Summary: A great faith is unselfish, unassuming, and unwavering.
What makes for a great athlete? It’s more than athletic ability isn’t it? There have been plenty of people who could run fast and jump high who never made it in the big leagues. It’s because they either weren’t team players or their work ethic was lacking. While others were willing to put hours in at the gym, these slackers thought that their athletic ability alone would carry them through. And they got upset and finally quit when coaches suggested they work harder.
Have you ever thought of what makes for a great faith? As Christians we should each be striving to have such a faith, and yet could it be that we have contented ourselves with a “mediocre” Toyota-Corolla-faith that will get us to heaven, but not a Dodge-Viper-faith that will dazzle along the way? What makes for such a great faith? It’s a faith that is unselfish, unassuming, and unwavering. It’s the faith that a Roman centurion demonstrated in our Gospel lesson this morning. I want to share his story with you from the perspective of a Jewish leader who was his friend.
Shalom! My name is, well it doesn’t really matter what my name is because this true story isn’t about me. It’s about my friend, the Roman centurion. What was his name? Well I’m not going to tell you that either because my friend, the centurion, would insist that this story is really about Jesus and not about him.
While I grew up in Capernaum, a nice little town on the Sea of Galilee some 200 km north of Jerusalem, my friend, the Roman centurion, did not. We never found out where he was from, but all we thought we needed to know about him was that he was from the dreaded Roman government. As a commander of a hundred hardened Roman soldiers, his job was clear: keep us in line! And the Romans did that with a brutal efficiency which made us pray every day for God to clear them out.
But there was something different about this new centurion. He actually took an interest in us as a people. He treated us with respect and even wanted to learn more about our religious ways. At first we thought he was just doing this to win our favor. But not only did he end up professing faith in the God of Abraham, he actually built us a place of worship called a synagogue! Just think of how amazed and grateful you would feel if an important official, like the head of the RCMP, not only became a member of your congregation, but also paid for the building of your new church!
You see, this is the first thing that makes for a great faith. A great faith is unselfish. This centurion could have kept his wealth and built himself a wonderful mansion overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Instead he spent it on a house of worship. And sure, while he got to benefit from attending the worship services that went on there, we all knew that this centurion could be relocated at any time. In that sense there wasn’t really much in it for him to build the synagogue.
The centurion was a kind man, but this didn’t mean he didn’t have hardships. In time, one of the centurion’s favorite slaves became very sick. What struck me was how concerned the centurion was about his slave. I mean as a man of wealth he could afford to buy another slave if this one died. So why fuss? Well, because this centurion was a man of faith. And as I said before those with great faith are unselfish. And so this centurion showed his unselfish concern for his slave when he did everything he could to save him. But the doctors were no use.
That’s when we received word that Jesus of Nazareth was on his way back to Capernaum. Jesus had already healed a demon possessed man in our synagogue. And there was another royal official from Capernaum whose son Jesus had healed just by saying the word even though he had been 40 km away in the town of Cana at the time! So our Roman centurion was sure that Jesus could help, but he was reluctant to go and ask for help himself. And so he sent a number of us religious leaders from Capernaum. Well, we were happy to do this for the man. After all he had done so much for us! And so when we found Jesus we pleaded with him to heal the servant, pointing out how the Roman centurion was deserving of this favor.
I found out later how my centurion friend was embarrassed that we had put it this way. In fact when Jesus did agree to go with us to his home, the centurion sent out more of his friends to intercept Jesus before he arrived. Through his friends he told Jesus that he was not deserving of having Jesus come under his roof, nor did he even feel worthy to meet Jesus himself in person. And no, this wasn’t just the Roman centurion acting humble so as to ensure that Jesus would help. He really felt undeserving of any attention Jesus was giving to him. This is another thing that makes for a great faith—it’s unassuming.