As Jesus entered Capernaum a centurion came up to ask his help. ‘Sir,’ he said, ‘my servant is lying at home paralysed and racked with pain.’ Jesus said, ‘I will come and cure him.’ But the centurion replied, ‘Sir, I am not worthy to have you under my roof. You need only say the word and my servant will be cured. I know, for I am myself under orders, with soldiers under me. I say to one, “Go,” and he goes; to another, “Come here,” and he comes; and to my servant, “Do this,” and he does it.’ Jesus heard him with astonishment, and said to the people who were following him, ‘Truly I tell you: nowhere in Israel have I found such faith. Many, I tell you, will come from east and west to sit with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the kingdom of Heaven. But those who were born to the kingdom will be thrown out into the dark, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’ Then Jesus said to the centurion, ‘Go home; as you have believed, so let it be.’ At that very moment the boy recovered. (Matthew 8.5-13 REB)
This Roman soldier has spent his life in a rigid authority structure. His superiors give him commands, and he obeys them. He gives commands to those under his authority, and they obey him. He uses his military experience to make sense of what he sees happening in the ministry of Jesus. Most people appear to be under the authority of the mysterious forces that cause sickness. Jesus, however, is not. He gives commands and sicknesses leave. Therefore his authority must be greater than that of the forces of evil.
Distance is not an impediment to this. The centurion knows that if he sends word over a distance to one of his soldiers, that soldier will obey his command. This must be true of Jesus too. He doesn’t need to be close to a sick person to heal them. His authority still holds, even over a distance.
We may smile at this way of looking at things, but maybe the centurion is on to something. Maybe faith really is all about having a vision of who God is, of who Jesus is. The God who made the universe has come among us in Jesus. Jesus speaks in the name of God. Everything made by God is ultimately answerable to God.
Of course, the hard questions are still out there. What about those whose illnesses are not cured, despite their faithful prayers? Is God’s power limited in some way. I prefer to think that my understanding is limited. Not everything is clear to my tiny human mind. Sometimes saying ‘I don’t know’ is also an act of faith. But that doesn’t mean I don’t keep on praying, despite my limited understanding.
God of creation, give us a bigger vision of your power and love, and when faith is difficult for us, please make up what is lacking. Amen.
(One Year Bible passages for January 10th are Genesis 23.1 – 24.51, Matthew 8.1-17, Psalm 9.13-20, and Proverbs 3.1-6.)