Summary: Popular culture says that good things come to those who deserve it. Jesus makes it clear that His grace works in the lives of those who don’t deserve it.
On the 10th of March in 2003 the then Australian Prime minister, John Howard, was visiting the New Zealand parliament in Auckland. The issue being discussed was the region’s response to the actions of Saddam Hussein.
Outside parliament around 600 anti-war protesters whistled, thumped drums and set fire to flags. They also hurled tomatoes onto the steps of the parliament building in a show of anger over John Howard’s support for US-led military action against Iraq.
Kim Beasley was the Australian opposition leader at the time. Despite being a fierce opponent of John Howard, Kim Beasley said, “No Prime Minister deserves to be treated in this way; he must always be accorded the greatest respect”.
We often think like that, don’t we? Certain people deserve to be treated in a certain way because of who they are, or what they have done. This is not just a modern day thought process. It is also a reality that existed in the days of Jesus. Let’s turn in our Bibles to our text for today.
Can you see how it works? In the mind of the Jewish elders here is someone who deserves to have special attention. Listen to the way the elders talk about the Centurion.
We have a wonderful citizen in our community. He’s a Centurion in the Roman Army and he has a servant whom he loves dearly – this servant is on his death bed. This Centurion is not a Jew. Yet he – out of his personal finances – has built a synagogue in our town. He didn’t do it for political reasons … he is a man who loves our nation. Jesus, look at all that he has done, this Centurion deserves to have some attention.
That’s their line of argument isn’t it? The Centurion has lived a certain life and acted a certain way, now he has earned the right to be given certain privileged treatment. That is the thinking which is going on in this passage. And it is a thinking that is still widely held today.
If you do good to others, good should come back to you.
Blessings should come to those who deserve it.
Privileges should be earned.
That is how many people think. But let’s stop and think what would happen if we applied that sort of thinking to our relationship with Jesus.
If we were to apply to be a part of God’s family on the basis of what we have done, would our works be sufficient? And since the Jews seem pretty impressed with the standard of the Centurion let’s use his actions as a benchmark.
How many of us have used our finances to build a synagogue lately? OK. Let’s lower the benchmark. How many of us are setting aside 10% of our income for kingdom work? Are we giving enough away? Are we still quite materialistic?
What about other areas? The Centurion in our passage had the full respect of the elders and they were begging for a favour. How many of us have had elders of a church begging that Jesus would do a massive favour for you? Any takers?
And this Centurion fellow – he was the sort of person who was dignified, and full of integrity. He had 100 men in his unit who did everything he said because they respected him. How many here today can claim to have that sort of respect and integrity?