God’s People, part 206: Centurion

Read Matthew 8:5-13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.”  (Matthew 16:25, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

 

807px-Centurion_2_Boulogne_Luc_Viatour
By I, Luc Viatour, CC BY-SA 3.0,  https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/ index.php?curid=2844461

Part 206: Centurion. How appropriate that we get to take a look at the account of the Roman centurion following what we considered regarding the poor widow. If you recall the last devotion, we discussed how poverty strike many different people in many different ways. When we hear poverty, our biases automatically cause us to think of the financially impoverished, the homeless, the hungry and disease-stricken. But rich people experience poverty as well. So, do religious people. When you think of it, there isn’t a label that can make anyone immune to poverty in one way, shape or form.

 

Before we go further, I will pause and provide a little insight on just what a centurion exactly is. The root of the word centurion is actually century. As is well known, a century is a grouping of a hundred. It is most commonly used as a measure of time, where a century is a grouping of 100 years. In the case of the Roman centurion, they were commanders of 100 soldiers called centuries. Thus, centurions was a commander of centuries. In fact, some centuries could have as many as 200 – 1000 legionaries or soldiers.

As a higher ranking commander, the centurion was payed double what the regular soldier would be. Actually, some centurions were paid up to 17 times as much as regular soldier. What’s more, veteran legionaries often worked as tenants of their former centurions. So, what we can see is that Centurions were pretty well off. They were a people of rank who were used to giving orders and having those orders carried out.

Here’s where the poverty comes in and, I can guarantee, it is not where one might think it to be. This Centurion was a Roman in a foreign land, one of the many commanders in the army of the empire occupying Israel. The distaste that the Jewish people had for Romans like this centurion was second to none. He may or may not have been from Rome itself. He could have been from Gaul, Spain, Northern Africa, Egypt, Syria, or any number of places, but none of that would have made a difference because what was clear was he was NOT Jewish and he was one of the occupiers.

Thus, many of the devout Jewish people would have avoided this centurion like the plague, both out of fear and out of disgust. Certainly Jesus going to this man’s household to heal his servant, which Jesus was ready to do, would have been outrageous and offensive to the people around him. Yet, when Jesus looked at this man he didn’t see a Roman centurion, he saw a human being who was humbly looking for help.

When Jesus offered to come to his house, the Centurion declined and said, knowing full well who and where he was, that he was not worthy and that he knew that Jesus only needed to command the servant to be healed and it would be done. “I know this because I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers,” the Centurion continued. “I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this,’ they do it.” (Matthew 8:9, NLT)

While we don’t know who this servant was, but he must have been of great value to this Centurion. As such, he humbled himself before Jesus and put his full confidence in him. Jesus saw that, was moved by it and sad, “Go back home. Because you believed, it has happened.” And the young servant was healed that same hour.”  (Matthew 8:13, NLT)

Jesus did not choose to allow the anti-Roman sentiments of his culture sway him to see the humanity and the heart of this individual Roman. That is not to say that the sentiments were unfounded. In most cases, the people had a reason to fear and avoid Roman soldiers. Still, our fears and biases (no matter how founded and justifiable they might be) often lead us to a poverty of compassion and empathy. We grow cold, callous, and apathetic toward the plight of those we think are “dangerous”.

The account of the Roman centurion should remind us that all people, including our enemies, are created in the divine image of God. We are called to show love and empathy and compassion to all people, even if it means we risk danger. Christ’s example should challenge us all to see the humanity in others, and to treat others with compassion, love and empathy. That is certainly risky; however, “if you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.” (Matthew 16:25, NLT)

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” – Jesus Christ in Matthew 16:26, NLT

PRAYER
Lord, help me to see people through your eyes, rather than through my fears. Amen.

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