READINGS: Psalm 96: 1-9 John 7: 1-10
There is a word that is thrown around more and more these days it seems. The word is “entitlement” and it usually seems to refer to those who believe they are owed something because of someone’s actions or status (whether that status was achieved or handed to them at birth).
This word seems to be lived out through many of the people that we encounter in our daily lives. And if we are completely honest with ourselves, don't we hear ourselves grumble and complain about not getting what we think is owed to us.
It is often frustrating and even more often ugly to witness. So when we read that the Jewish elders approach Jesus and ask him to heal the servant of a centurion because the centurion (not the servant by the way) “…deserves [it]” (v.4), it leaves a bad taste in our mouths. Here is a member of the ruling Roman government who is wealthy enough to have servants in his house, sending representatives made up of the very same people that his empire has conquered to Jesus, asking that he, a Jew, heal a servant because he deserves it - either because of his status or because he was gracious enough to build a synagogue (v. 5). Talk about entitlement! Why should he receive preferential treatment? Because of his power? Because he is well liked in the area?
And still, Jesus goes with them to this man’s house. Or at least he almost goes to his house. He doesn’t quite make it. Before they can arrive, more of the centurion’s representatives approach Jesus and the crowd. This time they are friends of the man (v. 6) which we might safely be able to assume means that they were of comparable status to the centurion. Probably politically powerful. Probably economically rich. Probably Roman. Probably not Jewish.
As they approach, what will happen? Will there be more words of entitlement. But they don't do as expected. We expect them to tell Jesus again how much the centurion deserves to have his servant healed because of how great a man he is. But no! Instead the message that the centurion sent to Jesus is “Lord, don’t be bothered. I don’t deserve to have you come under my roof” (v. 6).
A little later, after he receives the full message, Jesus is “impressed” (v. 9) with the centurion and heals the servant despite never coming into physical contact with him - presumably because of the centurion’s faith. As Jesus said, he had not found faith like the centurion’s - not even in Israel (v. 9).
And that is the point of the story.
From the very beginning of this passage, Luke sets up a contrast between the people of Israel and the people of Rome. He is careful to say that the first group of people that approaches Jesus is a group of Jewish elders and that the second group that approaches Jesus is comprised of the centurion’s friends. The irony here is that it is the Jewish elders who claim that Jesus should heal the centurion’s servant because the centurion deserves it, whereas the friends of the centurion bring a message from the centurion claiming that he is not worthy of the Son of God to come to his house, much less heal his servant. This passage is yet another example of a concept that we find over and over throughout all four Gospels - namely, those who should have a more developed understanding of the work of God misunderstand the message of Christ, while those who are on the outside of the faith community somehow seem to understand Jesus’ message more completely.
The religious people in this passage approach Jesus claiming that he should help a man because he has done something to deserve that help, but according to Christ the non-religious man has a greater faith than anyone else in the entire Jewish nation because he understands that despite his worldly status, we are to humble ourselves in the presence of God.
We see in many different ways in our lives of faith today. Too often we see people demands of others because they think they deserve special consideration – something you will notice often if in a queue waiting to be served in a shop! This happens in politics, entertainment, and sadly in the church. I remember a time when I was a youth pastor, and was having some little success with some youths from outside of the church. Some parents complained that these youths should not be allowed to mix with their children as they might influence them in the ways of the world (if only they knew!). Their argument was that their children deserved more of my time than these newcomers – because they had been members of the church for a long time.
Entitlement does not fit with Christian faith. Jesus gave up his entitlements as the Son of God to rescue the world he loved from its darkness and sin. He then called all his followers to do likewise – to giveup their hard won positions of power and become servants to those whom God loves (that is – the world)!
God values humility over entitlement and that what impresses God is not the use of influence, but rather restraint in doing so. Seek to honour God as you live humble lives and may Jesus say of you – here is a true person of faith!
Acknowledgement: William Culpepper