Saturday, 27 February 2016

Faith from a distance

“But say the word, and let my servant be healed” (Luke 7:7)

The Romans haunt the pages of the New Testament. And every centurion mentioned was a man of character (see Matthew 27:54, Acts 10:1; 23:17; 22:26; 24:23; 27:43). This Roman ‘outsider’ had built a synagogue for the Jews in Capernaum (Luke 7:5).

For a military represenative of the occupying Roman empire to have the warm sympathy of the local Jews - when his servant was so desperately ill - must have been virtually unheard-of. Yet the archaeological confirmation of this mutual regard can be seen today in the remains of that first-century synagogue. For into one of the slabs of stone, lying on Capernaum’s beach is carved what would then have been the normally-hated eagle insignia of the Roman tenth legion!

Matthew 8 records the centurion’s plea that Jesus come and heal his sick servant, but it is Luke’s account that fills out Matthew’s ‘compressed’ story by indicating that it was the friendly Jews who physically ‘came’ to Jesus in the name of this modest man. Evidently the centurion felt not ‘worthy’ to come in person (v.7); it seems that he never actually met Jesus. He had only ‘heard’ of Him (v. 3). Here was faith - awakened, exerted and rewarded - from a distance! Healing resulted.

The centurion - himself a man of authority – had recognised from what he had heard that Jesus was a Man who was in command…. of everything – and he acted accordingly. Never in Israel - said Jesus - had He met with such faith. Here was a model test-case, a forerunner of many ‘outsiders’ from east and west who would one day sit at table in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 8:11); people who have not seen and yet have believed!

We don’t even know the centurion’s name; we have to be content with just his ‘fingerprint’ on that slab of stone, in Capernaum’s historic ruins.