We know that asking someone to do something that they either cannot or will not do is often a waste of our time. So when we actually do make a request, it usually means we believe that the person we’re asking can accomplish it. That’s the situation we read about in today’s passage. A centurion of Herod’s army is asking Jesus, through his Jewish intermediaries, to come heal his slave who lives in Capernaum, the very village Jesus has just entered. We know this centurion is a man of war and violence. But given the concern he voices and the bold request he makes on behalf of a slave whom he valued highly (v. 2), we might presume that he is also a man of considerable compassion. If we’re cynical, we may think that this military official is just protecting his “investment.” But if the centurion knows enough about Jesus to believe he could heal someone close to death, he may also understand that engaging with Jesus doesn’t only change those he physically heals. Maybe this Roman knows that encountering Jesus results in repentance and a life-changing love.
Whatever the centurion’s motive, his request holds a hint of conflict. Here is a Gentile making a big ask of a Jewish rabbi. As the Jewish intermediaries make their appeal, they tell Jesus how worthy the centurion is, for he loves our people and it is he who built our synagogue for us (v. 5). This is no small gesture after all. Is the centurion calling in a favor by asking the Jews to intercede with Jesus? Does he think they owe him something? We don’t know the answers to that.
But we do know that the centurion believes Jesus can heal his slave, which is why he makes the request in the first place. He believes in Jesus’ power to heal and hopes that Jesus care enough about the situation to respond.
When you ask something of God, do you ask believing that God cares enough for you to respond?
God, deliver us from asking for that which we don’t believe you will do. May our prayers be always and forever born out of a believing hope. Amen.