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Surprised by faith! It is Jesus' turn to marvel now.
Now when Jesus concluded all His sayings, He entered Capernaum. A certain centurion's servant, who was dear to him, was sick and ready to die. So when the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent elders of the Jews to Him, pleading with Him to come and heal his servant. They begged Him earnestly, saying that the one for whom He should do this was deserving, 'for he loves our nation, and has built us a synagogue.'
Then Jesus went with them. When He was already not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to Him, saying, "Lord, do not trouble Yourself, for I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof. Therefore I did not think myself worthy to come to You. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come,' and he comes; and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it."
When Jesus heard these things, He marveled at him, and turned around and said to the crowd that followed Him, "I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!" And those who were sent, returning to the house, found the servant well who had been sick. Luke 7:1-10 NKJV condensed
Just Say the Word
Oh, wouldn't we all like to be able to say the word, and it is done! The centurion who had that kind of authority was a Roman army commander and a gentile. We do not know his name, but this story grew out of his love for a dying servant. In which instance, his commands were ineffective.
So distressed was this centurion about the fragile condition of his highly-valued servant that he willingly pleaded and begged in order to save him. That catches our attention. Tender affection is not something we want to associate with soldiers in the occupation army because then we have a harder time despising them.
As the accolades for this man swell you may think he was the one who died and you are at his funeral! By showing respect for the people in his jurisdiction, he had been able to win over many hearts and minds. He actually made the locals feel like he loved them and had a synagogue built for them! This information cuts into everything people thought they knew about the arrogant Roman army.
On this day our honorable centurion was grieved. A disastrous illness had struck close to his heart. Also on this day, Jesus, the Jewish healer, was rumored to be nearby. The centurion knew it would be inappropriate for him to approach Jesus because he was an unworthy gentile and a soldier. So instead he asked for the aid of his constituents. The elders of the synagogue will be his intermediary. They will go and beg Jesus to come and heal his servant.
The wheels are in motion, the elders on their way. The suffering servant he treasured so much lingered near death. We have no idea where his faith in the healing powers of Jesus originated. But we do know, his military mind saw a strategic error. Rabbinical law prohibited religious Jews from entering gentile homes.
Being thoughtful and considerate of these prescribed Jewish customs, the centurion called on friends to go to Jesus and ask him to speak the words of healing from a distance. Physical touch was not needed; just say the word. Who would know the power of the spoken command better than he!
Jesus was almost at the centurion's house when the friends stopped him and described the centurion's wishes. No one in this story questioned whether Jesus was able to heal. The issue was how to do it within the boundaries of two opposing cultures. When Jesus heard the words of the friends, he marveled! Never before had Jesus witnessed such faith! And it belonged, not to a fellow Jew, but to a gentile Roman soldier!
I see a consistent pattern of faith at the heart of everything the centurion did. Surely his troops valued his leadership. Because he believed in them, they did not disappoint. The locals felt his love and respect, too, and returned his kindness. So when this centurion faced a crisis, he turned to those who favored him, and asked for their help. Once more, his faith in others did not fail him.
Like us, he responded out of his own life experience. The centurion reported to higher authorities who determined the duties which defined his daily life. Similarly, his own attitudes, decisions and directives determined the actions of his troops. He knew both how to obey and how to command. Quite simply, the mandate to order those beneath him, comes from above. Power comes from a higher authority. It took the fresh eyes of an outsider to see it so clearly. Jesus was doing the will of his heavenly Father. Those who listened to Jesus day after day were slow to grasp its significance, yet in an instant, the Roman centurion connected the dots. The miracles of Jesus were the work of the unseen God of the universe.
Faith makes miracles happen--in daily lives and ordinary relationships; in critical situations when loved ones are dying. That's where the hero of our story crossed the cultural barrier and, in spirit, met Jesus. Our "unworthy" commander drew up a win-win plan that would not place Jesus on a hot seat of unnecessary and distracting religious controversy. Jesus marveled at his faith, spoke the word, and the beloved servant was healed.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: Make a statement or tell a story that in some way relates to the military.
Do you think Jesus would have entered the Gentile's house to heal his servant? Why or why not?(The Laws of Moses are stated in the first five books of the Bible. The barrier against mingling with Gentiles was part of the Rabbinical laws, those man-made additions meant to explain in detail what the Law of Moses required.)
Why would Jesus think the faith of the centurion was extraordinary? Did you regard the account of his faith that highly? Jesus healed many people according to their faith. What was so different about the story of the centurion?
Think of a time when you were surprised by faith. Whose faith surprised you and why? What does it mean to be a person of faith?
Did you ever have an authority figure whom you felt honored to obey, where affection and respect were the motivating factor and not fear? If so, describe the person.
Matthew and Luke told the story a bit differently. Matthew (Matt. 8:5-13) said the centurion pleaded directly to Jesus. Would the story make any difference for you if the centurion and Jesus came face to face? Explain your answer. Why did the centurion say he was unworthy? What did he mean?
You would think a centurion would have plenty of reason to be cynical and disillusioned. Yet here was a man who created a constant climate of trust and respect? Why is it so hard to live that way in a difficult environment? How does one create a climate of trust and faith? How full or empty is your "cup of trust"? When did you feel like you had little or no faith in anybody?
What are some little (or big) miracles which happened because you believed in someone?
Faith is found in unexpected places. When have you found more faith outside the church than inside?