MATTHEW 8: 5-13
When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.” Jesus said to him, “I will go and heal him.”
The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! It will be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that very hour.
This past Sunday's sermon was about the faith of the Roman centurion. I thought afterwards about the interesting question:
Who was this centurion?
I did some easy research on Wikipedia and found out that in the army of Rome, a centurion was a professional soldier; a commander of usually around 100 men. Men were sometimes promoted, elected or appointed to the position of centurion; a very commanding rank. They were known to be literate individuals who had established themselves very well within the ranks. These respected men were usually battle tested as they led their men not from the rear, but from the front. They had a reputation for being hard-nosed ruthless disciplinarians.
Why did this man of Rome beg for Jesus’ help? What caused him to be so humble in Jesus' presence and call him, Lord? What was this man's religious upbringing? In the Roman world the emperor was God; Lord. What had he heard or seen that caused him to reach out to this Jewish man? The centurion was surely knowledgeable enough of the goings on within the community that he recognized the radical nature of Jesus and his politically charged actions and message.
The centurion must have been keen enough to know the repercussions of his actions. He must have been aware that seeking the help of a man openly ridiculed and criticized by the Jewish religious leaders was indeed a very risky prospect. He surely knew his reputation within the Roman community would be called into question once word of his actions reached his superior officers, not to mention the leaders in Rome. What caused this Roman to take such a high risk and do it, in what is presented in the scripture, as a very open and more importantly, faithful appeal? What caused him to risk his military career and place in Roman society by reaching out to Jesus and calling him Lord? The centurion had effectively denounced the lord of Rome, his leader, his emperor.
Did the centurion see Jesus perform a miracle? Had he heard of his deeds through word of mouth; rumblings from within the community? Perhaps something happened to him on the battlefield. Had he seen him interacting with the disciples or did he have some other connection or knowledge of Jesus unknown to us? It's truly an intriguing question as to the reason why the Roman centurion would profess such profound faith in a man who was his complete societal opposite. A man of war and ruthlessness was reaching out for Jesus, a man of peace and compassion.
Recognizing Jesus as Lord is the most important element of this encounter. I wonder what happened to the centurion when he returned to his duty post? Did he resign his position, become a Jesus Follower at that very moment and spread the news of what had happened to him because of his faith? Did he carry his faith back to Rome and continue on as a centurion bringing other Roman men to recognize the one true Lord?
All of these are questions we don't know the answers to, but it is interesting to contemplate the rest of the story and relate it to our daily lives. Sometimes we're faced with situations where only our faith will get us through. Knowing that someone as powerful and important as the Roman centurion was able to reach out to Jesus and, for whatever reason, recognize him as his Lord is very reassuring for us in today's modern world.
Would you have been willing to risk your position, your reputation, your freedom and who knows what else just as the centurion did? I pray that I would have the courage and the faith to do so.