An Incomparable Faith
A LESSON TO BE LEARNED
How would you feel if Jesus walked up to you and said, “You have an absolutely incomparable faith, I’ve never seen anything like it?” You’d probably be feeling pretty positive about yourself, after having received such a compliment. Well, that is exactly what Jesus did with a Roman Centurion. The story is recorded in Luke 7:1-17. We are able to read the story and discover what elements of the Centurion’s faith impressed Jesus so much. Incorporating them into our own lives may not only allow us to live a more abundant life, but also open us up to receiving a similar commendation sometime in the future.
FAITH: A VERB NOT A NOUN
For centuries, the church has stressed that faith is believing in a set of theological principles and religious doctrines. “Do you believe that Jesus died for your sins?” Great, you’re in! “Do you believe in the Trinity (even if you don’t understand it)?” Outstanding! You can attach the title “Christian” to your name. This was not the early church’s definition of faith, however, and thankfully many of today’s congregations are redefining faith.
There are only a few instances in the New Testament of the word, “faith” as noun. All the other times, faith is used it is a verb. We can say that the writers of the New Testament understood that faith is not what you believe, but rather how we live our lives in response to God’s steadfast love and overwhelming grace. The story of the Centurion demonstrates this truth in a powerful manner.
FAITH: FOCUSED ON OTHERS
We first learn about the Centurion with the incomparable faith when we read that he had a slave, whom he valued highly, who was close to death. The Centurion had evidently heard about Jesus, because he arranges with the leaders of a synagogue to approach Jesus on his behalf. The Centurion does not come to Jesus asking for anything for himself. Rather, this man of faith intercedes with Jesus on behalf of his slave. The first characteristic of an incomparable faith is that it is a faith focused on others.
Most of the time, people approach Jesus and ask for themselves to be healed. There are, of course, some notable exceptions. In the second chapter of Mark the author records that Jesus heals a paralytic. The man had been carried to Jesus by four of his friends. In the seventh chapter of Mark the author writes about a foreign woman who boldly approached Jesus on behalf of her daughter.
It is not wrong for us to bring our needs before the Lord. God invites us to do this. We are also encouraged, though, to pray for the needs of others. Interceding for others is one way we demonstrate God’s love and grace to others. It is also one of the ways that we are able to bear one another’s burdens.
FAITH: A HUMBLE WALK
The second characteristic of an incomparable faith, which the Centurion demonstrates, is that of humility. A Centurion, in the Roman Army, was very similar to a Master Sargent in today’s armed services. He was the lynch pin that held the army together; he was the one who got things done. The Centurion was in a position of power and authority. As his title implies, the Centurion commanded one hundred soldiers. He demanded the respect of the men he commanded and he earned the appreciation of the officers whom he served. Centurions tended to be a proud—even an arrogant lot. The Centurion who approached Jesus through the synagogue leaders, though, was uncharacteristically humble.
The Centurion displayed this notable sense of humility several times. He didn’t feel worthy to approach Jesus in order to ask Jesus to heal his servant. So, the Centurion requested that Jewish officials speak to Jesus on his behalf. When Jesus comes near the Centurion’s home, the Centurion told Jesus that he was not worthy to have Jesus enter his home. The Centurion showed a remarkable sensitivity to the social and religious realities in which Jesus lived. (To enter his house would have meant that Jesus would have been defiled, according to Jewish law.) Instead, the Centurion encouraged Jesus to just say the word.
We often attempt to approach Jesus from a position of strength. We remind Jesus why we are worthy of God answering our prayers. If we feel that our position is a little weak, we may resort to bargaining with God, saying that we will do something if God answers our prayers.
When we read the story of the Centurion’s servant, we understand that Jesus did not respond to the Centurion’s request because the Centurion was worthy of his attention. We also assume that Jesus did not come to the Centurion’s house because of who the Centurion was and how he could have forced Jesus to come if he had wanted to do so. No, we realize that Jesus responded to the Centurion out of love. Jesus saw a person in need—the slave.
FAITH: TRUST IN AUTHORITY
The Centurion’s unique military perspective allowed him to see Jesus in a different light than the Jews. At this time in Jesus’ ministry, the people who came to him thought of him as a man with special gifts. Jesus had the gift of healing and the ability to cast out demons. The people did not see Jesus as a possible Messiah. The disciples didn’t realize that Jesus was the Messiah until near the end of Jesus’ ministry.
The Centurion had heard what Jesus had done. Jesus had healed numerous people and cast out demons. In the Centurion’s eyes, Jesus obviously was a man of great authority. Jesus acted like a general in the Roman army. A general did not need to be present in order for his orders to be carried out. The Centurion understood that Jesus did not need to enter his house and touch his servant in order for the servant to be healed. Jesus merely needed to say the word.
Great faith sees who God is through the pale of struggle, sickness, tribulation and grief. In the midst of hopelessness and despair, we trust in God’s steadfast love. We believe that God is a God of great power, even though we cannot sense that power at the time. We rest in the assurance that God is present with us and will see us through. Such faith gives us the peace that passes understanding, inspires courage within us and grants us the strength we need to endure.
We will never be perfect in our faith. We may never have an incomparable faith. However, we can realize what some of the key elements are of a dynamic faith. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, these faith characteristics can be incorporated into our lives and enable us to live, to love and to serve as people of faith.