This Sunday’s readings include a story from Luke’s gospel, of faith in an unexpected place. The Romans were an occupying force in Israel, and a centurion was a military officer enforcing Roman rule. It is good to see how Luke records this example of God being at work in unexpected people. In that category we find not only the Roman centurion – but also the Jewish elders. They can recognise that this man, an “unclean” gentile, outside their own people and laws, is “worthy”. Often the religious leaders seem narrow, legalistic, small-minded even, but not in this instance. They see something good, and they speak it. The centurion’s support of their synagogue might be genuine interest in their faith, it might be good politics, but he is honoured whichever it is.
It is good to look about, and see God at work in unexpected people.
The centurion stood with his hands behind his back, watching his most loyal servant’s dry lips as they moved without sound.
“That’s enough!” he said to those who were trying to coax him to drink, and they slipped back, away from the couch. For a moment the centurion leaned down, his ear close to the man’s mouth, but his breath was growing fainter. He was near death. The centurion strode out to the courtyard and looked up at the road. He saw Jesus in the distance, with his followers behind. Quickly, he spoke to the Jewish elders who stood by the gate, and they turned and walked towards Jesus.
“Rabbi,” they said “we come to see you at the request of the Roman centurion stationed here.” The crowds watched Jesus carefully – what would he do? For the Roman soldiers were an occupying force. They were the enemy. “As you know, this Centurion has treated us kindly, paying for our synagogue. Now his servant is very ill, and he asks for you to heal him.” Jesus did not hesitate. He quickened his pace into Capernaum. As he came close to the army garrison, the centurion’s friend came out with a message. “Sir, the centurion sends you this message: ‘Please don’t trouble to come into my home. Just say the word, and my servant will be well. I’m a man of authority. I give orders, and they are obeyed. I know you, too, are a man of authority – at your command, the illness will leave.’”
Jesus stopped, and turned around to those following. “Do you hear that?” he asked “I haven’t found such faith in all of Israel!” Then, as the friend returned to the garrison, they all heard shouts of joy, and laughter. For the servant had been healed.