This material was first published by Redemptorist Publications and is included here with their permission.
“I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith” (Luke 7.9b)
It’s Jesus who usually uses stories and examples from everyday life to describe aspects of faith and the kingdom of God. But in this story it’s the one seeking Jesus’ help who explains his own faith by using an example from his everyday military experience. He knows what it is to have authority and to be able to command those under him to do something. He uses this example to show his understanding of the power of Jesus which he has heard about or perhaps even witnessed.
It’s not often that Jesus is surprised by anyone. He is deeply moved and compassionate when he encounters suffering and angry when faced with trick questions or criticism from religious leaders. But it takes the absolute faith of a centurion, a gentile who as far as we know Jesus doesn’t actually meet, to fill him with amazement and approval.
We learn quite a lot about this centurion from this story. He is a military man, possibly a Roman soldier, under the command of Herod Antipas. He is therefore used to military discipline and chains of authority. He is not a Jew, nor has he converted to the Jewish faith. However, we learn that he loves the Jewish people, respects their beliefs and supports them financially. It would seem that he cares about his slaves and seeks the healing of one who is critically ill.
At his request the elders of the synagogue go willingly to Jesus and when explaining the situation they make their own request that Jesus heal the slave because of the good relationship between them and this particular gentile.
Jesus sets off with the elders but before he gets to the house he is met by some friends of the Centurion who understands the religious laws that prevent Jews entering the house of a gentile. The Centurion, as we have seen, also understands chains of command and authority and he recognises Jesus as someone who is given authority over certain matters and who is himself under a still higher authority.
And so we hear the message the Centurion sends to Jesus, “only speak the word, and let my servant be healed”
And we hear Jesus’ amazed response, “I tell you not even in Israel have I found such faith.”
The servant is healed and now has his own story about Jesus of Nazareth to tell those who will listen.
These events take place in circumstances that were perhaps unusual at this time. Jews and gentiles are already working together and living side by side with mutual respect and co-operation. Some of the social and religious barriers have been broken down and people normally divided are more open to listening to each other and less inclined to exclude one another with prejudice and suspicion.
Something about the faith of the people of Israel and the way they live has attracted the Centurion and the way he has treated them has allowed the Jewish people to welcome his involvement in their community and his financial support in building their synagogue.
Between them they have created some good ground which will nourish and grow the seeds of the Kingdom of God which Jesus is sowing among them.
Hearing this story may make us think how we stand in our relationship with the community around us. We might want to ask ourselves some difficult questions about our faith and what our lives together as Christians tell others about the God we worship.
The Centurion has no doubt in his mind that Jesus can heal his slave. He’s probably seen Jesus at work or perhaps heard a lot about him and now truly believes in his power to heal. His request is therefore made with confidence that it will be granted. It’s that strength of faith that amazes Jesus.
Thinking about this man and his faith may make think about how we pray to God, asking for his intervention in our lives, his healing and his guidance. Again, we might ask ourselves some difficult questions about whether we truly recognise the authority and power of God and about how confident we are that our prayers will be heard and answered.
This short story of the Centurion holds some great truths about God, about faith and about us as his people. Our final question to ourselves may be whether Jesus would find such strong and confident faith in his authority and power in our church today or would he have to look further afield to find a 21st Century Centurion?
- In Capernaum Jews and gentiles have been living alongside each other with tolerance and respect. A Centurion, a gentile, has been supporting the Jewish community and has financed the building of a synagogue.
- When one of his slaves is critically ill the Centurion, through elders of the synagogue, asks Jesus to heal the slave and later sends a further message showing his understanding of the authority and power of Jesus to heal.
- Jesus is amazed by this confident faith by one who is not of the people of Israel.
- 4. The story may challenge us to think about our own faith as Christians and the way we relate to communities around us.
Let us bring our prayers to God trusting in his steadfast love and in his willingness always to hear us when we call on his name.
We pray for God’s church in the world that she may remain faithful to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and proclaim that Gospel to people of all nations.
We pray for God’s world with all its needs and hurts and for ourselves that we may respond to those needs with compassion and generosity.
We pray for all God’s children in our communities of neighbourhood, work and school. We pray that God’s steadfast love may be made known within these communities by the way in which we live and in the way in which we serve them.
We pray for all who are in need of God’s healing and peace that they may know God’s presence surrounding them in their pain and distress.
Lord God, our heavenly Father, we offer these prayers to you now. We ask that through them and the prayers of all your people your will may be done in the church, throughout the world, in our lives and in the lives of all for whom we have prayed. We ask this in the name of your Son, our saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.