When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralysed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.” Matthew 8.5-8.
It’s become part of our everyday speech, hasn’t it? “You only have to say the word and I’ll be there.” “You only have to say the word and I’ll phone her.” But here, in the original use of the expression, “the word” is the dynamic, irresistible, word of Jesus … the word of the Lord. And Psalm 33.6 tells me all about that word: “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.”
Somehow, the Roman soldier in this morning’s reading had made something of that connection between the word of the one who called the universe into being and the word of the Rabbi from Nazareth, Jesus, who was standing there, right in front of him. So … “What need is there for you to come to my house,” he says. “When you speak, your word carries the weight of God Almighty so it cannot fail to achieve what it commands. Time and space are irrelevant. Your word carries within itself the performance of what it speaks.”
In the beginning God said “Let there be light,” and there was light (Genesis 1.3). In the Hebrew, his words were yehiy ‘or which were translated into Latin as fiat lux. This is the “divine fiat” — the word of God that is charged with creative and restorative power and energy. As the Lord himself puts it: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55.10-11).
Throughout the gospels, we hear that word going out of Jesus mouth, never failing to accomplish that which he purposes, and always succeeding in the thing for which he sends it. “Talitha cumi,” he says to the lifeless body of Jairus’ daughter — “Little girl, I say to you, arise,” and immediately the girl gets up and begins walking (Matthew 5.41). “Lazarus, come out,” he shouts in the Bethany Cemetery and “the man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth” (John 11.44).
So what do I want Jesus to say to me today? What is the divine fiat that I need to restore me to what God wants me to be and to enable me to fulfil the purposes he has for me?
“Lord … only say the word.”