The Unnamed Captain
In our passage from Luke Jesus has finished speaking to ďthe peopleĒ, i.e. the ordinary people who would gather around him to hear what he had to say. But now he needs to rest and so goes home to Capernaum.
When he comes to town he learns from a group of Jewish elders that there was a Roman Centurion whose servant is dying. And the Centurion had asked these men to appeal to Jesus to save his beloved servant. And Jesus recognizing the Centurionís faith heals the servant.
But this Centurion was no ordinary captain. Like any Centurion he was in command of Roman troops. His job was to keep the peace in Capernaum and he could also be deployed to participate in the many wars Rome fought.
Yet he strikes in this passage in Luke as a faithful, considerate and most unusual, accepting of the local people. In that region in that era the Romans would despise the Jews. Yet this captain befriended the local Jewish leaders, even to the point of building their synagogue. Further, he loved his slave. We donít know anything about this slave whether the slave was male or female, Jew or gentile. But slaves were property, a living tool, to be cast out when they were no longer useful. But this Roman captain did not do that. Rather he tended to his slave, exhausting all possibilities for a cure.
And he was faithful. Not just faithful to Rome and Caesar, but spiritually faithful. Somehow he had come to have faith in some sort of spiritual fashion. And having reached that point he could take Jesusí healing abilities seriously. Given that he had befriended the despised Jews to the point of supporting their alien beliefs, we could speculate that he had become quite interested in the God of the Jews. Like other gentiles maybe he was feeling a spiritual emptiness in the Roman culture and mythology. Now with his beloved servant at deathís door, his faith empowered him to call upon Jesus.
But by and large we can only speculate. We never hear about this Centurion again. He is given no name, so we have no way to identify him with any other Centurion. Yet his acceptance of Jesusí culture and ministry begs us to wonder who he was and where he went with his faith.
He had sent a message to Jesus, to work his blessings from afar. Jews did not enter Gentile homes, and we can interpret what the Centurion said as a gift to Jesus not to enter a spiritually unclean household. He trusted that Jesus could heal from afar. And Jesus fulfilled that promise, declaring, ďI tell you I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel.Ē
But what did the Centurion do with his faith? Did Jesusí healing act, change the Centurionís way of thinking and even way of living? Was this healing, the act that brought the Centurion into the grace and compassion of God? Of course, we cannot know for sure. Was he thankful and that was the end of it? Or was he at the Crucifixion and was the Centurion who at Jesusí death, cried out, ďsurely this man was Godís son!Ē? Did the Centurion carry on his life, but always with the faith in Jesus carrying him through the hard days ahead?
But in the end the Centurion was an ordinary human being like you and I trying to live through a trying time. And Jesus did not see a Roman Centurion, a commander of soldiers. Jesus didnít see a Gentile, an alien in his homeland. Jesus saw an ordinary human being in need to help his beloved. And Jesus provided the healing. We all can wish for such a healing in those difficult and sometimes traumatic times.
I have a friend, Joe with whom I worked when I was an engineer. We were in the same engineering department for a number of years. Towards the end of our time together I noticed that Joe was more withdrawn and edgy. I was able to encourage him to talk. His wife had cancer and they were struggling for her survival. This was the time in my life when I was working both as an engineer and as a pastor at a small church and so Joe felt he could talk to me.
Joe and his wife were faithful Catholics. And as the days and weeks went by, he spoke more in spiritual terms. His wife was not doing well at all. So we did our best to support Joe through this difficult time. Unlike the servant of the Centurion, eventually his wife succumbed to the cancer.
Joe went through a difficult grieving time. We would talk occasionally. They did not have any children and so he was often alone.† Then our engineering company was sold and he and I were mustered into difficult departments. And we lost touch.
But a number of years later I received a call from Joe. He was doing much better. He had connected with a spiritual support group. He felt much closer to God and definitely accepting of his wifeís death and that now she was in the afterlife.
And the good news was that he had been dating another woman and they had come to the point of marriage. She was divorced so their Priest was not allowed to officiate. So he asked if I would come to his church chapel and marry them. I was very please to do this (and by the way, the Priest was very cordial and a bit unhappy he wasnít allowed to officiate).
Just recently I communicated with Joe. Heís retired and very active in his spiritual group. Joe very much found that the compassion and support of Christ was a life saver for him. His faith opened the day to Jesusí healing. And ironically Jesus didnít bring his wife back to life, rather he healed Joe who in the spirit as Joe put his life back together.
As we all probably know by now, life is unpredictable. No matter how hard we try to control the next day, the next week, the next year, we cannot. We can make plans and have dreams, but we can never know what today will bring.
Often God sends us joyous events and hopeful messages. But from time to time we must face fear and powerlessness: when we loss a job, when a loved one is ill or dying, or we learn we are very ill. Or we live through a general trauma, such as we did last October when Sandy came blasting through our state.
And for all of our abilities and skills, and resources and human support, we find that we are helpless. We are at a dead end. What can we do? I loss a job and itís not coming back. My loved one is going to die no matter what.† I am ill and thatís not going away. Our lives are turned upside down.
Having lived through Sandy and having to move in with my daughter, I learned just how basic and uncertain such helplessness can be. We were back to basics: we needed shelter from the cold and we needed electricity. Everything else that we always thought we needed had to wait. And we had to have patience in the midst of the fear and helplessness, and the hour by hour worry. Whether itís a hurricane or a terrible illness, we have nothing but the basics Ö until we turn to God.
Often we will say when something is uncertain that it is in Godís hands. That phrase can become just a period on the end of a statement. But when you go through what the Centurion did and what all of us did in October, it is no longer a period. It is a cry and prayer that God will save us and restore us.
And by the grace of God, the Centurionís servant was healed, Joe came through his grief to a new life, and we all got our electricity back. But what do we do then? Do we just carry on as if nothing happened? Or do we find meaning in our traumatic event that increases our faith and raises us above our material anxieties?
During our hard times, particularly one that is traumatic, we embrace the reality of God deeplyÖ once all of our material resources are exhausted. Yet it is so much easier to accept our physical resources as real. After all, we can touch the physical. But the reality of God is not confirmed by our senses of touch, sight, sound, smell, or hearing. And if we cannot prove something is real, then its reality becomes questionable. Rather, God is confirmed by a sixth sense Ö our spirit and how our spirit is tuned to the divine. But this is not much more of a help Ė the spirit isnít physical either. Indeed, we believe in the reality of God solely by faith and faith alone.
And so in our ordinary lives where we carry on, Godís reality can fade as we interact with physical reality. Indeed, God may fade out altogether if all is going well and as expected. God remains just an echo in our soul Ö a very small light deep down waiting for us to once again touch the reality of God.
So as normality returns or a new normality established, the reality of God and the spiritual help we received begins to fade. For some of us, Godís reality may fade back into our routine of prayer and low key sense of God. For others, God may be absent from their ordinary lives.
Possibly our unnamed captain succumbed to one of these. And after his servant was well and he prayed his thanks, he went back to his command as if nothing changed.
But maybe the experience of Jesusí healing was far deeper in his soul Ö
How do we remain in the reality of God, not just when things go wrong, but always, in both the good and the bad times?
Well, each one of us has to find our way of leaning into God everyday of our lives. And though it need not be the intensity that we feel in an anxious situation, we can have a regular prayer life so we intentionally keep in touch with God. We can also tune ourselves to see Godís action in the events in which we participate. We can see God in nature around us. We can see God in events seemingly far from us, but in fact could impact us.
And in time we can see a pattern, a sense, a consistency in Godís unseeable, unfeelable, unhearable, actions. And that should take us to a depth of spirit that carries us through out our lives in both the good times and the bad times. In the good times, we can rejoice in the wander of Godís participation in our lives and the life of the world. And in the bad times, we can thank God for Godís constant and certain help.
And maybe this is what our unnamed captain strived for Ö
Think about it Ö
Godís grace and love be with you Ö