The centurion himself doesn’t go and talk to Jesus; instead, he sends “elders of the Jews” to come and plead with Jesus to come and heal the man. In inviting, or should I say, begging Jesus to come, the language they use is quite interesting. Their words, one in particular, JUMP at me.
They come to Jesus and urge him, plead with him, beg him saying:
“This man deserves this. He loves our people. He even built our synagogue.”
Did you catch that?
“He deserves this.”
I am caught up in the language they use. “This man DESERVES this. Look what he has done! He is a nice guy! He even built our synagogue! So get over here and help him out.” I wonder, were they worried about pleasing the centurion because he represented the state, the powers that be, and they worried that if Jesus didn’t come and perform for them, he might change his favorable stance toward the Jews? Were they worried that he would stop loving the people if he wasn’t rewarded for his kindness? Did they have false motives, or just bad theology?
And can’t we identify with their sentiments? This man deserves this; he is ENTITLED to this, for he has been really kind to our people. He did this nice thing, therefore he is ENTITLED to his reward – his payment.
So come on Jesus. Let’s go. This man DESERVES this.
Have you ever felt that way? I’ve been good. I’ve done all the right things. I’m a nice person. I go to church regularly. I even read my Bible more than most. I DESERVE God’s healing, God’s favor, God’s blessing, and God’s provision.
Jesus goes, and while he is still far from the centurion’s house, he receives another message. The text says the centurion sends some “friends” to talk to Jesus.
“Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I DO NOT DESERVE to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.”
What? “I don’t DESERVE this. I’m not worthy.” Did he know what the Jewish leaders had said to Jesus? I like to believe he had no idea! He shows humility. He shows that he actually gets who Jesus is – Jesus isn’t some magician or witch doctor for hire. He is Lord. He has authority. The centurion talks about being in charge of soldiers. “I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. So say the word, Jesus, and my servant will be healed. Say the word, you who have power over disease. Say the word, for you are the Lord, the one with authority.”
Jesus receives these words. He responds, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”
What! Jesus says that faith isn’t found primarily in those who look as though they’ve EARNED it or done all the right things. I’m sure Jesus thought it was great that this guy was nice to the Jews and helped them build a synagogue, but it was when the man expressed his humility and his understanding of who Jesus was that Jesus praises his faith. “I have not found such great faith even in Israel!” That’s a bold statement! The Message read, “I’ve yet to come across this kind of simple trust anywhere in Israel, the very people who are supposed to know about God and how he works.”
Couldn’t this be applied to believers today? We struggle with entitlement. We are so often like the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son. We have done everything right. We’ve kept our noses clean. We DESERVE good things.
We have a problem with entitlement. It’s only getting worse with younger generations. It creeps up in sports, school, and even in church. I have a RIGHT to my musical preference. I have a right to start on the team, to play the leading role, to have the best seat in the house. After all, I’ve been here every day, or at least more than most, and I’ve made all the necessary “payments.”
Jesus says, “I’ve yet to find greater faith than this,” only after the man expresses humility, unworthiness, and acknowledges that it is Jesus who is in charge. Faith isn't EARNED. God's blessings and healings aren't DESERVED. Jesus shows up when we admit that we aren't in charge, we aren't in control, and we really don't deserve anything. Isn't this the Good News? God shows up in spite of us? God shows up because he CHOSE us? God shows up not because we DESERVED it, but because of his love for us? That is humbling.