There are two instances in Luke’s writings where Roman centurions get special treatment for being good people. The first is the Roman centurion in Luke whose valued servant is ill and the second is Cornelius in Acts who had a vision of an angel telling him to bring Peter to his home. For both ” they had earned a reputation of being godly men whose gifts to Jews had been generous. It’s the first Centurion who interests me the most for a couple of reasons.
First” it seems he sends some elders of the Jews to make his case to Jesus. As they describe it to Jesus he is a man who deserves this favor because he “loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” I can imagine the centurion thinking this is the only way to get access to Jesus and the Jewish elders assuring him they can move his case to the front of the line and get the ear of Jesus. After all he is a significant donor a good man ” a friend of Israel and such a leader would expect this. Does it sound familiar? Do we have similar expectations as donors and are there people around us who can make things happen because of that? Do we get invitations to meet with powerful people? Do we get moved to the front of the line or close to the head table? Are there people around us who work hard to get us into the right places to meet with the right people due to our status as donors? Of course we do and we get used to it. It’s part of the advantage of being a donor. We can pull strings and get special treatment. That’s how it works.
The real surprise for me is the response of Jesus. I would expect him to be offended or to say “The first will be last and the last first.” No one gets VIP access to Jesus. But he does not say this. For whatever reason” Jesus leaves what he is doing and goes with the men sent by the centurion. Then on the way to his home the word comes from the centurion that he has changed his mind and Jesus does not need to come. Instead he recognizes the authority of Jesus – making the trip unnecessary. Again ” the unusual response of Jesus. “This is the greatest faith I have seen.” He isn’t upset about the request for special treatment and then the reversal.
I would love to see more of us make the same shift in our thinking as the centurion. Instead of using the system to get special treatment” we would say about ourselves “We do not deserve this because we are donors. This is not the way things should be done. We will trust instead.” It’s not easy to stop all the well-intentioned (and some not so well-intentioned) people who have learned how to get passes and favors for donors…but it is a step in the right direction. After all we don’t really deserve it.