The Faith of the Centurion

A centurion comes to Jesus in this morning’s gospel reading. A mighty, powerful, military leader with about 100 soldiers under his command. This man possessed authority. He was also a heathen, he was a Roman solder. Yet, this doesn’t mean he was a godless man. Surely, in the reading this morning he’s portrayed as being quite godly.

I think it’s interesting to hear about centurions in the New Testament. There are some Christian denominations which refuse to have anything to do with the military and are complete pacifists. While the gospels give us plenty of instances where Jesus came into conflict with the Pharisees and the Jewish scribes and those who wanted only to follow the letter of the law, the New Testament’s portrayal of centurions, however,  is not so negative. In fact, every Centurion is mentioned in a positive light in the New Testament. There was, for example, the centurion at the Cross who  recognized Jesus as the Son of God(Matt 27:54); then there’s Cornelius, the first Gentile convert in the book of Acts (Acts 10); there was the centurion who protected Paul having discovered that he was a Roman citizen (Acts 22); there was the centurion saved Paul when he learned of a plot to kill him (Acts 23); there was a centurion with Paul when he was shipwrecked on his way to Rome (Acts 27).

And the same goes for the centurion in this morning’s reading. A man with such great authority and power comes to Jesus and it’s not power or authority or might which he exhibits – but humility. His high position in life doesn’t prevent him from being grounded, from being down to earth, from being realistic. Not only does he know what it means to have authority but, to the surprise of Jesus Himself, he recognizes God as having true and real authority. Just say the word, he says to the Lord, and I know my servant will be healed.

You know, in our Serbian Church and our Serbian calendar we celebrated these past few days a sort of a centurion of our own. He was a military leader and he was just as great and mighty and powerful as the one described in this morning’s gospel reading.  And he was just as godly.  This is Tzar Lazar of Kosovo and we remembered him in our prayers this past Thursday when we celebrated Vidovdan. Just as the centurion from this morning’s gospel recognized the authority of God over man’s authority so did Tzar Lazar  recognize the value of God’s eternal kingdom over this earthly, transient world.

When we celebrate the Battle of Kosovo in our church it’s not so much the battle itself that we concentrate on. It’s the choice to go to battle. The Turkish army was much larger and much stronger yet Tzar Lazar chose rather to go into battle and to fight for freedom than to be simply defeated and become a slave.  He chose Heaven and the Serbs he led into battle declared “Боље гроб него роб” (“Better the grave than a slave”).

And so we celebrate the battle of Kosovo, which was in fact a defeat of the Serbian army and roughly 77,000 Serbian people perished at that battle, yet we celebrate it as a victory. Not so much because of the battle itself but because of the choice to go to battle. Thus, the battle of Kosovo is different from other battles in the history of mankind. All battles last, some shorter some longer, and then they are finished and they enter history; but the battle of Kosovo has lasted, behold, over six hundred years.  Because ultimately it is the battle for the Heavenly Kingdom, for the Honorable Cross and Golden Freedom, for those eternal values without which there is no life. For this reason every generation, every age, every man is really fighting the battle of Kosovo and has to make that choice to fight for the God’s holy Kingdom.

That was the faith that Tsar Lazar had and that was the faith that the centurion in gospel reading had. It was that great faith, not the power or authority or military might or anything else that – but that great faith in God which causes us to read:   And when Jesus heard it,  he marvelled at him, and turned and said unto them the multitude that followed him, Truly I say to you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.

God grant that our faith in God be just as great as Tzar Lazar, the centurion and all the Saints that we celebrate today and everyday throughout the year. Amen.

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