In contrast to the speeches of Pope Francis, that everyone applauds and welcomes, Jesus’ words often upset and offended people, particularly religious people. The account of Jesus’ healing of the Roman centurion’s servant is just such an outrageous occasion. At our church’s official opening service on Sunday Bishop Glenn Lyons reminded us of two provocative, scandalous statements Jesus made.
The scandal of faith
Jesus said, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.” (Matthew 8:10)
What makes this statement scandalous is that Jesus was speaking to the Roman centurion, in the hearing of the Jewish crowd. The Romans were the Gentile occupying force in what was supposed to be a Jewish-ruled land. Most Jewish people back then despised Gentiles, particularly the Romans who ruled over them. Were not the Jews chosen by God? Was not the Jewish king meant to rule over the nations from Jerusalem? And yet, here was Jesus commending the captain of the Gentile army for his faith – faith that Jesus had not yet seen in Israel! It would be tantamount to the Bishop of Baghdad commending the ISIS commander for his faith.
What had happened was that the centurion had recognised Jesus for who he was and had responded in the appropriate manner.
But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man 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 servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he marvelled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. (Matthew 8:8-10)
The centurion knew that Jesus was a man with authority who spoke words of authority. If Jesus said something, it was as good as done. No need for a fanfare, Jesus just had to speak the word. Because of this, Jesus is the one man in history we cannot ignore.
Have you recognised Jesus for who he is? Not a prophet, or good man, or healer, but God the Son? Have you responded appropriately? Not by liking the “Jesus” Facebook page, but by obeying his word to repent and believe the gospel? As a Christian, is Jesus’ word enough for you or do you hanker after more fanfare and “power” experiences?
The scandal of grace
Jesus said, “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:11-12)
What makes this statement scandalous was that Jesus was speaking to religious (Jewish) people who thought that because of their privileges they would no doubt be welcomed to the feast in the coming kingdom of God. Jesus is warning against presumption. It’s not about race, it’s about grace. Rather than God judging the Gentiles, many Gentile – including Roman centurions – would be at the feast of God with the Old Testament’s great believers. What a shocking statement. Many Brazilians, South Africans and Indians will be joining Abraham, Isaac and Jacob too. And many religious people, who presumed that they would be there, won’t be there.
Will you be at the feast of God? Do you presume to be there? Do you presume to be there because of your family, your culture, your upbringing, your baptism, your church membership, your church attendance, your Anglicanism, or because your uncle was a minister? It’s not about race, or culture, or who you know, it’s about grace. It all depends on whether you, by God’s grace, recognise Jesus and respond appropriately to him.
Jesus said scandalous things. Jesus offended many. Jesus’ words caused him to be put to death. But this was all part of God’s plan. Jesus rose from the dead and now reigns and rules from heaven. Jesus will return to preside over the feast of God.
You can listen to Bishop Glenn Lyons’ sermon here.