After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. 3 When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. 4 When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, 5 for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” 6 And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; 7 therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. 8 For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, “Go,’ and he goes, and to another, “Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, “Do this,’ and the slave does it.” 9 When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10 When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
I want to take a closer look at the Roman centurion in today’s gospel. Although he seems to be a good guy, helping the Jews build a synagogue, he was still there as part of a foreign occupying oppressive force from Rome and a Pagan. He’s not a follower of Jesus nor is he Jewish. As a Roman, he likely believes in multiple gods.
And Jesus is amazed at this person’s faith.
Wait a minute! This centurion has no business having faith in Jesus! He doesn’t know who Jesus is, he doesn’t know God’s plan of salvation, he’s never been to church. What’s more, he’s oppressing God’s chosen people in their own homeland. He is an enemy. He’s pagan for crying out loud! And yet, Jesus is amazed by his faith. How can that be?
Faith isn’t so easily categorized or compartmentalized. Faith springs forth in surprising ways from surprising people. Faith isn’t something we “do,” it’s something God causes.
Because faith is a result of God pursuing us, connecting to us, and winning us over. Like the old fashioned way a young man would try to win a girl’s heart–God woos us. God attracts us, chases us, wins our affections. Paul refers to it in Romans as God’s Spirit bearing witness with our spirit. And when that connection is made, as God wins us over–even a little bit–faith happens.
In the case of the Roman centurion, even though he’s a Pagan, likely believing in multiple gods, God wooed him, connected with him, and the faith response was generosity and trust. This man helped build a synagogue for people whose religion he thought was weird. He trusted a Jewish rabbi to heal his slave. He didn’t convert to Judaism. There’s no indication he became a follower of Jesus. He’s never mentioned again. In fact, he never actually met Jesus. All communication was done through intermediaries. Yet God pursued him, won him over, just a little bit. That’s what faith is.
And it comes from God’s initial action. Faith has to be God acting first, otherwise, it isn’t faith. If it’s us doing it, it’s either self-justification or self-righteousness.
No, faith is God pursuing us first and winning us over. Which means the response can come from unexpected places. Like a Pagan Roman enemy. And their response to God’s wooing can be amazing. And surprising. And as this story makes clear, God will pursue anyone. And wins over a little bit of anyone’s heart. And faith–faith that can amaze Jesus–happens.
Faith is not the realm of the righteous. Faith is a result of a loving God who won’t quit pursuing us, and who, once in a while, continues to win a little bit of us over. Faith is God’s business, and it can happen anywhere to anyone. Churchy or not. Religious of not. Believer or not. Christian or not. Pagan enemy or not.
Think about what good news that is. That God woos anyone and wins over anyone. Who do you know who isn’t part of a Christian church? Think of someone you love who doesn’t show any sign of belief in Jesus. Who has kept you up at night worrying and praying because they don’t have a relationship with God? Who has caused you grief because they have left the church? Do you have someone in mind?
Picture God pursuing them. Relentlessly chasing them trying win them over with love. Imagine God’s acts of compassion for them, wooing them, winning their affections. And in God’s never-ending pursuit, God wins a little bit of their hearts. And that’s why this person you love and care about who, having no connection to church or to God, does such faithful things sometimes. Because God has won a bit of their hearts. That’s why even these people who’ve left the church or never went to church or don’t believe in God are capable of such amazing acts of love. Faithful responses that amaze even Jesus.
Faith is a result of God pursuing us, connecting to us, and winning us over. And eventually, God succeeds. A little bit at a time. All of us. Each of us. Me. And you. God is wooing us in order to win our affections. And God won’t give up. Even on us.
We recognize that God has won a bit of our hearts today. God has pursued us and connected with us, and our faithful response includes taking time to put together care packages for our brothers and sisters who are homeless. We are acknowledging, and rightly so in our worship, that God has successfully won us over. Even just a little. These care packages are a great act of love. These are faithful responses that amaze Jesus, which is worship.
Faith springs up in suprising ways from surprising people. Roman centurions, enemies, Pagans, atheists, Muslims, Christians. Even us. God continues to pursue us in order to win us over. Bit by bit God’s relentless love wins out. And faithful responses happen. And Jesus is amazed.