Summary: How can we have faith since we are at such a distance from the days of the Apostles?
The culture and history in the Bible are in the distant past. How can we have faith in God when the stories we read are so far from us?
Let’s understand that distance does not have to diminish faith may enhance it.
Let’s look at Luke 7:1-10 and see how one circumstance of distance was described by Jesus as “such great faith.”
What was a Centurion?
First, he was the enemy. Jesus had taught to love our enemies. The Romans had occupied Judea. They were hated for their high taxation and brutality. This may be why the centurion sent a delegation of local Jewish leaders on his behalf, probably thinking that he had no access to Jesus. Secondarily, a centurion was an officer in the Roman army, commanding a century, about a hundred men — sometimes double, even up to a thousand men. Third, this particular centurion was compassionate. He had been kind to the Jewish population at Capernaum and had even funded their synagogue and now he was kind and caring towards his slave. Like Naaman the Syrian, this healing takes place at a distance.
What was the Master-Slave Relationship?
The word translated softly in some Bibles as servant is actually the Greek word for slave. In ancient Rome, slaves were treated as property not people and were often abused sexually, corporally, tortured and could even be executed at will. The upside was that slaves often held high positions such as accountants and doctors. They could own private property and even become freed slaves under merciful masters. Like Naaman the Syrian General who came to Elisha for healing, the centurion responded positively to ministry of Jesus. The centurion’s care of his slave was not universal. We don’t know if his concern was practical or real compassion. It was not uncommon for a genuine friendship to develop between master and slave.
Why the Jewish Elders?
It was common for Jews not to have much to do with gentiles. However, it was often the practice of Roman overlords to adopt the local religion. The centurion’s act of building the local synagogue could also have been a move to gain political favor. The centurion knew he was unworthy, even though the Jews had advertised his gifts and good deeds to them. It was perhaps more than just his gentile status. A soldier often lives with guilt and regrets. He may have been genuinely humble about his personal sins. The elders were probably not supportive of Jesus, but cooperated with the centurion. They thought he was deserving because of the good he had done. The centurion did not.
What was the Centurion’s Faith?
The gentile centurion had the faith that much of Israel lacked. He came boldly for healing not because of who he was, but because of who Jesus is. Our unworthiness does not prevent our right to pray. We pray not because we are worthy, not because of all the good things we have done for the world, but because of who God is. The centurion’s faith was based upon hearing only of Jesus. He recognized Jesus’ authority and trusted it, something that Israel did not. The gentile was a distance from Jesus both culturally and in miles. It was his faith that overcame the distance. How many of us are distanced by others, yet Jesus is there for us too.