April 3 lesson: Renewed Health
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Spring Quarter: The Gift of Faith
Unit 2: The Gift of Faith
Sunday school lesson for the week of April 3, 2016
By Dr. Hal Brady
Lesson Scripture: Luke 7:1-10
“I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith” (key verse Luke 7:9). These words of Jesus make all of us sit up and take notice. For there is not any of us who does not long for a greater faith.
Who was this fortunate person about whom Jesus spoke in our scripture lesson? He was a Roman centurion, the equivalent of a Company Sergeant Major, a gentile, a believing outsider, and a person who never actually shows up in the story.
Jesus is now in Capernaum, the city thought to be the base of his operation. In chapter six of Luke’s Gospel, we are told that Jesus has just delivered the Sermon on the Plain. Of course, this sermon is much like the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, even though they are set in different places.
But back to the centurion! The fact that he was a military man would make him among the wealthy in society. Somehow or other, he has come to appreciate what Jesus has been doing. This centurion has a slave near death. Consequently, he sends a delegation of Jewish elders to ask Jesus to heal this slave. Now, these emissaries not only bring the man’s request, but they also lobby for him, stating that he is worthy of aid. He has contributed to the building of the local synagogue. Evidently, this centurion loves Israel, which may mean that he respects the nation.
As scholars suggest, the question raised at this point presents itself at two levels: Will Jesus minister to someone outside of Israel, and will he minister to someone of wealth?
So Jesus turns to go to the centurion’s house when a second delegation shows up. They report the response of the centurion in the first person, indicating that they are speaking for him. The centurion’s message declares that he is unworthy to even have Jesus enter his home. He does not want to trouble the teacher but only wants him to meet his slave. Understanding Jesus’ authority, he knows that if Jesus just issues the order, his slave will be healed. And to make his point, the centurion uses his own role as a man of authority. All he needs to do is issue an order and it is obeyed.
At this point, Jesus is amazed that a Gentile has such faith. The fact is that this Gentile’s faith is more perceptive and sensitive than anything Jesus has seen in Israel. Without doubt, Jesus is impressed both by the centurion’s humility and his understanding of Jesus’ authority (power to heal from a distance).
In reality, it is not really a question of power, but of authority. Luke’s story has already given account of Jesus healing lepers, a paralyzed person and a man with a “withered hand.” Jesus has already exorcized demons and been credited with healing everyone people bring to him. Consequently, the issue Luke brings up explicitly in our lesson today is about the “authority” of Jesus. The centurion recognizes that Jesus has authority from God to heal his servant. And such authority does not require Jesus to touch or even see the slave.
As scholars make clear, God has given Jesus the authority to use God’s power and to represent God in the world. This is the central point of the story. Following on the heels of the Sermon on the Plain, this story is the guarantee that the teaching in the sermon is the will of God. Thus, Jesus has authority to wield the power of God in the world, so that readers must accept the teaching in the preceding sermon as God’s will.
In a closing note, the scripture lesson affirms that the healing takes place, just as the centurion has anticipated. And as we know, the authority of Jesus and the presence of faith make for a winning combination.
The Centurion’s Amazing Faith
As we have been old, the main character (other than Jesus) of this story never appears directly. We only hear descriptions of him and get messages from him. Yet Jesus says he has a faith superior to everyone he has met in his ministry.
Obviously, the centurion has heard of Jesus’ reputation as a healer. This is no surprise because Luke has been presenting healing as a part of Jesus’ ministry almost from the beginning. In addition, a person charged with keeping the peace would have kept in touch with such events.
So this centurion does not view the healing power of Jesus as any kind of threat. He deems it to be genuine, so genuine that he is willing to ask the community leader to appeal to Jesus on his behalf. Simply stated, he wants Jesus to heal his slave.
As previously mentioned, what stands out about this centurion’s faith is that it is an expression of his confidence that Jesus has the authority to use God’s power. Other people had come to Jesus for healing. Perhaps they thought that Jesus was close enough to God that God would grant him the ability to heal.
The centurion’s faith, however, is beyond that. He sees Jesus not simply as a person with God’s power to heal. Rather, he sees Jesus as the representative of God who has been granted God’s authority. For Luke, this is key. Not only does this place of authority grant Jesus power to heal, it also authorizes his teaching. And at the end of Luke’s Gospel, Luke will show that Jesus has the authority to grant salvation to those with faith. Certainly, one of Luke’s goals is for his readers to emulate the faith of the centurion.
The Faith of an Outsider
Here comes the shocker! This Roman centurion is not one of the super-religious people of the day. He simply represents the believing outsider.
If I were choosing examples of great faith, I imagine I would point to those who were very active and religious. The “Church Person of the Year” types. Wouldn’t you? But not so with Jesus. Jesus said, “Not even in Israel (among God’s chosen people), have I found such faith as in this Roman centurion.”
Now, the church which Luke originally writes for is comprised of mostly Gentiles with some Jewish members. Prior to our scripture lesson, it is clear that Jesus had spent most of his time with fellow Jews. They had been the objects of his healing and the context for his teaching. But in this story the hero is a Gentile. And beyond being a Gentile, he is a Roman.
According to scholars, Jews who read Luke would still be feeling the loss of the Temple in Jerusalem. Consequently, for those readers, the centurion’s office represents the often repressive Roman rule. Yet he comes to Jesus. And he comes in a rather humble way, sending delegates that he thinks would be more acceptable to Jesus.
Here Luke emphasizes the goodness of the centurion. The leaders of the city tell Jesus that he loves their people (rather than being oppressive or cruel) and that he had even built them a synagogue. Therefore, he is worthy to receive Jesus’ help. The picture is of an “attractive outsider.”
It is important to remember that in Luke’s day there were lingering questions in the church about how Gentiles were to be received into the churches where there were Jews who continued to keep the laws. Therefore, Luke paints a portrait of a centurion outsider of unique kindness. Why, even Jews outside the church see him as worthy of receiving the gifts of God that Christ brings forth.
Our Faith in Jesus
Even though the centurion is an outsider, he has the kind of faith that Luke wants his readers (including us) to imitate. While his faith may not be fully formed, it is a faith that recognizes that Jesus possesses and is authorized to use God’s power. To be sure, Jesus’ authority is much broader than the centurion knows, but he embodies a key element of our faith. In the centurion’s affirmation of the authority of Jesus, Luke assures the readers that the teaching Jesus has just given in the Sermon on the Plain is the will of God. Centrally important, we now see Jesus as the One authorized to reveal God’s will and, therefore, his teaching is to be accepted as God’s will.
Specifically in the story, Jesus has the power to heal. But as Luke’s Gospel moves forward, we will see that the healing power of Jesus goes beyond just removing physical maladies. In reality, those healings are simply demonstrations of greater powers, especially of the power to heal our relationship with God. Though we have harmed our relationship with God, Jesus is authorized to forgive and so to heal our relationship with God.
Again, Jesus is authorized and given the power to grant God’s forgiveness of salvation. This, of course, is the Good News, both for us and all others as well.
In conclusion, an important notation is that the centurion’s faith in Jesus was used for the good of someone else. The lesson is that we will also use our faith in Jesus for the benefit of others.
“I tell you,” said Jesus, “I have not found so great a faith in all Israel.”
- Have class members discuss what they have learned about the faith of the centurion.
- Why did Jesus call the centurion’s faith the greatest faith he had encountered?
- What can the class do practically to help in the healing of others?