August 30, 2020

"Following Jesus: The Centurion"

Scripture Reading: Matthew 8:5-13

Our reading begins with Jesus entering the town of Capernaum on the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee. It is a beautiful place. With a view of the sea, the cliffs, and a lot of trees, it’s not a big city and Jesus has adopted this place as his hometown. When he arrives he is greeted by someone called a “centurion”. A centurion was a soldier in the Roman army in charge of a group of soldiers. From the beginning of this story you should understand that this centurion was “one of them”. He was part of an occupying force that was in the homeland of Jesus’ people. Needless to say, he would not be really popular and was definitely considered an “outsider”. In Luke’s account of this story it mentions that this centurion was not the worst. In fact, in Luke 7:5 the elders of the synagogue vouch for him and say that he loves the nation and even built a synagogue for them in Capernaum. So, he is not a bad guy, but he is a foreigner, an outsider and all the good deeds in the world will not change this fact. In Matthew 8:6 he comes to Jesus and says, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.”

Questions:

Who do we consider “outsiders” today?
What does the centurion say to Jesus? Is he asking for something? How does he feel about his servant who is back at home?

Jesus responds to the centurion, “And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” In the original language these words can also be understood as a question, “Shall I come and heal him?” Whether Jesus is asking a question or is saying what he will do, what we need to notice is that the centurion needs to do more than simply state his concern. Sometimes it’s easier to describe a problem than it is to ask for help. Complaining is easier than doing: What doesn’t she call? Why doesn’t he visit? Why don’t they help? Sometimes people find it easier to nurse their hurts, their grudges, their pain than they are at getting up, taking responsibility, and asking for help.

Questions:

Is it possible to find our identity by holding grudges and being kind of a miserable person?
Where does a Christian find his or her identity?

The centurion understands that, culturally speaking, having Jesus come to his home would be unacceptable. This kind of socialization did not happen in first century Galilee. People back then were very good and meticulous about keeping their social distancing from those considered unworthy of their company. Religious and ethnic divisions were of the highest order. The centurion says as much in verse 8, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.” Now this is something completely different. The outsider is showing a faith that is remarkable. His faith is a sure and certain conviction that there is authority in the Word of Jesus. “Just say the word”.

The ministry of Jesus is not a carnival of wonders. It’s not a cheesy side-show of tricks and stunts. The proclamation of the Kingdom is about healing, restoration and wholeness. It’s about setting the world right. Jesus miracles are artless and effortless, but they are never powerless. How does Jesus heal? By his word. The power is in the Word because when Jesus speaks, the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of the universe is speaking.

Questions:

As the story moves along, where should we see ourselves in this story?
What is the word of grace that Jesus speaks? What is the word of warning?

The Conclusion:

The centurion’s faith was enough to move Jesus to give healing to a young servant he did not even know. His commander has faith and he is healed. If we consider this story about the centurion and his faith it’s quite remarkable, maybe even a bit controversial. It seems the weakness or even absence of our faith is less of a problem than the arrogance of those who believe they are on the inside track with God due to their affiliations by group, ethnicity, or culture. “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.”

Let’s take a risky step and follow this Jesus. Faith is never just personal. Faithful people are a blessing to others. Even when you cannot believe; when you are in a “dark place”, spiritually speaking, then the community of faith is there for you to speak, to plead, and to ask for grace to be given into your life. The faithful parent, grandparent, teacher, co-worker, or friend is very important in the life of the one who does not have faith or feels they cannot believe. Faithful, Kingdom citizens who follow Jesus are a blessing to whole communities and the world. That’s grace. To follow in this way let go of your pride, your assumptions about who is in and who is out. Follow Jesus and find your identity in his grace and truth. Amen.