As one who looks at life in sports analogies far too often (just ask my children about my numerous attempts to communicate life’s truths through what they call, #anotherdadgolfstory), I can’t help but look at Jesus and try to find a powerful—perhaps sports-filled—analogy to explain his interaction with the centurion in Matthew 8 (also Luke 7).
In theological terms, Jesus “affirms” the centurion’s faith after the soldier asks Jesus to heal his servant. But “affirm” doesn’t get it for me. This is so much more than simply “affirming;” or as one commentator wrote, “approval.”
“Affirming” means a pat on the back. “Approval” is a pious nodding of the head.
Nope. This is Jesus’ version of a spiritual high-five. It’s spiking the football. Raising two fists in the air and saying, “YES!”
Keep in mind, the goal in this series of posts is to find a powerful and effective First Century Faith. A Simple Faith. A faith uncluttered, zeroing in on what the earliest Christians found to be vital. If this is the goal, we absolutely must know why Jesus performs the equivalent of pouring Gatorade on the head of the centurion.
Okay, enough sports analogies. But my point is to get all of us—me included—away from seeing Jesus as “Jesus of the Bible.” We’ve got to see Jesus as real, as a man of true emotions; not just red-lettered words of wisdom.
Some events ticked him off; others thrilled him. This is one of the thrillers.
So, what happened in Matthew 8 and Luke 7? A centurion comes to Jesus (a Roman soldier and gentile, not a Jew), and says, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering great pain.”
Jesus infers the request and replies, “I will come and heal him.”
But that’s not what happens. First, the centurion says “Lord, I am not worthy for you to come under my roof,” an acknowledgement that Jesus is well above him in stature. But the big stuff is coming next.
“But just say the word,” the centurion continues, “and my servant will be healed. For I, too, am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and 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.”
Jesus’ response is one of absolute marvel. “Truly I say to you, I have not found such faith in all of Israel,” Jesus says. I’m no Bible translator, but this needs an exclamation mark. Or two.
When Jesus says, “Truly,” we might translate this today as “You can take this to the bank,” or simply, “Listen up—this is huge.”
Jesus goes on to say, “I have not found such great faith in all of Israel.” In Kirk’s vernacular, “This guy gets it!”
But what did the centurion “get?” Initially, we see the centurion understands all Jesus must do is say the word and his servant is healed. No machinations, no rituals—just a word. This is certainly great faith and it is easy to see why Jesus is amazed.
But there is more. The centurion says, “For I, also, am a man under authority,” before explaining how his own authority structure works. The centurion serves in the Roman army, representing Rome itself. While there are commanders over him, he knows when he gives orders, things happen. And quickly.
Some translations don’t have the “too” or “also” in this verse, notably the NIV and King James. The NIV translates as “For I myself am a man under authority” and the KJV says, “For I am a man under authority.”
But there is a second Greek word after “For” (kai). The KJV leaves it out; the NIV does, too. Let’s not spend too much time in these weeds but the word usually connects to another particle of speech and can mean, “too,” “also,” “likewise,” “even,” or various other words.
Most versions use one of these words. I’m quoting the New American Standard Bible; it is also found in The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), Young’s Literal Translation (YLT) and the Geneva Bible, which predates the King James Version.
Whether one wants to use “too” or “also” or no word at all, the centurion is making a statement which Jesus celebrates (“I say to this one, ‘go,’ and he goes . . .”).
The point? The centurion identifies with Jesus. He understands that just as he is an agent of the Roman government and of his superiors, Jesus is an agent of God and has authority to speak, act (and in this case, heal) on God’s behalf. The centurion understands Jesus is part of this structure and knows exactly how this structure works.
Jesus’ response? Elation.
But why? What makes this such a huge deal to Jesus?
Perhaps the centurion cut through the confusion and found the truth. The centurion saw Jesus as a representative of God, under God’s authority, doing exactly as God wished.
Not to over-analyze, but the centurion recognizes Jesus not as the authority, but as one given authority. There’s a difference, and Jesus’ ecstatic response tells me this is important stuff.
Today we want to try and figure out the deep mysteries of the faith as they relate to Jesus and God.
The centurion saw nothing deep, nothing mysterious. His view of Jesus is first-hand, and first century. And Jesus could not have been more amazed.
Maybe we need to see Jesus as the centurion did—as one under authority and being given authority. While this shifts our thinking a bit; it also takes us a step closer to the first followers, and perhaps a step closer to a powerful First Century Faith.
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