If you brag about your faith, you may just be missing the point of faith. Or maybe what I should say is that faith in and of itself has zero power. You see, you could have all the faith in the world that jumping into the ocean while holding a large rock will help you to float better. But here’s the thing, that faith has no power to actually help you to float. What you put your faith in; now that can have tremendous power. And the faith that can save you is about trusting in something other than yourself; it is an admission that you cannot, in a million years, save yourself. Bragging about your admission of weakness seems counterintuitive. Really, faith is about saying, “I am not worthy!” and trusting in the one who is worthy. And we come once again to the concept of humility. The Bible just oozes humility.
Luke 7:1-10 is all about what or who is worthy and finding healing. Jesus wraps up the sermon on the plain and goes into Capernaum. There was this centurion who had a treasure of a slave. A centurion is a Roman soldier; a commander of about one hundred soldiers. This one was most likely assigned to Herod Antipas and was there to keep the peace. The slave, who was very precious to the centurion, had it bad; an expression that means extremely sick. As a matter of fact, he was about to die. We often think of centurions as being ruthless soldiers with little concern about other people’s lives, much less a slave. Can a good man own slaves? This was not our culture. Nowhere in the story does Jesus rebuke the man for having slaves. Back it up a bit. I believe slavery is wrong and I think the Bible has many clues that help us reach that conclusion, but it never once just comes out and tells us it is wrong. But this is not a story of social justice. This is the story of a good man; a man who is a Roman centurion; a man who does, indeed, own a slave.
Interestingly, the first thing this centurion does, having heard about Jesus, is to send some Jewish elders to talk to him. We could view this with jaded heart and think that the soldier ordered these poor Jews to make the request for him. But the story doesn’t read that way. They eagerly beg Jesus to help the centurion. They say that he is worthy. How do they know? He loves the Jews. He payed for the synagogue in Capernaum to be built. And that tells us that this Roman soldier had more resources one would expect from a centurion. Funding the building of a synagogue would have meant a boat load of money.
Jesus begins to walk with them to the centurion’s house. However, when he was close, the centurion sent out some friends with another message: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself further by coming to my house. I’m not worthy. I’m not even worthy to come out and meet you.” Part of this may be that he is aware of the Jewish restrictions of entering a Gentile home. But it is more than that. His address of Jesus as Lord is probably meant to be more than a respectful greeting. It is most likely an acknowledgment of authority. What he had heard about Jesus was probably that he had authority even over sickness. And that is the authority this centurion desperately needs if his slave is going to live. The centurion knew what it was to answer to authority and expect others to obey. In effect he understood the flow of authority and where he stood in that flow. Jesus also stands in the flow of authority. The centurion may have had some concept of divine authority flowing down to Jesus and over things like illness and demon possession. And that authority is beyond the centurion’s experience. He gets authority, but the kind of authority Jesus demonstrated humbled him and left him feeling unworthy.
And Jesus is amazed by his faith. He even compares it to the faith he had discovered in Israel. His point is not that there was no faith among the Jews. After all, the disciples are all Jewish. The word “great” may refer to “amount” or “degree.” I think he is speaking of degree. Many of the Jews believed they were worthy; worthy to be called children of God; worthy to have faith in God. And this Gentile; this soldier; this man of wealth, understood that faith was about seeing worthiness resting in something other than himself. When the friends returned to the house the slave was healed.
Faith is not about being worthy. Faith is about trusting in the one who is worthy. On the one hand, this centurion was worthy. He was a man who loved others; a man who saw that his slave was more than a “living tool” and a precious soul. But his faith acknowledged the flow of authority. And this knowledge humbled his socks off. He had the authority to tell men to go here or there. But he had no authority over illness. You and I have no authority over salvation. Faith demands humility. Trust in Jesus! Peace, Walter