When Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him and saying, ‘Lord, my servant is lying at home paralysed, in terrible distress.’ And he said to him, ‘I will come and cure him.’ The centurion answered, ‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man 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.’ When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, ‘Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ And to the centurion Jesus said, ‘Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.’ And the servant was healed in that hour.
When Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever; he touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she got up and began to serve him. That evening they brought to him many who were possessed by demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick. This was to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah, ‘He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.’Matthew 8:5-17
So, Jesus has sat on the mountain and taught, outlining a new way of relating to God and our fellow human beings. Jesus has come down from the mountain, like Moses, bringing God’s love and power into our midst. Jesus has healed a member of the Jewish community. Today we read of Jesus healing a gentile. Not just a gentile, but a Roman, one of the greatest enemies of first century Jews. If the crowds were shocked at Jesus touching the Jewish leper, how much more profound must their shock have been when the same divine healing power was extended to a Roman officer?
For me, there are two key words in today’s reading: faith and authority.
No one can doubt the faith of the Roman centurion. How many of us have ever been able to demonstrate even half as much faith? We live in a modern ‘rational’ age where the simplicity of faith is constantly being challenged by the laws of science. We want to believe with a blind and trusting faith, but we constantly pull back from the cliff’s edge, and we constantly allow questions to get in the way. Just as we struggle with praying, so we struggle with following God in a spirit of blind and humble obedience, even though we may want to with our whole hearts.
And why should we try to let go and place ourselves in God’s hands? Because God created us in his own image and God loves us. It is as simple as that. We need to learn that all authority in heaven and on earth rests with God.
The problem with managing our way in and out of lockdown, or coping with isolation and shielding, or planning for the uncertain nature of the days to come, lies solely in our inability to trust God. We want to manage, cope and plan, but we want to do those things on our own terms. Yes, we want our churches to re-open and we want to gather in prayer and praise, but we want to do that on our own terms. Are we ready for God to say to us, Let’s just re-think that and see how it fits in my plan?
As we continue our journey through Matthew’s gospel in the coming weeks we are going to be presented with many such challenges.
Let us all pause now, pray to God and ask for his strength to trust in his teaching, in his power to restore and renew us, and in his power to lead us on new paths.