Roman centurions had clout––and plenty! But not many were accused of an overabundance of compassion. Sanctioned by the most powerful empire on earth, wherever they roamed, they wielded the limitless authority of Rome. The Jews and all other occupied lands lived under the thumb of the state and in fear of the army’s oft-capricious tactics.
The centurion in this account was an exception to rule and a wonder to Jesus. This man “highly valued” his servant and he “loved” the Jews. He even built them a synagogue! The Jewish elders went so far as to claim that he “deserved” a miracle. Not exactly your run of the mill Roman commander!
I’m guessing that Jesus wasn’t often “amazed” at the people he encountered––at least not in a good way. He branded this Gentile military man’s faith as greater than anything he’d seen among his own people. Until now I’ve always thought of his so-called “great faith” as having to do with a greater measure of certainty that he possessed for the miraculous, and that we should all strive for the same. I’m now inclined to think Jesus might have been referring to the centurion’s overall disposition, the “faith” that describes his way of viewing himself, God, and the people over whom he had power. Let me explain…
His “great faith” referred to his connection to the God who cares about servants and oppressed subjects of the empire. Though he had the sort of clout that goes to the heads of most people in his social position, his great faith inspired great compassion for those weaker than him. He possessed a rare combination of clout and compassion. He had both social leverage and sincere love, something quite uncommon in our current classist culture, even among Christians.
He said, “I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” That’s clout––the power and privilege to squeeze what he wanted from most anyone he wanted whenever he wanted. But instead of using it to subjugate those underneath him in class and clout, he employed it to serve them. It’s such a rare occurrence it amazed the Lord!
Unless inspired by something deep inside, the privileged and powerful seldom climb down the ladder to help someone below them. They might do some periodic pro-bono work for “the needy” or don rubber gloves and serve turkey at the rescue mission on Thanksgiving, but it’s more of a photo-op than a matter of conscience.
Read: “What Should We Do?”
Jesus said he couldn’t find such faith in all Israel! Their so-called spiritual leaders had long since lost all sense of concern for their people. They had plenty of clout, enough to get Jesus crucified, but little compassion.
Unfortunately this is often the case with many of our more prominent and powerful spiritual superstars today. Instead of the humble heart of the Good Shepherd, it’s book deals, big crowds, and celebrity-sized budgets that get them out of bed in the morning.
When it comes to the actual welfare of those they were elected or appointed to serve, our superstars in government have no better record. Many of them tend to be more concerned with crowd-pleasing, personal power, and reelection than for the people they “serve.”
Read: Isaiah 3:14
Jesus was amazed by rare combination of clout and compassion in the unlikely person of a Roman military commander. He saw something in him that was missing in his own people and he called it “great faith.” What kind of faith would you call “great”? Does clout alone constitute “great” to you or would it require a clear compassion component?
Stay tuned for Part 2…
In the meantime, have you read Reaching Rahab: Joining God in his Quest For Friends? I hear it’s pretty good, and half the profits go to YWAM San Francisco.