, this could be the equivalent of a backed-up drain or a sick ox. But then we find out that this centurion likes this servant—whether it’s because they have some kind of relationship that goes beyond master-servant or because the servant is particularly skilled, either way the centurion cannot shrug off the man’s severe illness. He wants him healed and restored. So he orders a detachment of Jews to fetch this wonder-worker named Jesus he has heard tell of. Again, a foreigner ordering around some of his occupied subjects could be viewed dimly until those folks catch up with Jesus and speak so well of the centurion—and they sound sincere in doing so—that the reader begins to understand that despite the fact that this centurion represented an occupation by Rome that the Jews despised, this particular leader had earned respect, even affection, from the people. He even lent a hand in building up the local synagogue.”2
Something about all this got Jesus to head to the centurion’s house to see this servant of his who was gravely ill. But as Jesus neared the centurion’s house, another message was sent to Him: “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. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.”
That’s an amazing sentiment and a shocking display of faith. Jesus praised it and the centurion who said it to the point that it was adapted for our use in the Mass, Lord, I am not worthy to that thou shouldest come under my roof, but speak the word only and my soul shall be healed.
Lord, I am not worthy. What does it mean to say you’re not worthy of a God you know very well you’re not worthy of? What good is it to point out the obvious? Well, it’s good to point out the obvious because, in this case at least, pointing out the obvious points to Christ, who by His life, death, resurrection, and ascension has made it possible to stand at the throne of His Father redeemed, saved, worthy of being His child.
Our brave centurion, with all his accomplishments and power and influence, will be remembered (even quoted) for all time for the time he laid all that down at the feet of Jesus, and with humility and love and faith called upon the Son of the Living God on behalf of someone else. His request was deemed worthy, his servant healed, his words became our words. By faith he beheld a Lord he had not seen, and by faith we behold that same Lord. May our faith be as pleasing to the Lord, so that we stand worthy now and forever.
1Eugene Polley, Conjuror of a Device That Changed TV Habits, Dies at 96, The New York Times, May 22, 2012.
2Scott Hoezee, This Week