Unexpected prayer of faith from a Roman soldier

Posted Aug 7, 2019

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Daily Scripture

Luke 7:1-10

1 After Jesus finished presenting all his words among the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 A centurion had a servant who was very important to him, but the servant was ill and about to die. 3 When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to Jesus to ask him to come and heal his servant. 4 When they came to Jesus, they earnestly pleaded with Jesus. “He deserves to have you do this for him,” they said. 5 “He loves our people and he built our synagogue for us.”

6 Jesus went with them. He had almost reached the house when the centurion sent friends to say to Jesus, “Lord, don’t be bothered. I don’t deserve to have you come under my roof. 7 In fact, I didn’t even consider myself worthy to come to you. Just say the word and my servant will be healed. 8 I’m also a man appointed under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and the servant does it.”

9 When Jesus heard these words, he was impressed with the centurion. He turned to the crowd following him and said, “I tell you, even in Israel I haven’t found faith like this.” 10 When the centurion’s friends returned to his house, they found the servant restored to health.

Reflection Questions

“A centurion” commanded 100 soldiers, part of the Roman force occupying Palestine. This centurion was decent and wise (not all of them were) and had dealt generously with the citizens of Capernaum. They told Jesus the centurion “deserved” help. He, however, disclaimed any “deserving” (verse 6), and expressed full trust in Jesus' power. Jesus put more value on the centurion’s faith than on his “deserving” actions.

  • William Barclay noted other godly traits in the centurion. “Roman law defined a slave as a living tool… a master could ill-treat him, even kill him if he chose.” This Roman also “had an extremely unusual attitude to the Jews…. Antisemitism is not a new thing. The Romans called the Jews a filthy race; they spoke of Judaism as a barbarous superstition.” * Might this centurion show the fruits of what John Wesley called “prevenient grace”—God at work in a person who’s not formally one of “God’s people”?
  • We tend to relate to Jesus first in terms of what we know best. How did the Roman centurion draw on his military experience to express his trust in Jesus' power? How did Jesus' response to that foreign military officer point ahead to a church that welcomed Gentiles and Jews as equals before God (e.g. Galatians 3:28-29)? Which of your life experiences help you better grasp and trust God’s power?

Prayer

Lord Jesus, there were all kinds of reasons for you and your disciples to fear, snub and hate Roman soldiers. Yet you cared about this Roman’s prayer. Help me to trust you as much as that Roman commander did. Amen.


* William Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel of Luke (Revised Edition). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1975, page 85.

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Dr. Amy Oden

Dr. Amy Oden

Dr. Amy Oden is Professor of Early Church History and Spirituality, teaching at several seminaries. Teaching is her calling, and she looks forward to every day with students. Her latest book (Right Here, Right Now: The Practice of Christian Mindfulness, Abingdon Press, 2017) traces ancient mindfulness practice for Christians today.

To even call this passage about the Roman centurion a story about “prayer” (since that is the theme for this week’s GPS series) seems to say too much. There is no sense of any formal prayer here. No one falls on their knees, no bowed head, no wordy petition, “Dear God…” 

It’s helpful to me to see this model of prayer. The centurion knows his need and simply comes to Jesus with it. He is real and vulnerable in his care for his sick servant. Any sense of self-sufficiency and pretense to competence in the face of an ill loved one falls away as he asks for Jesus’ help. It’s a way of relating to Jesus that frees me from any concern about prayer requiring the right words or “getting it right.” 

I’ve struggled with prayer a lot of my life. What is it? Does it matter? Why tell God what the Author of my life already knows? How do I do it? Most people have these questions and feel intimated by the idea of prayer. Somehow, we’ve gotten the idea that there’s a “right way” to pray and whatever we’re doing, it probably isn’t it. 

It took a lot of un-learning those internal scripts for me to let go of manufactured expectations and trust that I could just be myself with God. That, for me, is the heart of prayer--shedding my pretenses and being real with God. Sometimes that means using words, sometimes it doesn’t.

I seek more and more to be simple in prayer. To not use a lot of words or worry about getting them right. To be myself with God. To lay down self-sufficiency, become aware of my need and my joy. This, for me, is a helpful understanding of prayer. Simple, present, real. And my hunch is that God delights in this.

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