The Gospel according to Luke 7:1-10
“When Jesus had finished all his words to the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave who was ill and about to die, and he was valuable to him. When he heard about Jesus, he sent elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and save the life of his slave. They approached Jesus and strongly urged him to come, saying, "He deserves to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation and he built the synagogue for us." And Jesus went with them, but when he was only a short distance from the house, the centurion sent friends to tell him, "Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof. Therefore, I did not consider myself worthy to come to you; but say the word and let my servant be healed. For I too am a person subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come here,' and he comes; and to my slave, 'Do this,' and he does it." When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him and, turning, said to the crowd following him, "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith." When the messengers returned to the house, they found the slave in good health."
The armies of the ancient Roman Empire were infamous and feared throughout the known world for their skills and discipline in combat. The centurion was a professional officer in the Roman military and commanded a centuria, meaning 100 but actually about 80 men. He was a soldier early in his career but by showing skills in combat, discipline, and leadership, he was promoted to a centurion. He was still expected to fight on the front line with his men, consequently, centurions were well paid and held in high esteem, as they experienced high rates of injury and death during war. The combination of wealth, power, and prestige made them influential in society as in the case of this story in the Gospel.
As a gentile (non-Jew) and military officer of the Roman Empire, a centurion would have been hated and feared by the Jews, but this particular centurion had qualities that even the Jewish elders appreciated; he was kind and generous to his captives (he built the synagogue for them). But Jesus saw other qualities that grabbed his attention; the centurion’s faith, humility, and profound understanding of human and divine authority. Of his faith Jesus said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”
I am of gentile heritage, like the centurion, and most Christians today. I try to assess my own faith, humility, and the proper exercise of my authority where it applies – the absence of exercising our authority can be a sin of omission. I am a husband, a father, grandfather, and work in various capacities in church and society that require the daily exercise of these virtues. The practice of these virtues by the centurion pleased our Lord Jesus then, and they still please Him today in each of us. These virtues are still a work in progress in me but I ask the Lord for help along the way.