Tag Archives: Centurion

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.

Freedom From Within

Read Romans 7:14-25

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5:13, NLT)

Freedom

One of my favorite film portrayals of Jesus is the one found in the 1961 film, “King of Kings”. While it is true that Jeffery Hunter perpetuates the Anglo-Saxon image of Jesus with his blonde hair and blue eyes, it is also true that Hunter delicately balances the human and divine aspects of the Christ. Too often, portrayals are either of an extremely divine Christ, or an overly earthly Jesus, but Hunter finds the balance and runs with it.

In one of my favorite moments in the film, Jesus comes to the prison to see his friend John the Baptist.  After being told by Lucius, a Roman Centurion, that John isn’t allowed to have any visitors, Jesus said, “I would see John.”  Curious, Lucius asked him why. “I have come to free John,” Jesus calmly proclaimed.

“And just how do you propose to break him free from his cell,” the Roman Centurion interrogated? Jesus responded, “I come to free him within his cell.”

Half curious, Lucius sarcastically and rhetorically asks, “Freedom from behind stone walls?”

“You are free to come and go as you please,” Jesus responded, calmly walking toward where Lucius was sitting, “and yet you are still a prisoner because you place no faith in anything but your sword.”

The power of those words resound throughout my mind.  How true it is that we all find ourselves to be prisoners of one thing or another.  Some people are prisoners of hatred, while others are prisoners of fear.  There are some who are prisoners to various addictions, others who are prisoners to their pride. Some people are prisoners to their ideologies and political affiliations, and others are prisoners to their religious beliefs.  Some people are prisoners to their social lives and status, others are prisoners to isolation and perpetual feelings of being alone.

The fact of the matter is that we often find ourselves placing our faith in tons of different things. The world is like a huge buffet with a plethora of different plates to choose from. There are so many different things for us to place our faith in that we find ourselves imprisoned by all of the things that are competing over us.

Yet, Christ is seeking to come into our lives and flip the prison image upside down.  Christ comes to free us from within our prisons by giving us hope, healing and wholeness. But notice, that Christ has not necessarily removed us from the prison. Life doesn’t just become peaches and cream because we have put our faith in Christ. What does happen though, is that our outlook on this life, and on our struggles within it, changes. Rather than seeing defeat in our failures, we see growth and victory. Rather, than seeing life as a series of dead ends, we will start to see that the ends lead to new beginnings.

Christ has come to make all things new again. So, no matter what prison you find yourself in. No matter what in life has caused you to trip and stumble. Take a moment to stop and breathe. Take a moment to see the foot prints behind you and realize that in your darkest moments God has been carrying you.  See the light that comes from Christ and embrace it. Place your faith in it and praise God that you have been freed from within! Experience the freedom that comes from God’s hope, healing and wholeness!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“All who call on God in true faith, earnestly from the heart, will certainly be heard, and will receive what they have asked and desired.” – Martin Luther

PRAYER

Lord, free me from the things that imprison me and use me in a way that bring your freedom to others. Amen.