After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say 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. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.
There’s a clear transition at this point in the story from the countryside scene of Jesus’ teaching to the (relative) hustle and bustle of the fishing town of Capernaum. There’s also a transition from Jesus’ role as teacher to that of healer and miracle worker.
But there’s one more transition that takes place as well. And this one may be the most important, as we move from words about faith and discipleship to deeds that demonstrate faith.
Jesus has just been talking about the need not just to confess him as Lord but also to keep his words and follow his ways. The issue, at heart, is about faith expressed as living trust. And this is exactly what we see here. Not only that, but it is offered by a most unlikely source: a Roman centurion.
Why unlikely? Well, because of the reasonably positive view of the Roman Empire most of us we gained from high school history classes, it’s easy to forget that, to the Israelites, the Romans were little more than the occupying force keeping them oppressed.
Which doesn’t mean that there weren’t good and just Romans – today’s reading offers the testimony of the local Jewish leaders that this man was just that. But suffice it to say no one would look to even a just Roman commander for an example of faith.
Yet that’s what we discover! Not only does he have faith that Jesus can heal, but that he can heal from a distance, and so he sends friends commending his trust that Jesus does not even need to be present to heal his servant. Indeed, he compares the temporal authority he wields over soldiers as a commander in the Roman Legion to the spiritual authority Jesus commands over the natural world.
Even Jesus seems somewhat taken aback by such faith, commending this as an example to those around him. And, indeed, it is an example for us as well. For what else is faith but a confident expectation that God can help and save in times of need.
I guess sometimes the best examples come from the most unlikely places.
Prayer: Dear God, grant us such faith that we might approach you in confidence with our deepest needs and heart’s desire confident of your commitment to bless us in all things. In Jesus’ name, Amen.