Message Supplement for 29 May 2016–“Surprise!”

Luke 7:1-10 is the basis for today’s message. Here we find Jesus in his adult hometown of Capernaum, where he met a high-ranking Roman soldier known as a centurion. The scene involved the centurion’s slave near death, thereby needing Jesus’ help. Oddly enough, the centurion was well-respected by the local Jews because he had supported a new Jewish house of worship known as a synagogue. The Jewish elders spoke highly of the centurion and they encouraged Jesus to heal his slave. This is highly unusual on two accounts: First, that a Roman military man would build or fund a synagogue and second, that the Jewish elders who almost universally condemned Jesus could be pleasantly conversant and cooperative.

Despite the roadblocks, the situation reveals interesting outcomes. Jesus accepted the Jewish elders’ words and went to help the centurion’s servant. Then another turn of events surprised even Jesus. The centurion felt unworthy that someone of Jesus’ stature would consider taking the trouble to travel to see the ill slave. The centurion was so apologetic that he just wanted Jesus to speak the words rather than making a visit. “When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him [the centurion], and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith’ “ (Luke 7:9). This is incredible. To receive praise from Jesus was no small feat. But for Jesus to publicly proclaim that a Roman occupier was of greater faith than the native Jews is astonishing. It all ended well because the slave was healed and Jesus went to meet the centurion.

What lesson can we draw from this story? It’s about surprises—good ones. We must allow for pleasant surprises, especially by events and people we’d otherwise dismiss. The Jewish elders who typically insulted Jesus surprise us when we learn of their encouragement for the healing. It’s unexpected that a Roman military ruler would do a charitable act by supporting a Jewish synagogue. Finally, it is surprising that the Roman centurion, who might have had life-and-death power over Jesus and the elders, acted as a righteous person, being humble and not wanting to so much as inconvenience Jesus.

Don’t get hung-up on questions about whether the centurion incident occurred exactly as the Bible describes. Some critics suggest that the tale was created to make the Romans look good at the expense of the Jews. Even if this is the case, it does not undermine the valuable lesson about allowing ourselves to be positively surprised. God’s kingdom is at least partly unpredictable, and often full of irony and mystery. It may be hard to accept, but the story of the centurion’s servant also suggests that we should not pre-judge matters too tightly, not even about our critics or enemies.  God can humble those who have authority over us to the point where they may need to come to us for something they can’t handle.

It is unexpected that a Roman centurion would show kindness, deference and respect to a Jewish rabbi such as Jesus. And it’s rare for Jesus’ critics to support him in a good deed (the slave’s healing). Have you decided once and for all that God can’t work through unexpected situations? Don’t limit God by narrowing your possibilities. Too many Christians have a black/white mentality, one that separates everyone into either good or bad categories. By doing this mindlessly we choke how God might otherwise work through us. We must remain open so we can help achieve an unexpected miracle. Our challenge is not to allow our comfortable assumptions to determine what God can do in us and through us. Are you open to being surprised? What of God’s promises will you claim today? As a blessed child of the most high God you are destined for a fulfilling and joyful life. Awaken your spirit and allow God to accomplish miracles of all sizes.

–Reverend Larry Hoxey