In the modern, American church we have little sense of the authority and power of Jesus. He is seen as our buddy, our best friend, our pal. In many ways Jesus has become a magic talisman that we use to bless our desires.
When we read the story of Jesus we come face to face with someone who had authority, power, and pressed across the dividing lines of his culture. Jesus was intentional about not being anyone’s talisman.
This morning I was pondering the story of Jesus and the Centurion in Matthew 8. It goes like this:
When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”
Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”
The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment.
What really stands out to me in this little story is that that the Centurion said, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.”
This is so opposite our American Christian experience. The idea of not being worthy for Jesus to enter our home is an idea that is foreign to us. We have so minimized Jesus and maximized ourselves that we think Jesus should be honored to enter our homes. This might not be overt, but it’s implicit in how we talk and think about Jesus.
I’m not sure that we really believe like the Centurion. He understood Jesus be of such high honor, esteem, power, and authority that he simply yielded to him. He acknowledged the reality of who Jesus was and the power he had.
Annie Dillard says it well,
“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.”
The faith of the Centurion was wrapped up in his humility. His trust in the power and authority of Jesus left Jesus “amazed.” This is usually left for the way the crowds are described to respond to Jesus.
As I read the news and watch the way Christians respond to the current crises that face our world, I’m very inclined to think that Annie Dillard really hit the nail on the head. Do we really believe that God is who we say we believe? So many of our actions say that God is not to be trusted. We believe that our models and business strategies as related to the church trump living by faith in the triune God. We simply can’t manage to trust that God will do what we say God does or what we read about in the Bible.
It occurs to me that if we were standing alongside the Centurion that day we would think he's lost his mind. How can you simply hold to the idea that Jesus has that kind of authority and power? As American Christians, we can’t abide this kind of belief. No, we need our marketing, our web pros, our staffs or public relations experts. We need the show, the building, the programs. We need all these things because we can’t simply trust that God will build a community of people who love one another and God in a neighborhood by simply being present.
How we live displays what we believe.
Too many of us carry around Jesus as a magic talisman that we call on to give us what we want.
What do you believe oh man? Do you believe that Jesus has authority and power and can heal with a word? Or, do you believe that you are worthy of him serving you? What does your life say?