Luke 7:1-10 (NRSV)
South & New Life Presbyterian Churches – May 29, 2016
The Reverend Deborah Fae Swift
Jesus Heals a Centurion’s Servant
7 After Jesus[a] had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. 3 When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. 4 When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, 5 for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” 6 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; 7 therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. 8 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.” 9 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.
When I was reading over today’s scripture this week, three things struck me:
- How these stories in the Bible keep SURPRISING me with where they’re going and the points they’re making …
- How Jesus was AMAZED by this man’s CONFIDENCE in his authority … and
- How, once again … just as when the paralytic couldn’t get to Jesus so his FRIENDS took him … once again, FRIENDS … community … came to the rescue of this Centurion’s slave.
I’m not going to spend time on slavery today. Not that it’s not worth it. It’s worth it EVERY time we discuss it. But it would mean doing an in-depth explanation of how slavery in this country’s history is NOT the same as slavery in the Roman Empire. And … well … I only have so much time today to talk about these other three things.
Did you ever NOTICE how Jesus keeps surprising us and taking us to conclusions and experiences that maybe we weren’t expecting? I LOVE that about him. That’s why he was such a good TEACHER. This is one of those cases.
We’ve seen him summoned to heal people before. That wasn’t uncommon.
But to have someone CANCEL the request for a VISIT because he knew in his own heart that if Jesus COMMANDED it … the healing would happen anyway? I think this might be the only time that happens. I don’t know. I’d have to check. But no other healing comes to mind right off the bat.
“Don’t trouble yourself. I’m not WORTHY to have you come under my roof.”
He probably DID feel that way. After all, he sends his friends to tell Jesus that he commands ARMIES … he counts on people under his command to do what he TELLS them to do. He relates to Jesus as one commander to another.
But let’s face it … practically speaking, he probably would have been just as happy to NOT have the rabble-rouser who was stirring up trouble for the Empire in his own HOME. J Just sayin’ …
According to the Encyclopedia Britanica, “a centurion was the commander of a centuria, which was the smallest unit of a Roman legion. A legion was nominally composed of 6,000 soldiers, and each legion was divided up into 10 cohorts, with each cohort containing 6 centuria.”[i] In other words, this guy was in charge of 100 soldiers and he was probably working his way up the military ranks. (A fitting reading for Memorial Day in a way, isn’t it?)
He was used to giving orders and having them followed.
It was part of his everyday life.
He was important enough to have slaves. Sometimes slaves were accountants and physicians … highly skilled positions. They were often allowed to hold property and they could earn money which they’d then use to buy their own freedom.
We know that THIS centurion valued THIS slave highly and didn’t want him to die. THIS centurion was a good guy … he even helped build the Jewish synagogue in the city … which I think we are told NOT because Jesus would heal him because of it, but to let us all know that the centurion was an all-around good guy.
Ok. So point #1 – some surprises in this story. Right?
Point #2 is found, actually, in the GREEK of this passage.
Where it says in verse 9 When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, that is sometimes translated as “Jesus MARVELED at the centurion.” And the word for “marveled” or “amazed” is the Greek word: thaumazo (θαυμάζω). “Quite often, thaumazo is used to express the emotions of OTHERS as they witness the mighty deeds of Jesus. HERE, however, it is JESUS who marveled and was amazed and was astonished.”[ii]
How often do we find THAT?
But how COOL is that that we have a teacher who is OPEN enough to still be learning and still be AMAZED? So my title for today’s sermon, “Amazing Jesus” has two meanings … depending on whether you see “Amazing” as a VERB and someone is amazing JESUS with that they’re doing, OR you see it as an ADJECTIVE DESCRIBING Jesus.
That’s a GOOD one, huh? J
Thaumazo … Jesus was AMAZED … he MARVELED at the complete trust that this Centurion had in Jesus’ ability to HEAL!
And, of course, it begs the question … do WE? Do WE have that kind of faith and trust?
And what does it mean to be HEALED? Does it mean to be disease-FREE, or does it mean to be at PEACE with life AND with death?
What ultimately happened to this SLAVE?
Did HE end up believing in Jesus? Did he even KNOW what the Centurion had done on his behalf?
Did the Centurion become a follower of Jesus?
Was he ostracized and passed over for promotion because he reached out to this faith healer in Capernaum?
We don’t know.
We don’t know ANY of it, any more than we know what’s going to happen to US or those we care about.
But we know that this was a big enough deal to AMAZE Jesus, and *I* want to amaze Jesus with MY faith … and *I* want to believe like the Centurion did.
And God is in charge … ALL the time … no matter what … no matter where … no matter WHO. GOD is in charge … not the Centurion … not the Slave … and not the friends who carried the messages back and forth. (Wonder what THEY thought of this whole thing, don’t you?)
- THIRD point … the role of the friends … the role of COMMUNITY. Verse 3: 3 When [the Centurion] heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking [Jesus] to come and heal his slave. What would YOU have done?
Somebody asks you to go out of your way and to go deliver a message to someone who YOU are not in favor of. Right? Remember … the Jewish elders … the leaders of the Jewish community … were trying to figure OUT who this Jesus guy was and most of them were not too THRILLED with Jesus and his teachings. They kept trying to trip him up with theological questions.
And they’re being asked to help their OCCUPIERS … even though this particular Centurion was somewhat of a friend and had helped them get the synagogue built. He’s not “one of us” and we’re being asked to go and find this teacher and then ask him to come and HEAL the SLAVE????
Would YOU go?
But more specifically … would your FRIENDS go on your behalf?
I can tell you right now that the answer is YES. We would ALL do that for each other. And I think that across our NATION most of us would reach out and help each other. But I am worried to DEATH that the negative voices of hatred and fear in this country are beginning to change that on some level.
In a new book that I’m just starting[iii] Sebastian Junger puts forth the theory that the incidence of PTSD among American service men and women is at a MUCH greater rate than all other nations at war because we have lost our sense of TRIBE … our sense of mutual CARE for each other. We ATTACK each other with the language of death and total annihilation whether we’re talking about Congress, sports teams, or people who disagree over abortion and gay marriage. And BECAUSE of that, our service men and women who have been in the ACTUAL presence of annihilation and death come HOME and there is no mutual forbearance … no mutual CARE … all of the things that a more tribal society would produce.
So I WONDER when I read this passage if we really WOULD go out of our way for somebody who was NOT part of us just to maybe effect some healing even if I didn’t believe in it myself.
And if I’m really honest about it … I don’t know the answer to that.
I hope I would.
I like to think that on my better days … I would.
But maybe now if that arises, I’ll think about the Centurion and the Jewish elders.
I mean how hard must it have been for the CENTURION???? To reach out to people who could just as easily HATE him … Would *I* dare to do that????
… Would YOU?
Maybe one of the most amazing things about Jesus is that he keeps TEACHING us … 2,000 years later and his lessons are STILL viable. They STILL challenge us … they STILL “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
How lucky we are to have found a teacher … a mentor … a Rabbi … a friend … a BROTHER who cares enough about us to do just that.
May we all rise to the occasion of “Amazing JESUS … our AMAZING Jesus.”
[i] http://www.britannica.com/topic/centurion-Roman-military-officer referenced on May 28, 2016.
[iii] Junger, Sebastian. Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging. Boston & New York: 12-The Hatchett Group, ©2016.