The Soldier in Me, Thinking about the Centurion

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help.  “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”
Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”
The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.  For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.  I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.  But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment.

  • Matthew 8:5-13

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable.  “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited.  If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place.  But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests.  For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

  • Luke 14:7-11

“I just returned from our nation’s capital where I was privileged to spend time with many of the highest ranking officers in the military, stationed at the Pentagon.  If you have ever wondered if there is anyone in the upper echelon of the military who loves Christ and desires to walk with Him, wonder no longer.  Many of these men and women are magnificent models of strong Christian commitment who frequently put their faith on the line.  I have returned home thanking God for these genuine disciples of Christ, modern-day ‘saints in Caesar’s household.’”

  • Charles R. Swindoll, The Finishing Touch

In a way, this post has been brewing for a while.  I am working my way through the Breathe New Testament.  It is an audio dramatization of the NLT with many famous people as voice contributors.  When I listened to Luke 14, I wrote a note that I should write about the experience that I had regarding that passage at the Engineer Ball in Heidelberg, West Germany in 1978.  But then, our Associate Pastor preached a sermon on the “Heart of Faith”, using the story of the centurion’s faith as his text.  As such, I felt the urge to write and post this early.

Even though the Scripture from Luke is the second one quoted above, I was taught this concept in my officer training, besides reading it in Scriptures over the years.  When you went to a formal dining event, you went to the center of the table to look for your name.  That is where the officer of least rank and time in grade would sit.  In not finding your name, you then moved left or right until you found you name.  At the head of the table would be the commander and to his right would be the wife of the honored guest or next in command.  At the far end of the table would be the commander’s wife with the honored guest or the next in command at her right.  In looking at everyone at the table, you could see the pecking order of the battalion, or whatever military unit it was.  Thus, you humbly looked for your name at the lowliest position and then moved to a place of higher honor, unless you knew that you were the dreaded “junior officer,” with a few responsibilities of being the lowest on the totem pole.

In 1978 at the Engineer Ball, there were five generals at the head table.  The main dining room of the Heidelberg Officer’s club had to open their side wing for there to be enough room for all the guests.  Every Engineering officer in the US Army in Europe was there with their wives, and a few that flew in from the US.  For the most part, each battalion sat at one large, very long table.  I was a First Lieutenant.  The battalion had maybe 10-12 Second Lieutenants and I had time in grade over a few of the First Lieutenants, but when I went to the center of the table, I saw my name on the plate and my wife’s name next to me.  I had been seated at the lowest of the low positions.  As Jesus said about the person who had to move due to a more honored guest showing up, I felt humiliated.  The other “butter bars” (2nd Lieutenants have a single bar insignia in gold, thus the derogatory epithet of butter bar, compared to a 1st lieutenant’s silver bar.), they asked why I was not being duly honored.  That made the humiliation even worse.  But my loyal and loving wife chirped back to them, “My husband is part of tonight’s entertainment.  It doesn’t hurt the conversation as much, if someone leaves early, unnoticed, from the middle of the table.”  This may not have been believed, but the subject was changed.  And if they had thought about it, the battalion commander’s wife, at the honored position opposite her husband, was the leader of the entertainment group known as the “Sophisticated Ladies and Friends,” me being one of the “friends,” actually the comic-relief friend.  After the meal, I didn’t stay seated long, rising to go backstage, and thus avoiding further embarrassing conversation.

But, as for the faith of the centurion, his faith is a marvel, even for someone who understands military decorum and the respect for the uniform or position.  I make that distinction, due to many officers not living up to the uniform that they wore.  Out of uniform, they would not be due any respect at all, but, as a wise old officer told me, “Even if you know the higher ranking officer to be the biggest jerk on the face of the earth, you salute the US flag on his shoulder.”

The traditions in the military might share their roots with that of the centurion.  The genie may have coined the phrase when he told Aladdin, “Your wish is my command,” but we were taught to never wish for anything our loud.  If you did, your men would take that as a command.  I rarely commanded the men to do anything.  I told the sergeants what the mission was, and they barked the commands.  But once, I wished out loud, and my men did something illegal, allegedly, in order to make that wish come true.  The centurion had that kind of authority.

With that in mind, I can see how the centurion could understand that all Jesus had to do was to give the word, and the centurion’s servant would be healed, but the healing from a great distance adds to the faith that the centurion had.  First, he understood that Jesus had ‘authority’ to heal, but many went to Jesus to have Jesus touch them.  The woman who had been bleeding for far too long reached out to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment.  In Acts, people got into favorable positions so that the shadow of Peter would pass over them and they would be healed.  But the centurion had faith beyond his military training and his understanding of authority.  The centurion understood that God is everywhere, and that the healing did not have to be done in close proximity.  The centurion believed in a bigger God than did the Jews that reached out to touch Jesus.

And what about his statement that he did not deserve to have Jesus under his roof?  The centurion was a commander of a group of 100 men, thus the name centurion.  The pastor said in his sermon that an Army Captain commanded 100 men.  He was off by a little.  I was part of an Army engineering company and served as “permanent acting commander” so that the commander could disappear whenever he liked, and he daily ‘liked.’  I had between 160 and 180 men under my “command.”  But the centurion was a humble man in a foreign land.  He understood that the Jews hated their Roman captors.  He understood that they thought of the Romans as being unclean.  In respect of those who lived in the land, those who the centurion was sent there to subjugate, he knew that Jesus was their hero, maybe not fully understanding Jesus as the Son of God.  He showed respect to those to whom he subjugated by not wanting Jesus to enter the home of an unclean man.  And he went to one of those subjugated people to ask for help that could only come from God.

Indeed, the centurion was a humble man, yet one given great honor and position.  And the centurion’s faith goes far beyond a few words saying, “Say the word and he will be healed.”

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.


Add yours →

  1. April 27, 2020 — 9:05 am

    Great words, Mark. I also am amazed by the centurion’s faith.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love your Army stories!

    Liked by 1 person

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