By The Rev. Sherry Deets
2 Pentecost, Proper 4 – June 1, 2013
As Jesus entered the city limits of Capernaum, a group of elders from the synagogue were waiting for him. They told him that the local centurion had sent word for him that his servant was near death and wanted him to come at once.
Now, in a city like Capernaum, Roman centurions were the law. They commanded a company of a hundred soldiers, hence the name, “centurion.” Centurions were to be respected, even feared. They had a great deal of authority and they could exert whatever force was necessary to keep the peace. For the Jewish people, a centurion represented, was, the oppressor.
This particular centurion stands out in several ways: He obviously held the Jewish people in high esteem. The elders told Jesus, “…he loves our people, and he built our synagogue for us.”
All the more remarkable was that he clearly had concern for his slave. It is a measure of this man’s concern that he decided to approach Jesus at all. The representatives of occupying powers (like Rome) seldom impress either the people they rule or their own superiors by showing dependence. This may well be a factor in his decision to approach Jesus indirectly. “He sent some Jewish elders to him, asking Jesus to come and heal his slave”. He may well have been guarding his flank against future criticism should there be a refusal from the rabbi, or should the rabbi (Jesus) fail.
You know, all of us extend our trust or risk ourselves as carefully as possible. We are all conscious of the glass house through which the world looks at us. Human nature is complex. Here is a man who seems reflective about life and its meaning, obviously admired, even by those for whom he represents a foreign domination. Yet listen to his self-assessment when he attempts to intercept Jesus as he comes toward the house. “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you.” There is an attractive quality about this admission. It hints of something very human. How frequently we find that the very person highly thought of by others had a very low sense of self-esteem!
But there is one thing this decent man was quite clear about. Everything in his training and make-up had helped him to recognize it. He knew natural authority when he met it. This he made perfectly clear in his magnificent assessment of Jesus. “Say the word” he suggests “and let my servant be healed”.
When Jesus heard the centurion’s message, he was amazed and said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith”. And when the friends returned to the centurion’s home, they found the slave had been healed.
Now, all this sounds well and good, but pretend for just a moment that you’re one of the elders who came out to meet Jesus on the road into Capernaum. Imagine yourself as one of them, the faithful, who attends synagogue every Sabbath, who keeps the law and observes all the holy days. How would you feel, having summoned Jesus to come to the aid of this Roman centurion, and the hear Jesus say, “I haven’t found so great a faith, not even in Israel.” Wouldn’t that be a slap in the face?
What did the centurion have that the elders didn’t? He certainly wasn’t Jewish. In a word, he had blind faith. With nothing whatsoever to substantiate his belief, he was confident that Jesus could heal his slave. And according to the Letter to the Hebrews, this is the essence of faith: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)
And this is the problem I’d for us to grapple with: Too often we hedge our bets. We pray to God and look to God to order and provide, yet we never quite let go of the reins. One way or the other, we want to be in control, just in case God doesn’t come through. We take a leap of faith, but we keep one foot on the ground. Trust and relationship. I recently took up horse riding lessons as a complete novice, but found a wonderful teacher. Riding horses is frequently an exercise in trust and relationship. Riders and horses have to trust each other. Both try to exert more control than is healthy for the other, and the other will push back. Somewhere in the push and pull, both find a place where a grand relationship can exist and the ride is enjoyable.
When facing a steep hill, up or down, our human instinct is to grab the reins and go with total control. To hold tight. Because we, of course, know best.
And if we control the horse with the reins, the horse will not, as they say, “have her head.” As riders sitting on top of the horse, we can’t see the world at horse-level. And, if the horse can’t see, she is likely to misplace a hoof, with bad results for all.
A way to go up or down a rocky hill is to loosen the reins, sit a bit up in the saddle to get your weight off the horse’s back, and trust the horse. Giving the horse her head allows her to look down, up, and all around to maneuver herself over the terrain. Trust her, because she knows her hooves. She can see the ground in a way the rider cannot. The rider’s job is to allow her to do what she instinctually knows how to do, guiding her gently if she needs some guidance, especially by looking ahead to what she may be unable to see.
We all go over rocky terrain in our lives. We just will. Uphill at times, descending downhill at others. God is an expert at giving us our heads and our hearts so we can see; and gently guiding us when we need a subtle or not so subtle tug on our reins. May we, like the centurion recognize and seek Jesus in our lives. May we have the faith to trust that Jesus is with us, always and to continue to develop that relationship. “Faith is the assurance of things hope for, the conviction of things not seen.” Amen.
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