I'm So Ancient Roman-y It's Not Even Funny!
When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”
Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”
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. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment.
Maybe I’m just weird. Maybe, it’s because I’m weird and overanalyze things, but this story from Matthew has always puzzled me. What did the centurion do that was soooo great that Jesus said, “I have not found anyone in all of Israel with such great faith”?
I mean John the Baptist was in Israel. You know, he went to prison for his faith and all... This soldier dude just said, “Come heal my servant. You don’t need to come to my house.” Lots of people were asking for healing and they all believed that Jesus could do it. What was so special about what this guy said?
This is one of those questions that I have annoyed a lot of church people with through the years…
I find it ironically funny that no one wanted to join me in deeply considering this question. Often, in irritation, people would tell me to “just have faith and quit questioning everything!” (Uhhh… that’s what I was trying to do but I need to understand what faith is.)
I believe the story can best be understood when we put it in the context of ancient Roman religion and our own religious tendencies to desire control over the chaos in our world.
So lets start with an extremely simplified explanation of Roman religion based on what I learned in English lit classes:
In ancient times, most everyone believed in multiple gods.
Their gods were petty and vindictive. Certain gods were in control of certain aspects of daily life. There was a god of war, love, home and family, harvest, and so on. If you angered a god, he or she would make things go badly for you in the area they controlled.
Remember the stories of Ulysses from middle school? Romans believed that he was punished for angering the gods and had to travel for 10 years to get home after the Trojan war.
Hearing stories like these, led ancient Romans to live in constant fear of angering a god. They had idols in their homes that they prayed to; they ate meals in honor of gods; they went to temples; they offered sacrifices; poured out libations; burned incense; had festivals; special dances; and all kinds of things, all to try to please, impress, and earn favor from these gods.
Sounds crazy, right?
We are enlightened. We understand how the world works and why seasons change. I doubt you can find anyone that thinks winter is brought on by Hades taking a beautiful daughter of a goddess to live with him in the underworld for 6 months out of every year. So, we are nothing like the ancient Romans in our beliefs.
Until we are faced with situations that are uncontrollable, that is. How do we react to sickness, relationship problems, the economy, natural disasters, evil, waiting for something, or uncertainty?
Well, I don’t know about you, but I like to think that I react to those situations with unwavering faith. However, reality paints quite a different picture.
Let’s take my present situation of trying to sell my house and buy another one. This is not a bad situation at all. It is a completely normal part of life that most people deal with at some point. I want to just calmly go through the process.
Except that I can’t make it happen on my time table! I wanted to be into a new house by mid-July so that I could enjoy my last summer with my younger two sons at home. (one is graduating college next year and the other is in the Army Corps of Cadets and will be spending his summers in training.)And through a long series of events, it hasn't happened yet.
So, I began trying a lot of super holy sounding tricks to try to manipulate God into working this out for me. Now, just to be clear, a lot of the things I have been doing are actually really good things that I should do. The problem is, that, deep down, my true attitude in them was all about trying to manipulate God into doing what I wanted.
The easy test to show if I'm being manipulative is my prayer life:
Am I trying to listen or am I ranting? Do I rely on God for strength or give him a list of requests? Do I reason out why I deserve things or do I ask and trust that he will work? Am I proud or humble?(ugggh!)
Deep down I’m often not very interested in listening to God or getting to know him better, I’m more interested in getting what I want and in controlling the uncertainty of my world.
Which brings me back to the Centurion: This man was a Roman soldier in charge of other soldiers. He was immersed in the culture of manipulating gods. If he had accepted Jesus’ offer to come to his house, this would have given the soldier opportunity to serve him. He could offer Jesus fine food and wine and attempt to impress him with tales of battles that he had fought. That’s what typically happened in Roman religion when a god walked among people.
But this Roman soldier, who was used to giving commands, recognized that he had nothing to offer Jesus. He recognized that he couldn’t impress Jesus or make him do anything.
He didn’t even try to take up Jesus’ time. He basically said, “Jesus, I know if you want to do this, all you have to do is say the word.” It was a simple acknowledgment of the power Jesus has and the humility we should approach him with.
WOW!!! Think about that for a while!
I have been a follower of Jesus for many years. I know him. I have felt his presence in my life. I know that he loves me and he will be with me no matter what.
I’m humbled and embarrassed by how quickly I try to control him in order to get what I want. So much so that as I wrote that sentence, a part of me said: “now can you make my house sell and the perfect house come on the market at a really good price and no one else take it?!!!!”
Faith doesn’t come naturally. It is a conscious decision to rest in what I know to be true about God. My nature wants some way to make things happen. I don’t want to wait. But I also know enough to know that God is still at work and he will get me through this. It definitely won’t be how I plan it or on my time table, but he has good things for me and they aren’t as much about what house I end up in as they are about how I walk with him.
Blessings my friends...please continue this discussion!!!
*I know that it is a good thing to be persistent in our prayers. In my wrong attitude, sometimes I resort to thinking that if I ask enough times, that I will make God do what I want. It seems stupid when I write it out, but sometimes I'm just desperate to fix things that I have no control over.