For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it. (Luke 7:8, NRSV)
Whose authority am I under today? Would it be obvious to someone who followed me around all day? Would it be clear to someone who could see my thoughts and fears?
The community leaders had commended the centurion to Jesus on the basis of his good deeds for the Jews. He built the synagogue after all. He’s the head of the trustees and a big giver. Yes, he is worthy of Jesus’ help.
But the centurion proves his better understanding of the gospel. He declares through messengers his own unworthiness and Jesus’ mighty power.
But it is that bit about authority that has me today as I read with many of my fellow United Methodists through Luke 7 this week.
Under what forms of authority am I set? Do I properly fulfill my place with regard to these various masters? Do I exult my earthly masters to the point that my heavenly Lord’s authority is discounted or rejected?
I am struck reading this passage that the centurion’s faith is expressed in terms of the military life he lives. The Roman army, the bloody boot on the neck of Israel, gives him the language by which he can express the power and authority of Jesus.
Jesus does not stop to correct the man’s metaphors. He does not rebuke him for the oppression and exploitation that he helps enforce. He does not tell him to free his slaves. Jesus turns to his own followers and declares that he has never seen such faith in all of Israel. And he heals the man’s slave.
It is a recognition of the authority of Jesus that is central here. The centurion, being a man under authority and used to exercising it, could spot true authority when he saw it — or in this case heard about it. He had the faith that is the gift of seeing what the world does not see, in Jesus the authority of God dwelt.
The gospels are full of people who are amazed and stunned by the authority with which Jesus acts. Could it be that only when we are under proper authority that we are capable of spotting the true authority of Jesus in action? When we are not under such authority, we are prone to mistake or confuse false shows of authority for the real thing.
Maybe? I’m not sure if I make too much or too little of this verse today. But it is trying to make something in me.