In more than one gospel account we read about the “faith of the Roman centurion.” He believes Jesus will heal his servent without Jesus’ presence being required. Very nice, often reminding us, “just believe.” But I’ve often skimmed over a few key elements to the story.
He was a Roman. Soldier. In occupied territory.
He was the guy that everyone loved to hate. Looming nearby to “keep the peace”, probably overstepping boundaries because he could push people around out of fear. As 21st century Americans, it’s difficult for us to read the setting and really understand – we’ve not lived as an occupied nation. We don’t feel invaded, living on the brink of being forced to change our way of life. (Thanks to my fetish for WW2 history novels and biographies, I retained a sense of this but still lack the emotional connection from experience).
But Jesus’ followers were familiar, and they were tired of it. As Jesus gained popularity later in his ministry as Messiah, they fully expected a Political Jesus who would send the Romans scurrying home.
So one of these soldiers who watches the corner store comes up to Jesus and says, “my servant needs healed and you can do it.” Not only that, but he understands how authority works. When he issues commands, he needs not be present for them to be carried out and he applies the same logic to the ways in which Jesus works.
He compared Jesus’ redemptive powers to the Roman military machine and Jesus responds with, “Yes! Why do the the people who were raised with this faith not understand how it works?”
As a pacifist, I’m not sure how I feel about the military comparison. But I suppose since Jesus was there and I was not, and he was okay with it, I can let it go. I have a feeling there’s a deeper victory in acknowledging Jesus’ reign and kingdom at the same level of the strongest military force in the world.
Second, and most notable: Jesus is talking to and healing for the perceived enemy. He’s willing to have these conversations. He’s willing to be compared to the knowledge and experiences of someone not at all like him – and he’s even willing to say, “You have a far greater understanding than the people who should ‘get it’.”
Lots of chatter takes place in religious circles about “conversations” and being among those not like ourselves. But how often are we taking their experiences as truth and informing our own? The Roman Centurion operated in a boot-on-neck fashion (thanks Rob Bell for forever etching that image in my brain), a polar opposite of Jesus’ love from the bottom-upward. But Jesus didn’t correct him – he praised him for his faith. He told his disciples that guys like this would be feasting with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, which means that Roman military strategy will become heavenly dining conversation.
The kingdom of God seems to be bigger than my own experience. Verily I say unto you, the Kingdom of God can be found in the experiences of anyone walking this earth. Which should change the way I watch and learn from those around me.
In the past I’ve watched my non-church-going friends and family and wondered, “the way in which they’re loving others – there has to be a Jesus in there somewhere.” None of them would connect their actions or emotions to Jesus, but I’ve wondered if it’s an Unnamed Jesus. Like the Spirit at work without being acknowledged. I wonder and hope that in this passage, Jesus is granting permission to see them that way.
The Christian world likes to belittle the Do Gooders for trying to earn their keep, wishing instead for them to trade up for believing the right things. But in watching Jesus’ interactions through the Gospel, he always took the experiences of the unreligious and weighed them with an extra measure of grace
. It was the religious teachers that he warned of wrong belief. He chided those with “the answers” but encouraged those with the questions.