The Marvel of Saving Faith
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him.
May 27, 2016, Words By: Joel Van Dyke, Image By:
There are only two places where the Bible tells us that Jesus is amazed. In our lectionary text this week, Jesus marvels at the faith of a Roman centurion. In the other occasion (Mark 6:6), Jesus is marveling at the unbelief that he experienced in Nazareth.
Our text this week introduces us to a soldier who understands that God’s power is at work in Jesus. He understands that Jesus is not limited by time or place. And we learn that Jesus is amazed. “When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith” (Luke 7:9).
What amazes Jesus about this soldier’s faith?
At first, the “elders of the Jews,” approach Jesus on the centurion’s behalf. They plead for the healing of his beloved servant, and implore Jesus to act based on the deservedness of the man. “This man deserves to have you do this because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” The elders, it appears, appeal more to the righteousness of the centurion than the goodness of Jesus.
The centurion, however, takes a different tact. He realizes that he cannot traffic in the currency of merit, and instead appeals directly to God’s goodness. “Therefore I didn’t even think myself worthy to come to you” (v. 7a). The centurion pronounces himself unworthy, to the point of contradicting the elders’ pronouncement of deservedness a few verses earlier. He has not sent messengers to Jesus because he is too proud to make his plea personally, but rather because he feels unworthy to have Jesus come under his own roof. The mediated message comes to Jesus in the form of “but say the word now, and my servant will be healed” (v. 7b). While it takes faith to believe that Jesus’ touch has healing power, it takes even greater faith to believe that his word has healing power— that he can heal from a distance.
As an afterthought, it seems, Luke reports simply that the servant is healed. When the messengers return, they discover a healthy servant. There’s no mention of what Jesus did to perform the miracle because that’s not the focus here. Luke wants us to be amazed by the centurion’s faith, just as Jesus was. Comparing the perspectives of the religious elders and the centurion, the Episcopal Priest Robert Capon refers to the “war between dullness and astonishment.”
In the light of the astonishing faith of the centurion, a religious outsider receives the grace of healing. What is earth shattering (happening over and over in the Gospel narrative) is that Jesus is engaged here again by a religious outsider. This man is a Gentile and has no claim to the God of Israel; however, he displays the kind of saving faith that causes Jesus to marvel.
The late Mike Yaconelli writes of a longing towards this kind of saving faith in the introduction to his book Dangerous Wonder: The Adventure of Childlike Faith,
Five years ago I decided to start listening again to the voice of Jesus and my life hasn’t been the same since. He has not been telling me what to do; He has been telling me how much he loves me. He has not corrected my behavior; He has been leading me into his arms. And He has not protected me from the dangers of living, He has lead me into the dangerous place of wild and terrifyingly wonder-full faith. Everyday I want to be in dangerous proximity to Jesus. I long for a faith that is gloriously treacherous.
At Street Psalms, we are privileged to serve incarnational urban leaders who, against all odds, live in dangerous proximity to Jesus and display terrifyingly wonder-full and gloriously treacherous faith. What they have taught us throughout the years is that God is neither limited nor limited by faith. It’s not the strength or perfection of one’s faith, but the object of faith that saves.
Joel Van Dyke
Director, Urban Training Collaborative