Setting the stage:
Jesus is in the beginning of his ministry. Fresh. Optimistic. Sharing high-sounding principles to what most people might consider a low-brow audience.
One day he is interrupted by the arrival of elders from a near-by town. They are Jewish leaders. The strange thing about the situation is that they have been sent by a Roman Centurion to intercede on the behalf of his servant, for healing.
The elders waste no time. They interrupt Jesus, testifying about the quality of the character of this Centurion.
“He is a friend of our nation. He even built us a synagogue,” they tout.
Most Romans were considered by the Jews to be conquering terrorists–not that different from ISIS in our day. So for the elders of a Jewish town to bear testimony for a Roman Centurion was not only peculiar, but inspirational.
Jesus drops what he’s doing and heads off toward the servant.
Then another strange thing happens. The Centurion rethinks his position. He obviously has a keen mind, and realizes that if Jesus enters his home–the domicile of a Roman–he could ruin his ministry for all time. It would be a disgrace to be in the house of a Gentile, and Jesus would be considered unclean.
So he suggests that Jesus just say the word, proclaiming the healing. The Centurion cites that he lives by commands all the time.
Jesus is astounded. Jesus learns from him, and says he has “never seen so great a faith in Israel.”
So Jesus says the word, and the servant is healed.
It’s a beautiful story. It lets us know several things.
1. The Gospel is not a Jewish Gospel.
2. It is possible for people of all races to get along as long as they show respect to one another.
3. The power in faith is in always simplifying your belief instead of complicating it.
But let us consider a possible scenario:
Such a man as the Centurion certainly, in three year’s time, moved up in promotions. Because he got along so well with the occupied people, he would be very valuable to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. There would be a very good chance he would end up in Jerusalem.
In the Holy City, he would have been given authority and respect, and placed in charge of difficult situations–maybe a predicament like carrying out a capital punishment during Passover week–because we are told that there is a Centurion at the cross.
Just for the sake of discussion–what if it was the same man? What if he arrived at his job early that morning and discovered that he was supposed to escort a prisoner to Golgotha–three of them, actually–and crucify them before six o’clock that night?
What if he was shocked to find that one of them was Jesus, the young man who had healed his servant three years earlier?
What should he do? His heart is torn apart. Yet to try to rig an escape would be complete death for Jesus, himself and many other innocent people.
What is left to him?
The keen mind is set in motion. The Centurion realizes they’ve already taken Jesus and beaten him, and that the Temple guards had cruelly mistreated him. There’s only one thing left for him to do–a single mission to honor the one who healed his servant. He tries to make the end easier.
After all, somebody gave the command for Simon of Cyrene to carry his cross.
Someone allowed John and his mother, Mary, to be near the foot of the cross to listen to his words and encourage him.
Someone kept the soldiers from tearing his Jesus’ apart, and instead, gambled for it–with him possibly winning the prize.
Someone knelt down, and as they nailed his hands, tenderly looked in his eyes, to comfort him.
Somebody asked them to be careful when they dropped the cross in its place.
Somebody grabbed a long reed and put vinegar and medication on it for him to drink when he was thirsty.
There was compassion at the cross.
And if it was the same Centurion, he did the best with what he had, to make things better than they might be.
Maybe that’s the definition of faith–doing the best with what we have, to make things better than they might be.
And when the Earth shook, the skies darkened and Jesus took his last breath, could it have been the same Centurion who looked up at his friend on the cross, and said, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”
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