After Jesus finished presenting all his words among the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 A centurion had a servant who was very important to him, but the servant was ill and about to die. 3 When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to Jesus to ask him to come and heal his servant. 4 When they came to Jesus, they earnestly pleaded with Jesus. “He deserves to have you do this for him,” they said. 5 “He loves our people and he built our synagogue for us.”
6 Jesus went with them. He had almost reached the house when the centurion sent friends to say to Jesus, “Lord, don’t be bothered. I don’t deserve to have you come under my roof. 7 In fact, I didn’t even consider myself worthy to come to you. Just say the word and my servant will be healed. 8 I’m also a man appointed under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and the servant does it.”
9 When Jesus heard these words, he was impressed with the centurion. He turned to the crowd following him and said, “I tell you, even in Israel I haven’t found faith like this.” 10 When the centurion’s friends returned to his house, they found the servant restored to health.
The centurion understood something about authority. He was an officer in the Roman army, roughly equivalent to a captain (he would have commanded about 100 men, therefore, cent-urion).
This particular centurion enjoyed a good reputation among the people living around Capernaum, Simon Peter’s hometown. Though the Jews had every reason to hate the occupying Romans, they loved this guy. Several Jewish leaders appealed to Jesus on his behalf, recounting the ways he’d helped them.
The centurion’s words surprise Jesus: he doesn’t beg, he doesn’t plead, he doesn’t give orders. He doesn’t even make any argument as to his own worthiness. He just trusts in Jesus’ authority. “Lord, I know all you have to do is say the word.”
His experience of authority provides him the lens through which he views the world: he trusts his soldiers to do whatever he asks. And when his superiors ask him to do something, they know it’s as good as done. So it’s the most natural thing in the world for him to trust Jesus, whom he clearly respects as a great healer, to have the authority to save his beloved servant, even from a distance. In the centurion’s world, people obey orders even when the commanding officer isn’t standing right there!
This is very unlike us. We chafe against authority. As kids we don’t understand why our parents or teachers should have so much control over us. As adults, we wonder at the competence of our leaders and supervisors. And yet, the centurion’s experience of being “a man…under authority” provides him with a humility that allows him to trust immediately and completely in Jesus. Would that our faith were as unwavering!
For Pondering & Prayer
How has your experience of authority helped shape you? Has it had an impact on your faith?
Why is it so hard for us to humble ourselves to accept authority that’s been placed over us?