Luke 7:6-10

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.

Before moving on in the story, I think there’s one more thing of significance here. Notice the centurion’s faith not just that Jesus could heal, but that he could do so at a distance. That he didn’t even need to be there. That Jesus had the authority simply to say the word and his servant would recover.

The centurion, in fact, compares Jesus authority to his own, but where the centurion exercises authority over soldiers to come and go, Jesus exercises authority over life and health itself.

When reading the gospels, I’m always aware of something of a “double horizon” to the narrative. That is, the author is certainly putting together a complete narrative that tries to tell the story of Jesus in a faithful and, as Luke says at the beginning of the gospel, “orderly” way. At the same time, it’s clear that Luke also has another concern in mind as well. In his introduction, for instance, Luke says that he wants to assure Theophilus of the worth and true of what he’d already learned about the Christian faith. And I think that’s true for the larger congregation for whom Luke is writing this “orderly account.” Which means that Luke is telling the story in a way to help these early Christians make sense of their life of faith in the world.

And that’s part of why we keep reading these books. They’re not just history – indeed, we’ve seen that at various historical points the four gospels differ from each other. They are history put in the service of encouragement and instruction and, above all else, proclamation – helping people hear the truth of the gospel that is located in and yet transcends mere history. So we read these accounts because in addition to the historical horizon there is also this “evangelical” horizon as Luke weaves in messages of hope and encouragement, messages that we continue to find helpful today.

So as I read this passage, not only do I hear the account of this centurion’s faith and Jesus’ response, I also hear a word of assurance to Luke’s community – and ours! – that Jesus continues to respond to us even though he is not immediately and physically present with us. And so I wonder if this story isn’t also promise, instruction, and encouragement about prayer. The promise that Jesus can respond to our prayer even though he is not physically present and the instruction and encouragement that he has the authority to do so.

I’m not sure about any of this, but I found it intriguing and, for that matter, helpful.

What do you think?

Dear God: Prayer is a word of promise – that you hear us and respond. And prayer is a word of command – that we should bring our hopes, concerns, and needs to  you. And prayer is a word of encouragement – that you have authority over life and health and desire all good things for your children. Teach us therefore, O God, to pray in confidence. In Jesus’ name, Amen.