Healing is only a possibility, never a certainty. What it takes to be healed often remains a mystery to us, even with our best science and technology. Given this prospect, hope is mixed with doubt both for the one who wants to be healed and for those who desire to be agents of healing. We bring this mixture of hope and doubt with us as we look to the healing stories of Scripture for comfort and encouragement.
This centurion desires that his slave be healed. The centurion is one familiar with authority, subject to the authority of the Roman ruler, given the authority to rule over others. Interestingly, he does not use this authority to gain special privilege. He sends messengers who humbly request that Jesus say the word, and let his slave be healed.
Jesus responds to the man’s request. He comments that this kind of faith is rare, that this man, an “outsider” to the community of faith recognizes the God-given powers of Jesus when the people within the faith community do not. When the messengers return, they find the slave in good health.
It is easy to get caught up in the character of the centurion. He is a man who represents good authority. One who cares for those who cares for his needs. Slaves of this time were considered property. Many slave owners would have put a sick slave to death rather than troubling himself to care for him. The centurion in our story is clearly a man of compassion who does not let the class distinctions of his time cloud his vision to see a man who is hurting. The centurion is one who exercises authority well.
Also, the centurion is one who respects the dignity and authority of others. As an agent of Rome, he could have walked right up to Jesus and demanded the healing. Instead, he sends messengers with the humble request, “Just say the word.” He sees and respects the healing authority of Jesus.
I am always careful when I read about healings in the Bible. It is important, I believe, not to see them merely as fixed historical events, something that happened then that, unfortunately, no longer happens. This denies the reality of God’s spirit in our world today. Christ has given to us the ministry of healing, this is an essential part of the Gospel that is true now just as it was true then. Healing is an important part of the Gospel.
At the same time, we need be careful not to take a wrong turn that is easy to make. If we look at the faith of this centurion and conclude that because he had enough faith, his request was granted, his slave was healed, we might also take the turn of believing that if only our faith were greater, those we love and care for might also be healed. Certainly, in struggling with the illness and disease we face in ourselves and in our loved ones, this is a turn in the road we might want to take. We look for a reason for our illness, a reason that healing escapes us and sometimes wind up blaming ourselves. This is not, however, what the story tells us.
While we can not heal ourselves nor create healing in others, there is much that we can do to join God’s spirit in a ministry of healing. Like the centurion, we can become advocates for those whose needs often go overlooked.
Also, we can recognize the importance of community in the healing event. Often it is myth we tell ourselves that we would rather be left alone when we’re sick. When I get sick I like to have space to spread out, to not have to feel like I’m entertaining someone, but the last thing I really want is to be left alone. It’s important to have the kind of company you can sit with and not have to do anything.
The good news is that we are not alone burdened with the responsibility for our own healing. We are not left alone to heal ourselves. Certainly, we play part, as we become aware of our brokenness and seek help, but we are also supported by others, by those who are given gifts to practice the healing arts, by friends and family who are for us. The challenge for us, I believe, is to see the healing authority coming not from within ourselves, but in Christ, from God, and through the love and support of the Spirit working among each other. Praise God for the gift of healing.