Just say the word and I know…

Well, as it turns out… starting school puts a major damper in my writing time (not to mention brain energy).  HMM.

But, today, Luke 7:1-10: one of my favorite, favorite passages in the whole Bible.  I remember the first time I heard it, I didn’t even know what a centurion was, but the centurion was my earthly hero.  So much undoubting, unquestioning faith in Jesus Christ!

An unworthy man…

First off, we see Jesus is back in Capernaum.  I never noticed this before, but clearly Capernaum was the place to be!  Secondly, the object of healing is a slave.  The whole story hinges around this man who didn’t even own his own self, and yet was valued by his master, valued so greatly that the master, who clearly has a great respect for God, will bother Jesus.  Third, who did the centurion send?  Jewish elders.  This story is full of unexpected twists.

Now, if we back up a moment, we see down in verse 4 that this mysterious centurion loved Israel and even built them a synagogue!  And yet he didn’t convert.  And, further, he apparently knew right away that Jesus was the Messiah—he understood what was going on, knew enough of theology and the prophets to recognize that the Redeemer had come “to stand on the dust at last.”

But he was still a Gentile, and the Church was still a mystery.  And so he sent the elders, who themselves seem to recognize Jesus’s authority to grant healing, at the very least—another interesting thing about Capernaum here; the elders were also friendly to Christ.

So Jesus went to the man’s house.

And the centurion sent out people to meet him—“don’t trouble Yourself, since I am not worth to have you come under my roof.  That is why I didn’t even consider myself worthy to come to You.”

It is notable that the elders had said that the man was worthy.  But the man knows he is not.  Gill has an interesting note here that it was a law of the Jews (verified in Acts 10:28) to not go into the house of a Gentile, which could have some bearing.  But also, I think, there’s this notion—because he could have come and met Jesus, at any rate—that is his simple words, I’m not worthy!  Again, like Peter, we see this response to Christ.  “I’m a sinner!”  I’m not worthy.  John the Baptist, as well; I’m not worthy to untie His sandals.

This Roman, Gentile centurion, in other words, gets it.

But the story doesn’t even end there.

…and an almighty God…

Then, with one little phrase, the centurion shows what faith is really about: “say the word, and my servant will be cured.  For I too am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under my command.  I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it” (hcsb).

So the centurion—who is very worried over his beloved slave—is so confident of Christ that at this point, all he’s asking Him for is a word.  Say one word, and it will be.  This is no man who sinks beneath the water while looking at his savior; no, he’s never even met Jesus, only just heard of him, and yet he understands that Jesus is mighty even beyond his presence, far beyond parlor tricks or mere prophecies—Jesus has at his beck and call all of heaven.  Just say the word.  And this from a Gentile, no heir to the promises, no expectation of the promises, just… faith.  And humility, for Jesus was coming, and truly the only purpose of the centurion’s messengers was to indeed spare Jesus from coming to his actual house.  He gave up his opportunity to meet Jesus.

His faith is so incredible that Jesus is amazed.  And says “I have not found so great a faith even in Israel!” (v 9, hcsb)   And He healed the slave from afar, as, in fact, he had studied the centurion’s own heart from afar.

…with a bigger plan.

That has always been the part of the passage that perplexed me: here is this man who has spent so much of his time and resources learning and fueling the way for others to learn about YHWH.  A man who impresses even the Son of God with his faith.  A man who further proves himself to be humble and self-effacing.  The fairy-tale ending of the story would be for Jesus to go to the man’s house and proclaim his sins forgiven, as He had done for so many of lesser faith in Israel.

But that isn’t the way it ends.  Jesus sends the friends back, where they find the man healed, and then we never hear more from the centurion, and if he ever met his Savior in person, it’s not written here.  (On a sidenote, if this is the same story told in Matthew 8, it is difficult to harmonize them; Gill takes the Matthew story as meaning the centurion was communicating via messengers, not actually present.  Verse 10 here in Luke would seem to make it absolutely clear that the centurion was not present.)

Why?  Because Jesus was sent “only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mark 7:24, hcsb)?  The centurion’s objection was a true one.  And yet, it was only a handful of years later, in Caesarea, that a centurion—a centurion!—is given a message by an angel and sent to fetch Peter who has just had the vision that welcomes Gentiles into the fold in complete equality (Acts 10).  God wastes no time in actually informing the Gentile believers that they are welcome, calling the centurion to fetch Peter before Peter himself even has the vision.  The centurion’s prayer is answered, and the Gentiles are remembered, and welcomed.  As Peter puts it (Acts 10:34-35, hcsb):

God doesn’t show favoritism, but in every nation the person who fears Him and does righteousness is acceptable to Him.

The day of the centurion’s joining the fold was coming, as God unfolded an even grander scheme of redemption that included not just Israel, but all the nations, even unworthy centurions and unworthy twenty-first century Gentiles like me.

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