A centurion, commander of a hundred soldiers, is a man familiar with authority. This centurion sends a group of Jewish elders to Jesus, to vouch for him and make a request. He does not come himself, he says, out of respect. His request is socially correct – even since it comes through people who have lower social status than he in the Roman order, but in Jewish eyes are worthy to approach the Rabbi.
Master come and heal my boy, my servant.
Notice that they, like he, are making a request, not for themselves, but for some one else. Every one in this community is looking out for someone else’s welfare, not their own.
But then the second group of messengers arrives: friends of the centurion, his social equals, who bear the message for him.
I am not – I the Roman official, the benefactor of the Jewish people – I am not worthy to receive you under my roof. But only say the word: let my servant be healed.
The centurion knows authority: he has it. And he had thought, at first, he knew whom he was addressing. But then it began to dawn on him just who he was dealing with.
He recognizes an authority like no other. And he is not trying to make a deal; he has nothing to offer. All he can do is trust – and let go, leave the matter in Jesus’ hands.
It is not about giving up his own authority, but about humility, charity, obedience, servanthood, gratitude, and awe.
At first he acted within his authority, in the context of the community, for a purpose greater than himself. So far he is laudable, a good man. But then he goes farther. He puts his trust, his faith, in Jesus, without condition.
This will not be transactional – Jesus does not, cannot owe him anything, and he can give Jesus nothing worthy in return. He is asking for grace; it is an act of faith.
The faith of the centurion is built on the faithfulness of God toward humankind, faithfulness represented in Jesus. That faith is not conditional, and it is not misplaced.
Awe, reverence, obedience, humility, joy, and peace – these are the fruits of this faith.
The centurion recognized in Jesus authority like no other. It is not something you can hold onto for yourself. Jesus himself did not hold onto anything. It is not that kind of universe. He himself shows us the way: putting faith in the Father, trust absolutely, that all shall be well, in the Father’s hands.
The church cannot become again what it used to be, but it can become the church it is called to become. We cannot, not any one of us, be again what we once were but we can become the people we are called to become.
A church is a community in which we can experience that transformation, the becoming what we are called to be, in the company of friends, and to participate in the work of the Holy Spirit, for eventually that transformation will embrace the whole world.
Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to him from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20, 21)