Posted by: gbake783 | July 26, 2011

Luke 7:1-10

A mark of excellent literature is the author’s ability to weave varying levels of context into a story. When Tolkien writes of Bilbo, Frodo, and the  Ring, he’s commenting on human nature through a very detailed story. Great writing engages multiple contextual levels. And such is the case with Luke’s account in 7:1-10, the story of the thoughtful Centurion, which engages at least three different contextual levels.

In the first, Luke uses the account as a shoulder joint for his overall narrative. In chapter six we read Jesus’ sermon on the plain, which encourages us to act counter-intuitively: suffer joyfully, love your enemies, and stop judging. What gives Jesus the right to command us to change our entire way of thinking? Insert Luke 7:7-8, “Say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority . . . .” The Centurion – responsible for a hundred Roman soldiers’ training, readiness, and equipment – was the backbone of the Roman army. His words had the authority of Caesar. When a soldier fell out of line, he disobeyed not the Centurion, but Caesar. Christ, he reasoned, possessed that same type of authority from God. What right does Christ have to tell us how to live? He speaks with God’s authority.

The second level of context is the story itself. And in this story we see that Jesus and the Jews value very different things. The Jews reckoned the Centurion worthy. He was a kind, gracious, and thoughtful man. He was fond of the Jewish people and supportive of their religion. He even supported their synagogue project. The man demonstrated his thoughtfulness not just in his concern for his slave, but for Jesus’ relationship with the Jewish leaders – he understood that should Jesus come under his roof, Jesus would face ceremonial impurity. Although a loving, kind, generous, and thoughtful philanthropist, Jesus commended him for none of these things. The Centurion agreed, “I am not worthy to have you come under my roof” (7:6). Jesus commended the man for his faith – a faith that was more perceptive than any Jew Jesus had encountered to date.

We so often deceive ourselves – we convince ourselves that our actions make us acceptable to God. But as Isaiah says, our righteousness amounts to a pile of filthy rags. We so easily grow smug in self-righteousness as if we have something to offer the Almighty. Even though we would never say it, sometimes we act as though God is lucky to have us around.

The third level of context is telescopic – Luke tells us where the story is going. The faith of this Centurion foreshadows the faith of another, Cornelius, the first Gentile to receive the gift of the Spirit as recorded in part 2 of Luke’s apology to Theophilus (Acts 10-11). Matthew’s account spells out the eschatological elements even more clearly: “I tell you, many will come from the east and west and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:11-12). In fact, it’s always been God’s intention to dispense international blessing (Gen. 12:3) – He has the widest missionary heart. Do we share it?

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