Monday 18th March – Luke 7:1-10 ‘Deserved or undeserved?’

Luke 7:1-10

Many years ago, I had a wonderful spiritual mentor who had been a very high-ranking officer in the army.  He was also a great man of God, and in many ways he epitomised the kind of faith shown by the centurion in today’s story.  Although Christians serving in the armed forces has long been a subject of debate, my mentor’s answer was simple: ‘if you ever happen to meet someone with a gun in their hand, would you rather they had Christ in their heart, or not?’  That may not resolve every discussion on this topic, but it’s a good answer.

And, just like my mentor, the centurion was able to recognise greater authority when he saw it.  True, he was, himself, someone invested with real authority in his sphere of work; but the authority of Jesus was on a different level entirely.  The centurion understood, not just that you need to look for authority in the right places, but he was also humble enough to recognise that, in the grand scheme of things, he was ‘middle management’; the King of kings, though, was here in his neighbourhood!

Humility, in fact, lies at the heart of this story.  Faith and humility are closely linked, and indeed what I noticed as I was preparing this reflection is the contrast between what the religious leaders say about the centurion and what he says about himself: the religious leaders ask Jesus for miraculous intervention ‘because this man deserves to have you do this… he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.’ (vv4-5)

The centurion’s approach is quite different, however: ‘Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.’ (v6)  In the way that Luke has told this story, the contrast is deliberate.  Matthew’s version does not have the preamble with the religious leaders – Luke has clearly included this part of the story to make a point.

And the point is… grace.  The world works on the principles of just desserts; but we can never approach God like that.  God does not treat us as we deserve – thankfully!  Rather God pours out his blessings on the undeserving.  Despite his high rank and good works, the centurion grasped this; he recognised that his only plea was the goodness and compassion of God, not his status or works.

This is good news for us, too.  And yet, it’s also so easy to get sucked into ‘slot machine religion’ – put this in, get this out.  Let today’s story be a healthy reminder that it is God’s grace that saves us, which pours blessings out to us, and ultimately, draws the Lord close to us.  May that grace be our light, hope, peace and joy today.