Rev. Jeff Bacon
June 23, 2019
Let’s open our hearts together in prayer. Let us pray: Gracious and loving God, open our hearts and minds to your miraculous presence among us, and strengthen our faith. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
Muhammad Ali was in his prime, and as he was about to take off on an airplane flight, the stewardess reminded him to fasten his seat belt. He replied brashly, “Superman don’t need no seatbelt.” The stewardess quickly replied back, “Superman don’t need no airplane either.” Muhammad Ali fastened his seat belt.
Muhammad Ali was a powerful man and he thought that because of his power, he deserved respect. He was not humble and he was humbly put in his place, which we find funny. There’s a big difference between power that’s respected and humble authority that’s respected willingly.
Jesus had humble authority. In our gospel reading today, Jesus enters the town of Capernaum, a fishing village on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee that was home to Peter, Andrew, James, John and the tax collector, Matthew. Jesus is met by a group of Jewish elders sent by a Roman Centurion; a military commander who was in charge of 100 soldiers in Capernaum. The Roman Centurion built their synagogue and despite huge religious tension with the Romans generally, he has a good relationship with the Jewish people. The Centurion respects Jewish religious customs and to avoid the risk of Jesus becoming unclean by entering the home of a Gentile and perhaps even becoming defiled by the death of his servant, the Centurion sends some friends outside of his home to intercept Jesus. The friends speak on the Centurion’s behalf and convey to Jesus the Centurion’s respect for authority, and his faith in Jesus’ authority to make his dying servant well. Jesus is amazed at the faith of this humble, and respectful Centurion and his servant is miraculously made well. Jesus never actually meets the Centurion or his servant. There is no prayer, no laying on of hands, no instructions for the servant to become well, and not even an indication that the servant had faith. This miracle is recorded by Luke because of the gentile Centurion’s amazing faith – faith in a higher authority than the Centurion’s authority; faith in an even higher authority than the powerful Roman officers appointed over him. He had faith in Jesus, the Son of God.
Football players are huge: About 6 ½ feet tall, 300lbs, bulging muscles, with a helmet and sturdy armour. To physically oppose them would be a tremendous struggle, for these men have incredible power. But there’s another group of men on the football field: short, maybe 160lbs, no helmet, no armour, wearing striped shirts. All they have is a whistle. But when they tell one of the big players to, “Get off the field,” the big players obey, because the little men, the referees, have authority. Authority is more important than power!
Only twice in the gospels does Jesus commend a person for great faith: the Syrophoenician woman whose daughter Jesus heals from a distance, and the Centurion whose servant Jesus heals from a distance. Both are gentiles; one is a woman and the other is a man. God is available to all nationalities and to all cultures; to men and to women; to everyone.
Despite widespread Jewish conflict with the Roman authorities, some Centurions in the New Testament are spoken of favourably: the Centurion Cornelius was the first Gentile convert; later, as Jesus dies on the cross, it’s a Centurion who declares, “Truly this man was God’s Son;” and today, Jesus is amazed at the faith of a Centurion. Centurions understood the principle of authority; they expected authority to be respected and to have their commands followed; and they humbled themselves in the presence of higher authority. This centurion recognizes Jesus as a higher authority; the higher authority of God. Jesus humbly operates above the human hierarchies of higher authorities.
The Centurion sends two delegations to meet Jesus. The first delegation is the Jewish elders. They’re distinguished leaders in the synagogue at Capernaum, who suggest to Jesus that the Centurion is “worthy of having you do this for him.” But when Jesus nears the Centurion’s home, the Centurion’s friends convey that the Centurion is not worthy to have Jesus come under his roof. The Centurion is viewed by the local Jewish leaders as being worthy, but in the presence of Jesus, the Centurion considers himself unworthy, even though he lives his faith by caring for the Jewish people and his helpless and lowly servant. The Centurion considers himself unworthy, yet he has amazing faith and is confident in Jesus’ grace and power. The Centurion’s vested authority from the mighty Roman Empire is subordinate to his amazing faith in Jesus.
I read about a young woman who out of curiosity entered a little Presbyterian church one evening. She heard the gospel for the first time and became a Christian. Later, she heard God’s call for her to become a foreign missionary. She was the only daughter of a powerful multi-millionaire. Her parents were not Christians and when she told them of her decision to become a missionary, they disagreed and were certain they could quickly put a stop to her passing whim.
The girl was engaged to a successful businessman who was also not a Christian. When she approached him about hearing God’s call, he reacted similar to her parents. Sometime later her parents gave a social function to which they invited their wealthy, socially prominent, powerful friends. The parents told these friends about their problem, and asked them to help change their daughter’s mind.
That evening the daughter listened politely to the discouraging pleas of everyone at the party. Then, she stood up, went to the piano, and began playing and singing the classic old hymn: ‘Jesus, I my cross have taken, all to leave and follow thee. Destitute, despised, forsaken, thou from hence my all shall be.’
Her fiancé was deeply moved by her commitment. He walked over to her and said, “I didn’t know Jesus Christ could mean that much to any person. If he means that much to you, please pray that I can become his follower too.” Her prayer was answered. They were married and became missionaries together. Humble authority is best of all.
Our faith is based on the teaching of Jesus revealed to us in the Bible and made clear to us through the power of the Holy Spirit guiding us in the Way of Jesus. Our faith is in a humble authority that we can’t fully understand, but is a reality none-the-less. Our faith allows us to be the hands and feet of Christ, the Humble Authority in the world. Thanks be to God. Amen.