Faith and Authority

the only other picture

When Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him, saying, “Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.”

Jesus saith unto him, “I will come and heal him.”  

The centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.”

When Jesus heard it, he marveled, and said to them that followed, “Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.  And I say unto you, that many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

And Jesus said unto the centurion, “Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the same hour.” (Matthew 8)

I often hear faith equivocated with being bold, with putting everything on the line and not being afraid to take risks.  I hear people talking about faith as a lack of worry when things aren’t looking so great.  I hear of faith as a reassurance in your heart and soul that you have been bought with His blood.  Faith has many facets, and faith manifests itself in our stories in many different ways.  In His interaction with the centurion, Christ gives us another angle on faith that many of us miss.  The centurion tells Christ if He will just say the words then his servant will be healed.  How does he know this?  Because he understands authority and submission and obedience, and he believes that Jesus is God the Creator, which means that Jesus has authority over words and bodies and “the palsy”.  Jesus says this is the greatest faith he has seen in all of Israel!  It is so easy to skip over the centurion’s explanation of his own ranking in the military line of authority and think that his faith is praised because he believes Christ is a healer.  But that is not what is happening here.  Jesus praises the centurion’s faith because the centurion understands authority, and he understands that if Christ is in authority of heaven and earth then His words cannot return void.  He merely has to speak the word and the servant will be healed.

We are drowning in a culture that has no idea how authority should function.  We are a people who dishonors parents, who disrespects teachers, who humiliates pastors, who pokes fun at political leaders, who complains about bosses, who tears down husbands.  We think we have a right to disrespect men or women in authority because we disagree with them.  It is possible that the only place where we even begin to properly recognize authority is within sports, on the ball-field, with coaches and umpires and referees, but even then we feel it is our right to scream and yell if we do not get our way.  Perhaps the military has a small grasp on how to respect an authority, which was the case with the centurion.  Of all the men in Israel, Jesus had found no one else whose faith was as strong as the centurion’s.  His understanding and respect of Jesus’ authority was attributed to him as faith.

How can we even begin to understand faith when we are so confused on what it means to respect authority?  Christ is our King!  I think we spend more time meditating Christ as a servant than meditating on being obedient to His marching orders.  We focus so much on the cross (which is wonderful!!), but we forget that our faith is not only believing in that event.  What happens next?  Christ says that if we love Him we will obey His commands.  Our faith is manifested in following His lead, in obeying Him, in recognizing His authority over all words and events.  Our faith is manifested in joyful submission to whatever He is doing in our lives and however He has chosen to tell our stories.

And what has He done in your life?  Has he given you parents? Honor them, speak kind words about them.  Has He given you a husband? Praise him, defer to him, obey him.  Has He given you a pastor? Treat him with respect, listen to him, trust him.  Has He given you a boss?  Obey them, work hard for them, speak kindly of them.

We are quick to think of exceptions, aren’t we?  We are quick to say “yes, but what about when an authority is mistreating you?  When an authority is not acting wisely? When your boss really does overwork you and underpay you?  When your parents act selfishly?”  We are quick to think we are all Abigails and it would be Godly to call our husbands fools.  We are quick to compare our authority figures to Sisera and think of ourselves as Jael. We are quick to think that because an authority figure has made a mistake or has a weakness it gives us the right to speak out against them and demand an apology.  We are quick to say that because it is possible to abuse authority, therefore no one should have authority, and we mock and start name calling so everyone knows that NO AUTHORITY IS ABSOLUTE.  It is very possible that we are focusing on the wrong end of the spectrum.  Christ equivocates the centurion’s faith with his understanding of obedience under authority.  Maybe we should spend more time looking for ways to respect authority than looking for exceptions, and maybe this would be accounted to us as faith.  Maybe the faith that Christ is asking us to show is faith in the ones He has placed in authority in your story, faith that He wants you to honor and respect them, faith that He knows all their faults and shortcomings and He knows how obedience to them will work in your story for your good.

There will be situations where authority is abused, where husbands are lazy and ask too much of their wives, where parents are selfish and put ridiculously restraining rules on their children, where governments tax too much.  Remember David?  When his King and father-in-law was chasing him through the Desert of En Gedi trying to kill him and Saul fell asleep in the cave?  David’s men were urging him to kill Saul, but instead David just cut off a corner of his robe.  And afterward “David’s heart smote him, because he had cut off Saul’s skirt. And he said unto his men, The LORD forbid that I should do this thing unto my master, the LORD’S anointed, to stretch forth mine hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the LORD. So David stayed his servants with these words, and suffered them not to rise against Saul.”(1 Samuel 24)  David was on the run.  He fled from Saul multiple times.  He did not put his own life in danger or the lives of the men with him, but He refused to harm the one that God had chosen to put in authority over Israel.  That was the Lord’s decision, and David’s faith was manifested in recognizing that he had no right to harm one whom the Lord put in authority over him.  There is obviously a time when fleeing from an authority is right, when disagreeing with an authority is wise, and turning an authority over to a greater authority is prudent, but we often think that this is a free pass for disrespect.  We are often more interested in making sure everyone else knows about how we were wronged than about forgiveness and having faith that the Lord is the judge and He will not let our righteousness be overlooked.

For the Lord loveth judgment, and forsaketh not his saints; they are preserved for ever: but the seed of the wicked shall be cut off.

The righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell therein for ever.

The mouth of the righteous speaketh wisdom, and his tongue talketh of judgment.

The law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide.

The wicked watcheth the righteous, and seeketh to slay him.

The Lord will not leave him in his hand, nor condemn him when he is judged.

Wait on the Lord, and keep his way, and he shall exalt thee to inherit the land: when the wicked are cut off, thou shalt see it.

I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree.

Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found.

Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace.

But the transgressors shall be destroyed together: the end of the wicked shall be cut off.

But the salvation of the righteous is of the Lord: he is their strength in the time of trouble.

And the Lord shall help them, and deliver them: he shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in him. (Psalm 37)