Our passage for this Sunday in “ordinary time” is anything but plain. We will see that the exemplary faith presented here should be “ordinary” within our relationship with God and neighbor.
Luke begins by telling us that Jesus has just finished “presenting these words among the people,” (which was his famous sermon on the plain) he then enters Capernaum (v1). He has just explained the ideal marks of a disciple. That a disciples should love both friend and enemy equally. In stark contrast to his negative welcome in his home town of Nazareth, Jesus is greeted warmly as a friend and with urgency in Capernaum. Observant readers of Luke’s gospel will notice that Jesus’ reputation precedes him all throughout Galilee. However, what Luke emphasizes is how that reputation is received. Jesus opponents “come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem” (5:17), they were also those who knew and taught the law (5:21), yet we see these challengers of Jesus hold little sway with how Capernaum’s local Jews received the rabbi.
Moreover, we also see the boundaries of ritual purity practiced in Christ’s day blurred and almost ignored by the local Jews who received Jesus. It is not only Jewish neighbors but also the Jewish elders (v3) of Capernaum who come to plead on behalf of a gentile! To make matters more complicated, this gentile is a Roman centurion. Yet the Jewish inhabitance hold him in high esteem and shamelessly plead for Jesus to come to the centurion’s aid proclaiming that he “loves our nation and has built our synagogue” (vv4-5). It would seem that Jesus is being asked to practice what he just breached in the beatitudes. One can just see Jesus’ opponents having an inner meltdown as they witness this blatant ignorance of purity laws as Jesus, a rabbi, headed off with his Jewish pals to the unclean house of an icky gentile and enemy of Israel.
Interestingly however, while Jesus was “not far from the house” (v6) the centurion sends servants to intercept Jesus with a message that seems out of overt respect for Jewish purity laws. “Lord, don’t be bothered. I don’t deserve to have you come under my roof. In fact, I didn’t even consider myself worthy to come to you. Just say the word and my servant will be healed” (vv6-7). This utterly impresses Jesus. But what impresses Jesus is not the centurion’s courtesy to avoid the impurity of contacting a Gentile and entering his home. Rather, what impresses Jesus is the substance of the centurion’s character. Where Jesus’ opponents might have seen purity laws appeased by the centurion, Jesus saw the man’s character. Jesus was impressed by the centurion’s compassion, humility, and trust that comprised his faith. Typical Jesus, being Lord and always looking upon the heart (1 Sam. 16:7).
What impresses Jesus here should be a startling revelation to the reader of Luke’s gospel. Not only is this the first time faith is displayed by someone outside the Jewish community, but this is the first time exemplary faith is displayed by anyone in Luke’s gospel. This radically illustrates that Christ’s ministry is also to those who are considered outside the social and political guidelines of traditional Judaism. It should then go without saying that the faith of the centurion that so impresses Jesus should then obviously be a faith we as hearers of the gospel should seek to understand and emulate. For it should be the desire of every disciple to have Jesus be astonished by their faith.
The nature of the centurion’s faith should be given attention by the preacher. First, the centurion’s faith is loving and trusting. It is out of love for his servant that he reaches out to Jesus, the only one who could bring true healing. It is a trusting faith in that the centurion does not need to see Jesus to believe in the authority of his power that he knows without uncertainty that Jesus can heal simply by the power of his word. This is in stark contrast to the demand for signs and wonders in other parts of Luke. The centurion does not have to see to believe, but believes without seeing out of love. Second, the centurion’s faith is a humble faith. He does not resume to come to Jesus on his own. He saw himself as unworthy for such an encounter (v7). Being both a gentile and a Roman centurion, he was an outcast and enemy to the Jewish people. However, being in the position he held, the centurion could have wielded his power to achieve his own ends, but he did not. Instead, the centurion shows both compassion and great humility in his request to Jesus.
All in all, the centurion displays the ideal faith of a disciple. With this passage being near the beginning of “ordinary time,” the preacher could remind their congregation that simply because something is ordinary, does not mean it is not important. Breathing, for example, is ordinary and common. It is so boring we do not even think about it. Yet, this ordinary act is crucial to our survival. Likewise, faith in Jesus Christ may seem ordinary to some, especially those disciples who have been following Jesus for a long while. However, we would do well to be reminded that such faith is crucial to our relationship with Jesus Christ and our own salvation. This ordinary reality should never cease to astonish us. In our grasping of such a faith, may it in turn astonish our Lord as he witnesses our lives.