Luke 7: 1-10
Back on December 27, John Dickerson interviewed Stephen Colbert on “Face the Nation.” Dickerson asked him about his dream interview, and Colbert said that he would love to be able to interview Jesus. He joked about the questions he would ask. He also had a request that he said he would voice to Jesus if he could:: “Would you put in a good word with Your Dad for me?” After all, if we wanted to ask someone to put in a good word for us, what better to ask than Jesus, right? And who better to ask to intervene for us with God, right? And actually, isn’t that what Jesus has done? Right?
In fact, that is just what happens in today’s scripture reading. There are actually two requests for help, for asking others with connections to put in a good word on behalf of someone else. The first is this, from Luke 7: 1-3: After Jesus had finished all His sayings in the hearing of the people, He entered Capernaum. 2A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. 3When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to Him, asking Him to come and heal His slave. Jesus had just come from two dramatic healings: the healing of a leper, and the healing of a paralyzed man, whose desperate friends had unroofed the house Jesus was staying at and lowered the paralyzed man, sleeping mat and all, down in front of Jesus. The stories of these miraculous healings would have spread like wildfire, and gotten to the ears of this particular centurion. His business was to know what was getting the locals excited, so he could be sure to head things off and kept things cal. This news, however, would have held out promise – a particular slave, who mattered to the centurion was very ill. Perhaps, the centurion reasoned, Jesus would be willing to heal even a gentile. And so this centurion appeals to folks with good connections to Jesus, asking them, in effect, to put in a good word for him so that Jesus would respond, and come to heal this human being, this slave. The elders the centurion approached in turn approached Jesus:
4When they [the elders] came to Jesus, they appealed to Him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having You do this for him, 5for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” 6And Jesus went with them.... Here is when the centurion revealed his trust in Jesus – when he learned that Jesus was indeed coming, this is how the centurion responded: when He was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have You come under my roof; 7therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. 8For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” The centurion was willing to ask the elders to put in that good word; when it became clear that Jesus was indeed responsive, the centurion drew on his life experiences and adjusted his request. As a righteous, or God-fearing Gentile, the centurion knew that if Jesus actually came to and entered his house, Jesus would become ritually unclean. As a military officer in the Roman Empire, the centurion knew about giving orders. A soldier accused of disobeying the order of a superior officer in the Roman Army would face a court-martial. After the trial, which virtually always yielded a guilty verdict, the disobedient soldier would be stoned or beaten to death by his fellow soldier-comrades.
The centurion absolutely expected that any orders Jesus would care to give, any action Jesus would care to take, would be completed, whether or not Jesus was physically present. What an incredible statement of faith! 9When Jesus heard this He was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed Him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health. Whether we want to call this a belief in the power structure, or faith in Jesus Himself – either way, the centurion spoke in faith. He had no doubt that if Jesus gave the word, that slave would be healed. This God-fearing centurion had learned the lesson that the Creator cares for all created beings, whether slave or soldier, Roman citizen or person living in the occupied territory that Judah was in those times. He had had others put in a good word for him, and he knew Jesus had responded. He responded in humility – Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have You come under my roof; 7therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. He trusted in the intercession others made on his behalf, and he trusted that Jesus would respond to that request for healing. Others had received healing. He trusted that if he asked, his servant would receive the same gracious response.
When we pray for others, those we know and those we don’t know, we are putting in a good word for others. We know that God listens to the prayers of the righteous – but it is not because WE are so good that God listens – it is because Jesus died for us, to redeem us and save us, it is because on the third day He rose from the dead – it is because of our salvation that we can indeed intercede for others. And when we do intercede for others – and when we pray for ourselves as well – we know that God listens, and that somehow God will respond. We understand something that the centurion did not yet understand – we are not presuming when we come to Jesus in prayer. No – because of our salvation Jesus welcomes us. Jesus listens to us. Jesus comforts and consoles us. Jesus strengthens us. And often Jesus empowers US to be able to work in this world to make things better for those for whom we pray.
Speaking in faith for Christians should lead to acting in faith. The centurion acted in faith when he sent friends to Jesus saying that it wasn’t necessary for Jesus to physically come to lay hands on his slave – just say the word and my servant will be healed. The centurion was a soldier. We, however, are more than soldiers; we are ambassadors for Christ. 2 Corinthians 5: 17-20: 17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making His appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. We are to be ambassadors; when we are in right relationship with God, we can live into that call Paul also addressed this question with the Colossians in chapter 1:
19For in [Jesus] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through Him God was pleased to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of His cross. 21And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22He has now reconciled in His fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before Him— 23provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.
As people who have been reconciled to God, as people who are called to be ambassadors for Christ, I have a small challenge for us today, on Memorial Day weekend: Memorial Day is tomorrow. It is a day we set aside as a secular society to thank our veterans, both those who fought and returned, and those who fought and died in service to America. So thank a vet. Attend a parade tomorrow, or at least go to a cemetery, find a grave where a flag is planted, and put in a good word for that soldier. Better, act on behalf of our soldiers who are here, and are struggling with what they have experienced. There are many ways to do that: Go with Charlie Garafano and visit vets in the VA hospital in Lyons. Get involved with efforts to honor vets – in his May 25 column in the Star Ledger, Mark Di Ionno wrote about three people, Ted Romankow, 75, Stephan Siara, 37, and Andrew Gallietlli, 18, none of whom are vets but all of whom worked together to refurbish Veterans Memorial Park in Berkley Heights, as a way to honor their service. In Friday’s column Mark wrote about the combat-related death of Michael Patrick Burke, an Iraqi veteran who suffered from PTSD, who hung himself on October 21, 2015. The psychological wounds are hard to see, and very very real. Reach out to veterans who have come back from service who are struggling to adjust. Call 52waystoloveavet, one of the missions we supported this year through the art auction and walk-a-thon and ask how to help, if this touches your heart.
We ARE ambassadors for Christ. May we put in good words for others, and may we also speak in faith, knowing that God hears the prayers of the people He has made righteous through faith. May we remember to act on our faith, doing those things that make for God’s perfect shalom, until Jesus returns in glory. And even so, come soon, Lord Jesus. Amen.
Merriam-Webster definition of faith:
Full Definition of faith
plural faiths play \ˈfāths, sometimes ˈfāthz\
1 a : allegiance to duty or a person : loyalty b (1) : fidelity to one's promises (2) : sincerity of intentions
2 a (1) : belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) : belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion b (1) : firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2) : complete trust
3 : something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially : a system of religious beliefs <the Protestant faith>
Full Definition of trust
1 a : assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something b : one in which confidence is placed
2 a : dependence on something future or contingent : hope b : reliance on future payment for property (as merchandise) delivered : credit <bought furniture on trust>
3 a : a property interest held by one person for the benefit of another b : a combination of firms or corporations formed by a legal agreement; especially : one that reduces or threatens to reduce competition
4 archaic : trustworthiness
5 a (1) : a charge or duty imposed in faith or confidence or as a condition of some relationship (2) : something committed or entrusted to one to be used or cared for in the interest of another b : responsible charge or office c : care, custody <the child committed to her trust>