Matthew 8:5-13 tells the story of a centurion who comes to Jesus on behalf of his servant, who is "paralyzed and in terrible suffering" (Matthew 8:6). Jesus immediately offers to go home with the man and heal his servant.
The centurion's story is notable for what happens next. With great respect, the centurion refuses Jesus' offer, instead asking simply that he will speak the word for his servant to be healed. He is a man of authority himself, he explains, and knows how authority works. He doesn't want to make Jesus traipse around the countryside on his behalf. It isn't necessary. All Jesus needs to do is speak.
This is one of the few places in the gospels where Jesus is plainly astonished by something he encounters. Nowhere in Israel, he says, have I found this kind of faith. He grants the centurion's request in the manner the centurion asks. Go, Jesus tells the soldier, your servant will be healed, in just the way you believed he would be. And that's what happened.
The part that catches my attention right now in this story is why the centurion recognized Jesus' authority and put such great faith in him. It was because of the centurion's own life experience. He was a Roman, not a Jew, and would have had much different theological training than a Jewish man would. There is little reason to believe he could reason his way into seeing the person of God in Jesus Christ. But he spotted God anyway, because he knew authority when he saw it.
Listen to what the centurion says about himself: "Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and that one, 'Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it." (Matthew 8:8-9) The centurion's experience as a soldier taught him how to command and be commanded. He could recognize men with the same ability to command, and he saw it in Jesus -- but he saw more than the mere ability to command men. Jesus commanded sickness and demons to leave, and they did. Jesus spoke, taught, and acted with great authority, and the centurion knew how to recognize that. So he comes to Jesus with a faith born out of his own life experience, and Jesus commends him for it.
It makes me think about how I respond to my own experiences in life, especially the difficult ones. How often do I remember that every single experience is given by God, even the unpleasant ones, and he intends that every single one of them turn out for good, both my good and the world's good? Could it be that some of these experiences I hate are intended to help me see a side of God I would not be able to see otherwise -- God's authority, his love, his power, his justice? When I fail to be thankful and open to the experiences life hands me, what part of the face of God am I not learning how to see?
The centurion is reminding me today to pay attention to all of my experiences, maybe especially the hard ones, and to be thankful for them. He reminds me that as I learn and change, I am enabled to see more of God's character and to deepen my faith in him.
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