Second Weekend After Pentecost (C/RCL): “A Soldier’s Humility”
May 28-29, 2016
Holy Trinity Lutheran, Manasquan, NJ
It’s Memorial Day weekend; those who have died defending our country are especially in our thoughts and prayers, as are all who serve in the military. How fitting, then, that today’s Gospel highlights a soldier, a centurion. Who knows what a centurion is?
- “Captain of 100” would be accurate.
- Rome had legions, right? A legion was usually 6,000 infantry, foot soldiers. Each legion was made up of 10 cohorts of 600 men each. Each cohort wasmade up of 6centuria, or groups of 100 soldiers, commanded by a centurion. Centurions were usually foot soldiers who had come up through the ranks and had distinguished themselves by their bravery and battlefield presence. Centurions wore a distinctive helmet called a galea (Google the image!), topped with what looks like a plumed cock’s comb, except that instead of running front to back like a Mohawk, it runs side to side, from ear to ear. Often it was silver with color accents, but sometimes the feathers were red. It screamed, “Here I am!!”, which I’m sure was helpful to the men under the centurion’s command but may have made him a larger-than-necessary target in battle.
Look at the Gospel in the Celebrate insert (or look it up in the pew Bible). What questions do you have about the centurion or any other aspect of this story?
- Why is the story set in Capernaum? A Roman military detachment was located there . Earlier, in Luke 4, we hear of healings Jesus performed there – He cast out a demon from a man in the synagogue (Lk.4:31-37), “rebuked” Peter’s mother-in-law’s fever (Lk. 4:38-39), healed those sick with disease and cured others who were demon possessed (Lk. 4:40-41).
- Why does he send Jewish elders to be his advocate with Jesus, “asking him to come and heal his slave” (Lk. 7:3b)? (Could it be his awareness that Jews minimized contact with Gentiles? In 7:6c-7a he says, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you.” Interestingly – in St. Matthew’s and St. John’s account of this story, the centurion himself approaches Jesus.)
- Why are the elders so enthusiastically supportive of this Gentile’s request of Jesus? “He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” (Lk. 7:5b-5)
- Why does building the synagogue make him worthy of Jesus’ benevolence?
- Why do you think the centurion built the synagogue for them? Why was he so generous? (Remember: he’s a Roman soldier and therefore a pagan. Did he truly love the Jews of Caesarea? Was it a political decision of some kind? N.B. Centurions made about 20 times the salary of the infantrymen under their command. This came to about 5,000 denarii/year. The average day wage was 1 denarius or about 350/year.)
Initially the centurion sends the Jewish elders to Jesus to ask him “to come and heal his slave.” Why does he then send word that Jesus doesn’t have to come after all: “…for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof… But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.” (Lk. 7:6c-7b) Beloved, beloved words…. which I spoke as a child before going forward to receive Holy Communion.
Why was Jesus “amazed at [the centurion]”? “…[T]urning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” (Luke 7:9) (This healing foreshadows and sets the stage for Peter’s visit to the Roman centurion Cornelius in Acts 10. Peter preaches to Cornelius and the family and friends Cornelius had gathered in his home, and they are all baptized. Remember: the Book of Acts is sequel to the Gospel according to St. Luke.)
So what’s the big take-away of this story for you? It’s a weekend for potluck picnics and backyard BBQ’s, so here’s a smorgasbord of possibilities:
- The centurion doesn’t say, “I’m worthy.” He basically says to Jesus, “You are worthy. You have authority to heal. Please do.”
- How do we approach the Lord? Simply and humbly and trustingly saying, “Lord, I am not worthy…” or furiously trying to make an impossible case that we are worthy?
- Jesus heals, though He is physically absent. Let’s keep that in mind!
- The centurion is yet another potential “patron saint” for those of us who have not seen and yet believe. (Check out John 20:29.)
Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham