When I was growing up, my dad would tell me about his childhood and time spent in the military.
Glenn Real served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and in the U.S. Army during the Korean War.
I’m not sure why he served in two different branches of the military, but one story I remember took place when he was getting ready to enlist during World War II.
Dad said he was in a line where young men were being asked which military branch they wanted to enter.
My dad said because he liked to swim, he opted for the navy.
The man behind him in line picked the army.
Dad said he ended up on the island of Tinian after the U.S. Marines had taken it from the enemy. He supervised a group of men who built Quonset-type housing for pilots.
What happened to the man who was behind my dad in the line?
Dad said that man ended up on the beaches of Normandy, France and died.
My dad didn’t tell me too many stories about his time in the military, but he knew how it worked.
He knew how to take and give orders. He understood the chain of command.
There’s a man the Bible who had that same type of knowledge. He was a centurion and his story is found in the New Testament book of Luke, starting in chapter seven.
At this point Christ’s story, Jesus has entered Capernaum, where a centurion lives. The centurion has a servant, whom he highly values.
Some elders of the Jewish people highly value the centurion.
So when the centurion’s servant becomes very sick and is about to die, he sends some of the elders to Christ, asking him to come and heal the servant.
The elders go to Jesus and plead earnestly for his help.
“This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue,” they say.
So Jesus goes with them.
Jesus isn’t far from the centurion’s house, when the man sends friends to say: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you.
“But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”’
When Jesus hears this, he is amazed. Christ turns to the crowd following him and says: “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”
After that, the centurion’s friends return to his house, where they find that the servant is well.
The book of Matthew, which also includes this story, adds that the servant was healed at the moment Christ spoke.
I’m amazed by this centurion’s humble attitude.
His story is so different than one about a man, named Naaman, in the Old Testament.
Naaman, a Syrian army commander who has leprosy, goes to the prophet Elisha for healing.
But this military man is enraged when he travels all the way to see Elisha and the prophet doesn’t even come out of his house.
Instead, Elisha has one of his servants tell Naaman to go wash seven times in the Jordan River to be healed.
This wasn’t what Naaman expected.
“I thought (Elisha) would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy,” the angry Naaman says.
Here’s where Naaman’s servants prove more insightful than their boss.
“If the prophet had told you to do some great thing, wouldn’t you have done it?” they ask.
So why wouldn’t Naaman do this simple thing?
Naaman follows his servants’ advice and washes in the Jordan River.
And he’s healed.
Both Naaman and the centurion got what they were seeking.
But I’m intrigued by the centurion’s perspective.
Why didn’t the centurion think he was worthy of having Jesus come in his house?
Could it have been because ancient Roman soldiers were known for their brutality? Could this centurion have done — or have ordered — soldiers to do unspeakably violent things and he felt the pangs of guilt?
The Bible doesn’t say that.
But I wonder.
Or could it have been that the centurion had heard how Jesus so compassionately healed the sick?
And did flat-out desperation lead the centurion to seek Christ’s help?
I wonder if the centurion ever heard the story of Naaman.
Yet the Scriptures don’t indicate that the centurion had any knowledge of this story.
They just say he’d heard of Jesus.
And that was enough for him to reach out.
So what will it take for us to reach out?
Will we trust God even when:
- It looks like nothing is happening?
- We can’t see how he’s working?
- Our hope seems non-existent?
Jesus said he hadn’t found anyone in Israel with faith like the centurion, which I think is sad, because the Israelites had a real long history with God.
Maybe we should take a cue from this. As Christians, most of us have a long history with God, too.
So will we have faith even when things don’t look so great?
It’s nothing we can muster for ourselves.
We must ask God to strengthen our faith and keep us steady throughout our life circumstances.
I pray that God will give us the faith of that centurion and to help us not fear, but to trust him with our future.
As for Naaman, he didn’t turn out so bad.
What I love most about the story of Naaman is that his healing was more than skin deep.
We see that when Naaman says he knows there’s no other God but the one in Israel and he’ll never again make burnt offerings to any other god but the Lord.
In talking to Elisha, he also asks that the Lord will forgive him when he must accompany the king of Syria into the temple of his god and bow down with that ruler.
Elisha tells Naaman to go in peace.
Our God can give us faith and hope.
He is the mighty and yet gentle commander of our souls.
And while we may wonder why one man came home from World War II to his family and another died overseas, I believe we can trust our God to bring us to a place of peace — and eventually to our eternal home in heaven.