Friday Focus: The Chain of Command
Jesus may really have gone too far this time. He’s been reaching out to tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, even Samaritans. But in this week’s gospel, it looks like Christ is stretching the limits of tolerance to the breaking point. At the urging of the elders, he responds to an urgent call for help from one of his country’s occupiers and overlords… a Roman centurion. Is it a set-up? Is it a trap?Rome had been at war for hundreds of years. Its soldiers fought from the highlands of Scotland to the cataracts of the Nile. You didn’t get to be a centurion by polishing your brass. War was a bloody, brutal, hand-to-hand affair. You got to be a centurion by being very, very bloody and very, very brutal. So what a shock when one of Rome’s veteran warriors cries out for help from the gentle Jesus. But pedigree or profession have never been obstacles to Christ’s love. And he hurries to aid the centurion’s critically ill servant.
But before Jesus can reach the scene, he is stopped by a message from the centurion, proclaiming one of the most powerful declarations of faith ever uttered: Lord… I am not worthy to have you come under my roof… but only speak the word and let my servant be healed. This gentile, this soldier, schooled only in war, expresses a truth that had evaded the greatest intellects of Israel: Jesus Christ, God and man, has the power of life and death at his command. His divine power does not require any laying on of hands, incantations or ceremonies. His will, even at a distance, is sufficient to answer any prayer. The centurion then adds a brilliantly concise rationale for his request: I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; I say to one, ‘Go’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes.
This rugged veteran doubtless was ignorant of theology. But he did understand the chain of command. He lived by it. And he immediately recognized authority and responsibility when he saw them. Through reputation and perhaps even through his own observation, he knew exactly where Jesus fit into the command structure of heaven and earth. Jesus Christ is Lord. And that is the greeting the centurion uses to hail him. But in this case, “Lord” means infinitely more than the title of some petty princeling. In this context, the attribution means nothing less than an acknowledgement of the divine power of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
We have just completed a whole series of gospel readings from John where Jesus is vigorously asserting his divinity. This gospel is different. It is the centurion who proclaims the divinity of Jesus. It is Christ’s turn to be amazed at this humble profession of faith, expressed so confidently and from such an unlikely source.
Would Jesus be amazed by your faith? What have you done to amaze him lately? Let’s take this moment to acknowledge his power, to thank him for his blessings and ask his help with the fears, challenges and opportunities of our day. He always answers prayers, whether on the road from Capernaum or on the street where you live. Ask him… to say but the word. He will. He loves you. All is at his command.