Reflection of the Week (Matthew 8, ESV)
When Jesus rebukes the storm and brings the raging sea of Galilee to a “great calm,” the disciples who are with him in the boat “marvel” and ask, “’What sort of man is this, that even the winds and sea obey him?’” (v27). Such inexplicable authority leaves them awestruck; they can not deny Jesus’ power but also can not fully discern the nature of it, even after having heard his teaching and seen him perform miraculous healing.
Their reaction poignantly juxtaposes that of the centurion soldier recorded earlier in the chapter. In that story we find Jesus marveling at the faith of a Roman official who seems to recognize and understand the source, mode, and magnitude of Jesus’ authority. Like many, he must have heard of or witnessed for himself the ministry of the Messiah. But rather than reacting with the dumbfounded incredulity of the “astonished” crowd, the centurion responds with a faith-driven request on behalf of his sick servant.
He “gets it.” But why?
One answer may be that he simply and appropriately identifies with Christ. Here is a man familiar with the human power of command; he relates to Jesus because of his authoritative role. There is an almost childlike quality to the centurion’s basic assumption of commonality that the socially powerless Jews struggle to attain. But, beyond this simple, personal identification, the centurion realizes that Jesus’ words have authority in the invisible, spiritual world: over the elements of reality itself. He acknowledges that this kind of power is akin to to his own but far exceeds it. “’Lord,”’ he says to Jesus in apparent humility, “’I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word and my servant will be healed’” (v9).
Jesus’ entire purpose in coming to earth is thus revealed and fulfilled in one small exchange with a gentile. Jesus came to show humans a God we can identify with and by whom we can be delivered. The centurion got the message! He understood that Jesus’ authority came from a power source beyond this world and that He was capable of instantaneously changing reality at the mention of a word. The centurion had, wittingly or otherwise, found the kingdom of heaven!
Another interesting answer to the question of why he got it when so many others did not, though, may have to do with his reason for pursuing Jesus in the first place. The centurion comes to (or, sends someone to) Jesus to get deliverance for his servant who is “paralyzed” and “suffering terribly” (v6). Perhaps this servant was particularly special to him: a beloved companion, a confidant, one of few he could trust. Matthew doesn’t include many details, but we do know that, in this story, the centurion a man of rank and power is interceding for someone socially inferior to himself because he is aware of a great need. His own behavior contrasts that of the Jewish men of power of the day—specifically the Pharisees—whose concern rarely extends beyond their own personal interests. They too were men of some authority (though limited by the Roman government) and could have connected with Jesus on the basis of their own authoritative roles, or through their vast knowledge of the Scriptures, or through a selfless quest for the deliverance of the common Jews who they’d been empowered to lead. They, and many with them, missed these opportunities for connection with both God and humanity and so, unfortunately, missed the kingdom of heaven.
I want to be a person whose faith makes Jesus marvel. And so, I look at the centurion and ask myself, is it possible that my faith will increase as I seek out ways to simply identify with my Savior? As I pause to appreciate that He chose to identify with me, even though He is God and has the power to cosmically create and destroy with the utterance of a single word? Is it possible that seeking the kingdom of heaven is sometimes about coming to Jesus carrying someone else’s suffering and believing on their behalf? Is it possible that I too can be one who “gets it” because, having heard of and seen Christ’s power, I have marveled…and then humbled myself at his mercy in bold and lowly supplication? The centurion’s narrative of faith argues that it is. Let us follow his marvelous example!
Thank you for sending a God with whom we can identify. Thank you for revealing your love and justice through Jesus Christ our Messiah. Thank you for allowing us to come before you and make requests in the confidence that you give good gifts to your children. Please, increase my faith. Help me to really believe in you and to believe you. Make me more sensitive to the suffering of others and may their needs provoke me to pursue you with boldness and humility. Help me to connect with God and humanity through the power of the God-man Jesus. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, here as in heaven.