At church, our current series is about discussing how faith grows.
In the process of Sunday sermons and weekly Small Groups, a handful of observations are rising to the surface.
Here is one of them.
HOW TO IMPRESS
Have you ever wanted to impress someone?
- Sometimes the desire is driven by earlier rejection. The dumped date, the traded athlete, the unhired applicant – all want to prove their worth and disprove others’ earlier estimates of them.
- Sometimes the desire is driven by earlier praise. The scholarship student, the awarded artist, the promoted employee – such people can feel pressure to live up to expectations.
- Sometimes the desire is simply driven by admiration. We desire praise from the one whose assessment matters most. We seek to place a smile on the face most dear to us.
Have you ever wanted to impress Jesus? How might one go about this?
Most of us begin to generate a list of DO’s and DON’Ts. Some are likely Scriptural, some are likely additional. But our minds’ hamster wheels spin to determine what would be most likely to grab the attention of Jesus.
- Go to church.
- Don’t go to the wrong church.
- Read your Bible and pray.
- Be a hard worker.
- Be a good share-r.
- Don’t laze.
- Don’t lust.
- Don’t lie.
- Don’t lose your temper.
- Love your enemies.
- Don’t love money.
- Honor your parents.
- Don’t kill your siblings.
- Love your neighbors.
- Don’t covet their stuff, not even their donkey.
- Tell the truth, and keep your words kind.
- Don’t use your mouth for swearing.
- Don’t use your mouth for gossip.
- Don’t use your mouse for eating food off the floor, unless a 5-second rule applies.
- Be friendly.
- Don’t forget to floss.
And so the list goes on.
Faithful Jews believed the Torah to contain 613 rules. If there was a way to impress God’s Prophet, you can bet it was tied into exhaustive obedience.
Unless it was tied into something else.
WHAT COULD IT BE?
Matthew 8 records an unsettling encounter for many intent upon impressing Jesus.
5 When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, 6 “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” 7 And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.”
Scripture’s only mention of Jesus being positively stunned revolves around a Roman centurion. From the get-go, we note that this cannot be a “rule thing”. No mention is made of the man’s honesty or purity or generosity. No praise is passed for avoiding alcohol or prostitutes or cursing.
The disciples would certainly have despised the centurion for he was a multi-level enemy. As a Roman, he was one of the “bad guys”, an invader and idolater. These uncircumcised heathen were the godless oppressors of Israel, and most held deep conviction that God’s greatest priority must certainly be to devastatingly dethrone this empire and eject them from the Land of Promise.
So how does one summarize the disciples’ shock when Jesus expresses unhesitating willingness to compassionately visit the centurion’s home?
Even further, how does one summarize the shock of hearing the centurion’s reply?
8 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. 9 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.”
One imagines a dialogue:
CENTURION: I’m not worthy to have you in my home.
DISCIPLES: Dang right! At least you have one thing figured out.
C: No, that’s not what I mean.
D: Then say what you mean, scumbag… um… with a sword… [Gulp]
C: You don’t need to come. You can do it from here.
D: Say what?!
C: There is a pile I don’t understand, but I grasp one thing fairly well: Authority. One hundred men do whatever I tell them. “Go”, and they go. “Come”, and they come. “Do”, and they do. I am not naïve. They don’t obey me from love. It is power, and it is not even my own. In the chain of command, I embody the power of Rome. You obviously carry authority, but I confess that it is a mystery to me. Forces of sickness and spirits of evil obey your words. Your teachings impart life, and your influence obviously ripples into invisible-yet-real realms. In light of this, it strikes me as obvious that you have no need to walk to my home in order to heal my servant. You can do it from here.
D: [Strangely silent]
And Jesus marveled (Mt 8:10). He marveled at the man’s faith, at his confident trust. Nothing mushy here, this belief was matter-of-fact. And Jesus was compelled to declare for all within earshot, “I have not found anyone in Israel with faith like this.”
One can imagine the outcry – spoken or silent – of the disciples: “Hold on! You are talking about a pagan power that governs Yahweh’s covenant people. He certainly doesn’t know the Torah; he likely cannot list the Ten Commandments. He would never be allowed in the Temple, and he may sacrifice to Zeus. And you are holding him up as a model of faith?!”
Jesus: “Yep. That about sums it up. If you want a free, on-the-spot faith clinic, this man is leading it right this moment. Note everything you have observed.”
And at that point, Jesus wasn’t the only one marveling.
- Why is it so easy to imagine that Jesus values meticulous obedience more than complete trust?
- Why do you imagine that trust receives so much emphasis in this story?