Although he never met the Lord face to face, the captain's life was changed.
as told by Deborah
As a soldier, the captain knew what it was to be in charge. He spoke, and others obeyed: men stood up and sat down, they awoke, assembled, attacked or retreated at his command. Like God at creation, his word held great power: what he said was what was done.
Then one day the captain was faced with a challenger he could not outflank or outfox or outfight: Death. Death, who marches with every army, who gives and takes without regard or care, who slays without mercy, who maims and mauls and destroys; Death: the ultimate victor in every war.
They struggled together; mortal man and invincible foe, fighting for a life — and the captain was fast losing ground.
Then the Word came: an all-powerful leader, sent directly from Above, had arrived in town. And the one who was accustomed to issuing commands found himself asking for help.
Ever mindful of rank and status, the captain sent a delegation: a group of Jesus’ own people who would speak on his behalf.
The men were anxious to convince Jesus: “He deserves for you to do this, because he loves our people — he built our synagogue for us.”
Before Jesus reached the house, he was intercepted by a group bearing a message from the captain, “Lord, don’t go to any trouble: I am not worthy to have you under my roof — that’s why I didn’t presume to come to you. But just say the word, and let my servant be healed. I know how it is: I take orders and I give them. If I tell one of the soldiers under my command, ‘Go,’ he goes, and another, ‘Come here,’ he does; and whatever I tell my servant to do, he will do.”
Jesus was amazed at what he heard; turning to the crowd that was following along, he said, “I’m telling you: I have never seen such profound faith — not even among my own people.”
When those who had been sent out returned to the house, they found the servant was restored to good health.
As a Navy brat I have to smile at Jesus’ astonishment at the captain’s faith. It’s one of those “military things” we seem to be born knowing: Chain of Command. If the CO says “Jump,” the only question is: “How high?” (For the non-military, the “CO” is the Commanding Officer: the head honcho, the Unquestioned Authority, only a little lower than God.) If Jesus is really who He says He is, the captain knew all that was needed was for Him to “say the word, and it would be done.”
That’s how it works in the military: no discussion, no argument; orders are to be obeyed. The only right answer is, “Yes, sir!”
After the smile, though, I am saddened. At the center of this story is the captain’s concern that Jesus will consider him “unworthy.”
That is the purpose of the first delegation of Jewish elders; they have come to negotiate for a meeting: Will the Lord deign to speak with this member of Caesar’s army? These men may also have their doubts, for they urgently plead the captain’s case, insisting that he is “worthy” of having his servant healed, and they back up their claims with evidence.
And so Jesus sets out for the man’s house. When he is nearly there another contingent meets him; these are the captain’s friends, and they bring a message, “Don’t put yourself out for me, for I am unworthy to have you under my roof.”
At first I thought it was rude for the man to beg Jesus to come to his home and then turn Him away when the Lord was almost at the door. But what if the captain believed his cause was hopeless? What if he thought he was so worthless, so defiled by what he had done in service to Caesar that Jesus would never agree to set foot in his house?
What if the captain looked out the window and saw the delegation of Jews along with Jesus heading straight to his door? In surprise — in fear, and perhaps in shame, he sent out a group of friends to intercept his long-awaited Visitor. “I am unworthy,” was the message, “Just issue a command and my servant will be healed.” That was all he dared to ask.
There, trembling behind the curtain, the captain watched as the Lord stopped — within sight of his home; so near that he could have heard the words that were spoken. Then, with a look of surprise, He smiled and turned away.
When the people from the synagogue and the friends he had sent out returned to the captain’s house, they found his servant well and healthy.
The fact that the servant was cured shows that Jesus cared for the captain; He blessed his request with a full and perfect healing. And yet….
I struggle with this story: a part of me wishes that Jesus had continued along the way and entered the captain’s house. I would like for Him to have reached out and put His hand on the man’s shoulder; to call this war-weary, generous, and compassionate soldier “friend.”
It would have been a nice, tidy ending. But the Scriptures almost never give us that.
Perhaps there was more to the story. Perhaps, just as He turned to leave, Jesus looked across to the house. Perhaps, as the captain peered out the window, just for an instant, their eyes met.
Perhaps in that instant the captain discovered all that he needed to know. Perhaps he saw the love and compassion in Jesus’ eyes, felt divine peace fill his heart, and truly knew the mercy and forgiveness of God. Perhaps in that instant, in that holy, eternal Moment, the captain knew that, in the eyes of Lord, he was worthy.
Perhaps, when the others returned to the captain’s house, there were two men there who had been healed.
Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,
Do you believe that God’s gracious love includes you? It does. As amazing as that sounds, it is true.