Monday, January 14, 2013

Devotionals: Christ and the Centurion

My minister was out with an emergency this week, so the devotionals were put on de-facto hold for the week. I didn't want to just wait, so I'm going to take this opportunity to talk about some scriptures that are important to me. 

Christ and the Cenutrion
Matthew 8:5-13
New International Version (NIV)
Words of Christ in red

(5) When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. (6) “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”

(7) Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?

(8) The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. (9) For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

(10) When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. (11) I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.
(12) But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
(13) Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment.

This isn't my favorite bible verse, but it’s one of them. Being a military brat myself, as well as a former firefighter, I like to think I have some insight into the mind of the centurion in this case.One of the reasons I wanted to talk about this is because a lot of people I know miss (what I believe to be) the most interesting part of it.

First of all, A centurion is more or less analogous to a modern company commander, roughly a captain, with similar number of men and similar responsibilities. I’m sort of guessing here, but because the verse says “centurion” as opposed to “was a centurion” or “a past centurion”, this guy was probably, even if it was older than some, a soldier through an through, physically touch, mentally disciplined, and conditioned to face some tough situations. Imagine a modern Army or Marine Corp sergeant or Captain after a tour or two in Iraq. In my mind, that’s kind of what we are dealing with.

Another factor here is that the roman military wasn't necessarily the most friendly lot when dealing with Christ and his followers, so while it’s not said outright, I think the man to a bit of a risk coming there, at least in his mind. He had to think that he was more likely to be turned away based on his status as a military figure.
So, we have an officer, braving a crowd of people who may not like him, walking up to Christ, and pleading his case. Its obvious that he cares for the servant, and in some cinematic depictions, even says the man is like a son to him, which, while not biblical, I think helps make the point.  He asked Jesus to heal the man, and the Jesus, in his normal fashion, more or less says ‘sure, take me there.’

Now, this is the part that I really appreciate about this passage. The Centurion (again, more or less) say ‘you don’t need to show me anything. If you say he’s healed, then it’s done.”

I know too many people who miss how important this is. Part of being a military leader is having a force under you that you don’t have to check on. When you tell them to do something, you just know they will do it. You can call it trust, you can call it faith, you can call it whatever you want, but in the end, these men’s lives rested in how dependable each other were. That is the foundation of the Centurion’s “I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes.” comment.

Also note, the man never said “if you are the son of God”, or “I don’t care if you are or aren't . He’s not desperate to the point of throwing his sole at any opportunity. This isn't a case of a man who's desperate, this is a case of a man who just knew what had to be done.

To put it in modern parlance (assuming, for instance, this were a modern Marine Gunnery Sergeant), what the man is saying is “You don’t need to prove anything to me. When I tell my guys to do something, they just do it, and I know it’s done. If you say the kid is well, then he’s well. I don’t need to check on my men’s work to know it got done, and I certainly don’t need to check on your work. Just say it, I know that’s all it takes.”

It says that Christ marveled at the man, and we can debate how that is possible all you want. The critical issue if that he did. The son of God himself raised his eyebrows and was surprised by the man’s showing of faith. In fact, he said that he had never seen faith that strong before. This has to be at least three years into Christ's ministry (I'm not specifically sure, but I think 3 sounds right), and he just said (right in front of his disciples) "I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.". A man who hadn't spend days, weeks months and years watching and listening to Christ, a man who probably had more exposure to the anti-christian movement of the day than not, and he had just, with a few words, reset the bar of faith, as established by the son of God himself.

You want to bet Peter and the others were choking down mouthful's of humble pie after that conversation was done?

Now, the next lines are interesting as well. In summary, those who traced their ancestry to the first Jewish tribes generally believed that they had a free ticket into Heaven. A birthright, if that's not to strong a worth for it. What Christ is saying here (and not for the first time, if I recall correctly) is that not only is that not the case, but he’s using this man; a roman military officer, and clearly not a Jew, as an example of what faith is, heavily implying that he has a better shot at getting into Heaven than some of the Jews of the day.

Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.”

This isn't just a footnote. Christ didn't say “then he’s healed”, or “go home and see that your servant is healed”. He doesn't even use the word heal, or health, or better, or anything of the like.

What he’s saying here is Your asked the right thing of me. All I have to do now is grant it. I don't even have to explain it back to you. He had to tell the cripple to walk, he had to tell the blind that he could see... but he didn't tell this man that his servant was healed. He just said "let it be done just as your believed it would." 

Translation: Your faith was spot on, no go home and enjoy the benefit of how right you are.

I can relate to the centurion better than I can relate to just about any other figure in the bible, for a number of reasons. Chief-most is that the man believed first, and was gifted with proof later. I don't have any hard evidence to prove that God exists, even to myself. I'm too much of a skeptic, or a scientists to claim that. Still, I have never looked up and doubted that God was there, or that Christ was his son. I'd like to think that when I get to heaven, I'll get to talk to that old centurion, and ask him how it was he decided that Christ really was the son of God. I wonder how a commissioned officer was the beginning of the first century would compare to a former volunteer firefighter in the 21st.

But there are two things that we probably would agree on very fast. We both had (human) faith in the men of our units. And be both had (total) faith that God was there when we needed him.

Feedback welcome.
Cheers and thanks for reading. 

No comments:

Post a Comment