“For the word of the Lord holds true, and we can trust everything he does.
I was joking around with someone yesterday. It just so happens that he is really good with accents. He often says things in an Indian or Russian accent for fun. I tried to speak to him with a similar accent. He joked back, “What is this you are speaking?” We bantered back and forth a bit and then I admitted that this was not my language. I could not speak it well. “What is your language?” he asked with his accent. The thought flashed in my mind, “I speak the language of faith.”
It was simply a fun interchange but later I realized there may be some truth to it all. What is this language of faith? What really is my language? What is your language?
I have been reflecting on the Roman centurion mentioned in the Bible this past week. You might say that his language is that of faith. This is what he knows. He has learned from practical experience that a word from one in authority brings action. They speak and it is so.
Interestingly, this is how he approaches Jesus - as one with authority. He believes that Jesus is one whose words have power. As one who himself has power, the centurion seeks to use it in the best sense of the word. Actually, the centurion is not seeking help for himself but for his servant, who is dying. I like this guy. There is a humility about him and he seems to be a caring leader. He is willing to go out of his way to help his servant and has hope and he believes that it can happen.
Jesus sees who the centurion is. Jesus recognizes his motives, which are commendable, but even more striking, Jesus calls out the centurion’s faith. Jesus says, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” (Lk 7:9)
Think about what he is saying here. What faith has Jesus seen in Israel? He has been with and seen the faith of John the Baptist. He has seen the faith of his chosen followers, the disciples. He has been with his own family, hearing stories of the faith of his mother and father. The Roman centurion has faith greater than all of these?
This man, who is a Gentile in service to the Roman government, understood who he was and who Jesus is. His respect for Jesus is unmatched. The centurion says, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.: (Mt 8:8.) At that time it was not proper for a Jew to enter the house of a Gentile. The centurion says, “Just say the word, and my servant will be healed.” His faith in Jesus is so great, he understands all Jesus needs to do is say the word and it will be done. This is the language of authority.
If you think about it, the faith of the centurion is not only greater than John the Baptist, but Moses. While Moses was leading the Israelites through the wilderness, they were in threat of being without water at one point. The Israelites were angry and complained about Moses’ authority as a leader. Moses prayed and received a surprising answer. God asked Moses to trust in the power of His word to bring what they needed. God told Moses to gather the people and then he was to command a rock nearby to give them water. God said that with a word, water would come out of the rock. (Num 20:8)
Moses did gather the people. But instead of using his words as God asked, Moses used his stick. He hit the rock. Water still outpoured from the rock but God was not happy with Moses. God still provided for his people and he also stuck with Moses. In his great love for Moses, he tried once again to help him see what was really necessary. Moses did not need to use physical force to prove God’s power or garner the respect of the people. God told Moses, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” (Num 20:12) Moses was going to have an opportunity to rely on God alone the rest of his days.
If you have been a parent for any length of time, you realize your words do not always have the authority that the Roman centurion was accustomed to. But we actually can learn the language of faith. You can learn to speak with the compassion of the centurion and keep working on getting to the place where you triumph in trust. For where our heart is, there our treasure is also. What if we treasured the power of God and believed with just a word, he could bring water, healing, and new life and strength to us and to our world.