When Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help (Matthew 8:5).
Into the Unknown … How do we find our way in the face of great uncertainty?
Uncertainty certainly feels uncomfortable, threatening, exhausting. Is seeking certainty the right response to uncertainty? Maybe not as much as we think.
Of our four Gospels, Matthew is the most Jewish in tone and theme. Matthew is the Good News written for a Jewish audience.
For the Jews of Jesus’ time, one thing that was certain was the clear dividing line between Jews and Gentiles. However much Jews would argue with one another, all agreed that Israel was God’s chosen people; the whole rest of the world (the Gentiles) were not.
Surprise: one of the earliest miracle stories in this most Jewish of Gospels focuses on a Gentile. A Roman centurion, no less, a representative of the power occupying the Holy Land.
The centurion has a valued servant who is extremely ill. He requests help from Jesus, who readily agrees. The centurion insists that Jesus doesn’t need to come all the way: soldiers understand authority, the centurion recognizes authority in Jesus, and so tells Jesus that all he needs to do is say the word and his servant will be well.
What will Jesus do? Just when we think we have things figured out, we have all the pieces well arranged, Jesus gets involved. And subverts our misplaced certainties.
This Gentile, Jesus says, has more faith than anyone in Israel! He goes on to upset the apple cart entirely: many “outsiders” will come from all over to the feast with Israel’s patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (this was a way of picturing “heaven”)—and the “subjects of the kingdom,” the supposed already-insiders, will be tossed out into the darkness (verses 11-12).
We thought we had God figured out. God blesses, protects and rewards the good, the moral, the faithful and obedient. Everyone else is under a completely justified curse. But Jesus blesses an outsider, a Gentile, an enemy, and uses it to illustrate God’s willingness to have mercy on whomever God wills. What is going on?
Understanding Jesus’ authority reshapes how we think about certainty and faith. Certainty has to do with thinking we have discovered the principles, laws, equations and rules by which reality operates—and once we have discovered them, we can now use them to control life. Even control God.
Faith operates differently. Faith operates along the lines of assurance, reliance and trust. The centurion does not come to Jesus because he has figured out how to command or manipulate Jesus. He comes because he has recognized in Jesus an authority that is good, healing, and life-giving. An authority that just might be willing to move in mercy towards a man who has no claims upon it, no rights to it.
More willing than anyone ever expected!
“… a centurion came, asking for help.” Where do you need God’s help today, this week? Have you asked … and have you taken some time to listen? God’s answer might come to you along unexpected lines, from an unexpected direction!