Humble Faith and Diversity
Luke 7:1 After Jesus 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.
This scene is a turning point in the ministry of Jesus where he reaches beyond the Jewish community. The faith of the centurion takes center stage but there is more at work. This breaking into diversity takes several forms. The centurion is a Gentile but has been a man of faith who has supported the religious community of Capernaum. He is a man whose faith has not only led him to have compassion for the Jews, but also for his slaves. When this one who was his servant falls ill, he wants to do all that he can to have him healed.
The century is filled with great humility for he deems himself unworthy to be in the presence of Jesus Christ. He sends others as his envoys to bring the request before the Lord, as one might treat royalty. The Jews never treated Jesus with such respect. Interestingly it is a group of Jewish elders who first come to Jesus to bring the centurion’s request. Next it is a group of friends, presumably Gentile, who speak on behalf of the centurion. The circle of diversity is ever expanding, beyond the Jewish community, into the ranks of Gentile leaders, then a soldier, and finally to the one at the margins, a slave. The humble faith of the centurion resulted in the healing of the least of these.
Up until this time we see faith expressed in many individuals, but they are Jewish and they have to see Jesus to really believe he is for real. To have faith across the gap and believe in the power of Jesus to transform lives is something more. We live with a gap between the time in which we live and when Jesus walked the face of this earth. Therefore our faith has to be stretched like that of the centurion. We believe in things which are not seen or touched. But living into this faith is transformational and it requires our participation on several levels.
1) The centurion supported the regular religious structure of the day. There are social constructs which provide the framework which is needed for civilization and we are called, as God’s people, to support those structures. Religion helps to provide structure to society, and regular participation and support of church goes way beyond our own personal lives, but helps to provide cohesion for the community of faith and beyond. The church should be such an integral part of the neighborhood that should the church close down the community would mourn her loss.
2) The centurion intentionally develops relationships with those who are not like him. This could have only happened because the centurion was willing to humble himself and use his resources for the greater good. We must reach out and develop relationships with people who may not practice their faith in the same way that we do. The Jewish religious leaders trusted the Gentile centurion because he was willing to have a relationship with them and even support their work and ministry. The centurion has friends! There are those who are close to him who were probably Gentiles and respected him as a soldier. More than likely they were not soldiers but civilians. He was able to cross the gap and work on relationships with those who were engaged in a completely different line of work. And finally, the centurion had a relationship with his servant. To care for the health of his slave in this way, the centurion must have loved the servant and treated him as much more than simply an object to be owned. The centurion broke through barriers of class and did all he could for this one who would have been the least of these.
3) The least of these! We are called to have faith and advocate for those who find themselves on the margins of life. The slave would have had no way to get to Jesus. His salvation was found in the advocacy of another. There are many around us who do not have the opportunities that we may have in life. We are to be responsible for those who need our care, oversight and advocacy in life. It is humbling to put the needs of others before our own, but this is the call of God’s people.
This man with humble faith that lived in a diverse world amazed Jesus! None of those raised in the religious community had this kind of faith, but it was a secular man of war who showed the way. Here is our example to bridge the gap, live in humility with faith and advocate for the least of these. We are to reach across the aisle and love our sisters and brothers who are not like us and provide a pathway to find healing in Christ.
Lord, the faith of the centurion challenges me on many levels. Thank you for making me feel uncomfortable. Amen.