I Do Not Deserve

The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.  But just say the word and my servant will be healed” (Matthew 8:8).

It’s been said that justice means getting what we deserve; mercy means not getting what we deserve; and that grace means getting what we could never deserve.

In the face of uncertainty, the centurion is motivated by compassion for his servant and hope for help from outside the world of Rome.  He approaches Jesus.   Will Jesus even give him the time of day?  Why should Jesus grant his request?  What if he refuses?  He begins, almost tentatively, by informing Jesus that “my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.” 

Jesus immediately responds, perhaps to the centurion’s surprise, “I’ll come and heal him.”

This soldier, who is used to obeying and giving orders, recognizes that he is on different ground here.  As a soldier, he’s the sort of person that Jesus has referred to in the Sermon on the Mount: “if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two” (5:41)—Roman soldiers were allowed (authorized) to conscript the locals to carry their packs for a mile.  Here, this centurion recognizes that he has no claim upon Jesus: he’s a Gentile, a Roman, a soldier, which is a three-strikes situation as far as most Jews were concerned.

“Lord” the soldier addresses Jesus, twice.  This is likely not a confession of faith in Jesus’ deity; more likely, it’s a term of respect, similarly to our “Sir.”  And a recognition of authority, an authority of a very different kind than he’s used to.  You can force a person to carry your pack; you can’t force the healing power of God to dance to your tune.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus has said.  Here’s a Gentile who gets it.  He does not command Jesus; he does not offer a gift or bribe; he doesn’t make promises to change his behavior or convert to Judaism.  He’s got nothing to “offer in trade.”  He just asks.

He appeals, not to anything on his side, but to the authority he recognizes in Jesus: “Sir, it’s clear to me that you have the authority to restore my servant to life and health.  I have no claim upon you—I don’t deserve to have you come under my roof.”

What if Jesus does what the centurion asks—what would that mean to this servant of Rome?  To his servant?  To Jesus’ disciples?  To the citizens of Capernaum.  What might it mean?

What is it like to be dealt with, not according to what we have deserved or earned, but solely according to the nature of the one to whom we come?  What’s one thing you would be freed to be or to do?

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