Matthew 8:5-13

When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.” And he said to him, “I will come and cure him.”

The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.”

When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.” And the servant was healed in that hour. Matthew 8:5-13

Before I say anything about these verses, I want you to notice what is happening here.

A Roman military officer, in charge of 80-100 other soldiers, a walking talking embodiment of Roman power and oppression, the sight of whom would normally strike fear, and hatred, in the heart of a Jewish peasant, personally travels to Capernaum so he can talk to Jesus. Why? Because a beloved servant of his is ill and the centurion has nowhere else to turn.

And Jesus, who no doubt grew up fearing Roman soldiers just like poor people living on the wrong side of the tracks (which Nazareth was) sometimes grow up feeling afraid of police officers, did not hesitate a second in saying that he would come and help. Why? Because that is who Jesus is! Didn’t he tell that to his friends back in Nazareth? “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free…”

Helping the servant of a Roman army officer is right up Jesus’ alley! And this is where the story gets really interesting.

The centurion suggests that Jesus doesn’t need to go out of his way and travel to the centurion’s home. The centurion suggests that Jesus could just say the word and the servant would be healed. The centurion, who understands what it means to be a person with a great deal of personal authority, already perceives in Jesus a man of even greater authority. A despised pagan Roman soldier sees what the religious people around Jesus refuse to see.

Jesus immediately picks that up. Jesus is amazed. “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.”

And then comes the kicker. Jesus says that there are people who are cocksure that they are the ones “in the know”, on the inside, most valuable players on God’s kingdom team…but the truth is, they don’t have a clue. Remember again, when Jesus spoke those words to the religious folks back in Nazareth they got so angry with him they wanted to throw him off a cliff!

Let all of this be a lesson to us today. What creates the bonds of humanity between people of different races and social classes is not power and domination, it is rather the vulnerability to admit our mutual brokenness, the humility to recognize and admit we need help, and the mutual desire to help one another toward lives of justice, wholeness, safety, and peace.

And when you hear the voices of religious people rising in indignation, pay very close attention to what they are indignant about. If their cries are self-serving, if they are about retaining rather than sharing power, if they are protecting an inhumane status quo, if they are exclusive rather than inclusive, those same voices would also probably cry out that Jesus should be thrown off a cliff.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, you took the time to heal a Roman servant. You had room in your heart for a Roman soldier. From the cross you forgave the very soldiers who nailed you up there. Thank you that there is room in the wonderful, broken, bleeding heart of yours to continue welcoming us into your love, your forgiveness, and your hope. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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