Wednesday, 9 May 2012


As Jesus entered the village of Capernaum, a Roman captain came up in a panic and said, "Master, my servant is sick. He can't walk. He's in terrible pain."
Jesus said, "I'll come and heal him."
"Oh, no," said the captain. "I don't want to put you to all that trouble. Just give the order and my servant will be fine. I'm a man who takes orders and gives orders. I tell one soldier, 'Go,' and he goes; to another, 'Come,' and he comes; to my slave, 'Do this,' and he does it."
Taken aback, Jesus said, "I've yet to come across this kind of simple trust in Israel, the very people who are supposed to know all about God and how he works. This man is the vanguard of many outsiders who will soon be coming from all directions—streaming in from the east, pouring in from the west, sitting down at God's kingdom banquet alongside Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Then those who grew up 'in the faith' but had no faith will find themselves out in the cold, outsiders to grace and wondering what happened."
Then Jesus turned to the captain and said, "Go. What you believed could happen has happened." At that moment his servant became well. (Matthew 8:5-13, The Message)

I've pondered this passage on many an occasion. It took me a long time to understand the centurion's attitude before I realised that he - a high-ranking officer in a well-disciplined but notoriously cruel army - had not only recognised but had submitted to the kingdom authority he saw in Jesus.  An authority beyond the reach of mortal men; an authority which superseded natural law, changed the molecular structure of water, interrupted weather patterns and enabled Jesus to walk on water and through walls.

We can learn lots of lessons from that war-bitten veteran.
He recognised Jesus’s authority over the physical world.
He submitted to authority – both that of men in the army and that of Jesus.

I wonder if the centurion came to Jesus as a last resort, having exhausted the medical resources of the Roman army?  What a contrast between the two men: a Roman officer in full uniform and armour putting himself at the mercy of a local prophet, reputedly wacky and religious. A man who owned only the clothes he wore, who travelled around the country on foot, a man of ‘no fixed abode’. The Romans considered the  Jews to be a hysterical people, emotionally labile, highly reactive in contrast to the cool discipline of the Roman army. There were frequent unruly protests, harshly put down, which were indisciplined; disordered; uncontrolled – everything the Roman army wasn’t.
It wouldn’t have been an obvious choice for a Roman to go to Jesus for help with a sick member of the household.

Do we exhaust all other avenues before we turn to Jesus for help? A sticky problem, a difficult relationship – do we ask Jesus for advice, help, intervention? Do we take the least obvious – in the world’s eyes – choice?

The centurion didn’t put conditions on accepting authority. The Roman army was incredibly well-organised with clear lines of command. Superiors were held in respect. Orders from above were accepted without question. The centurion would never have dreamed of openly questioning his commanding officer.

Neither did he question Jesus.  He asserted that Jesus could cure his servant at a distance and with a word: no visit required, no prayers or incantations, no laying on of hands.

What is our attitude towards authority? Do we accept it without question? Do we, at times, argue or kick against it? Do we treat those with authority over us with respect? People are flawed, of course – how do we know when, perhaps, we should take different action?

The centurion recognised Jesus’ authority and was gracious to him: he addressed him as ‘Lord’. He came to Jesus from a position of humility, although he could have commanded Jesus to come to his house and could have demanded that Jesus heal his servant.

And look at the centurion’s attitude towards the servant: The centurion was gracious to and concerned about him, seeking out the Jew with a reputation as a healer and miracle worker. There were many who came to Jesus asking for healing of their children, but this is the only recorded incident where someone came on behalf of a servant.

How do we handle the authority we have over others? What is our attitude towards those who are ‘under’ us?  In work, at home...

The centurion demonstrates real humility: Matthew Henry says “Humble souls are made more humble, by Christ’s gracious condescensions to them. Observe what was the language of his humility; Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof (Matt. 8:8)” 
To paraphrase Matthew Henry: We should value God in those who seem less than we are: less intelligent, less wealthy, less beautiful in appearance, less well-connected... The centurion was desperate for Jesus to help him and knew Jesus could heal his servant just by saying so: he didn’t demand that Jesus visit his house - he was really  humble.
 We need to remember that when we come to God,  we should have a real sense that we are helpless to do anything for ourselves and, left on our own without Jesus, are useless to God.

Jesus admires the centurion’s attitude towards him. The centurion had more ‘simple trust/great faith’ than any Jew he had come across. More faith than the disciples, who had already seen him heal many people? (Matthew 4:23 - 25) More faith than John the Baptist? Than his own mother?

Do we come to Jesus with similar faith expectations?

This story challenges our prejudices. What would the disciples have thought as they saw the centurion – a Gentile, with whom no decent law-abiding Jew would associate – approaching Jesus. Yet Jesus wants to go to the Roman’s house. And then there is also the challenge the centurion poses, in his care for a mere servant.

How do we accept others who are different from us? Perhaps a colleague who we have little in common with? Maybe even someone who has annoyed us? Or someone we feel has undermined us at work?

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