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An Unexpected Faith

Jesus with the Centurion and Jewish Elders

Jesus with the Centurion and Jewish Elders

In this week’s gospel passage from Luke (7:1-10) we find Jesus the Jew commending a Roman centurion – a gentile – for his great faith, which was shown in several ways:

First, upon hearing about Jesus, the centurion sent some Jewish elders to ask Jesus to come to his home and heal one of his slaves. He trusted the elders to be bearers of his message to Jesus. From what we read of Jewish elders elsewhere in Luke’s writings, this may have been unwise. But his faith is rewarded when they complete the task.

Second, the centurion’s life of faith is described by the elders as one worthy of being helped because of his demonstrated love of Israel through good works: he had built the Jews a synagogue.

Third, the centurion’s faith is expressed in his words to Jesus. He decides to go to Jesus himself, and on meeting the Lord, declares his unworthiness and humility.

True faith is always an expression of humility. The centurion goes on to state his belief in Jesus’ power and authority: But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed’ (v7).

As a military officer of high rank, the centurion recognises Jesus’ words possess authority in a similar way to his own. As a soldier, he understands the consequences and benefits of a chain of command in which one both has authority, and submits to higher authority.

So it is in the kingdom of God: in order to possess proper authority we must be willing to submit to rightful higher authority. God gives grace and authentic power only to those who submit and are truly humble (1Peter 5:5-6).

Later, Luke records the disciples seeking authority without humility, for which they are strongly rebuked by Jesus (Luke 22:24-27).

We might ask the question: ‘When did I last consciously serve the needs of someone under my authority or influence?’

 

1 Kings: 18:20-21, 30-39 [NRSV]   Elijah’s Triumph

20 So Ahab summoned all the Israelites, and assembled the prophets at Mount Carmel. 21 Elijah then came near to all the people, and said, ‘How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.’ The people did not answer him a word. 30 Then Elijah said to all the people, ‘Come closer to me’; and all the people came closer to him. First he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down; 31 Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, ‘Israel shall be your name’; 32 with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord. Then he made a trench around the altar, large enough to contain two measures of seed. 33 Next he put the wood in order, cut the bull in pieces, and laid it on the wood. He said, ‘Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt-offering and on the wood.’ 34 Then he said, ‘Do it a second time’; and they did it a second time. Again he said, ‘Do it a third time’; and they did it a third time, 35 so that the water ran all round the altar, and filled the trench also with water.  36 At the time of the offering of the oblation, the prophet Elijah came near and said, ‘O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding. 37 Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.’ 38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt-offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, ‘The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God.’

 

Luke 7:1-10 [NRSV]    Jesus Heals a Centurion’s Servant

1 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.’ 10 When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

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