The gospel for today tells the Lucan story of Jesus’ encounter with the Roman centurion whose servant “was ill and about to die.” When the centurion hears, that Jesus is coming to his house, he sends another servant with a message: “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof. Therefore, I did not consider myself worthy to come to you; but say the word and let my servant be healed.”
The centurion’s role in the Roman army set him within the ranks of a chain of command. He was a man under the authority of others, and he also was responsible to give direction to those under his authority. If the centurion was given a command, he could command those under him to assist in carrying it out; with that command came the power and resources to complete the task. As everyone fulfilled their responsibilities, they would accomplish the goals of the emperor.
It is clear in the telling of the story that the centurion was well thought of by the Jewish community leaders. I always wonder if the centurion realized that God’s Kingdom was also structured with a chain of command, realizing that because Jesus was under God’s authority, He had God’s authority over the spiritual realm. On this basis, the centurion knew that upon Jesus’ authoritative command—whether given in person or from a distance—the sick servant would be healed immediately. Jesus marveled at the centurion’s faith and granted his request.
In addition to the centurion’s understanding of the chain of command and his faith in God, his behavior demonstrated several qualities of good leadership:
The welfare of those under his authority should be a top priority of a good leader. The account begins with a story of his love for and commitment to those under his authority: servant “was ill and about to die.” The Jewish elders confirmed the centurion’s concern for the Jewish people under his authority, noting his love for the nation and synagogue he ordered built.
An authority must view himself as being under authority. The centurion did not first say that he was a man in authority, but rather, “I too am a person subject to authority.” This declaration communicates humility and expresses a sense of accountability to God and others for the use of that power.
Those in leadership should see themselves as members of a long line of individuals who are responsible for serving and protecting others. Leaders should recognize that they are under authority as well, and they will be held accountable for how they exercise their power as well as fulfill the responsibilities given to them.
The centurion understood the absolute authority of Christ. The centurion knew that the principles he had observed in the chain of command in the Roman military would be true in Christ’s Kingdom. May God grant us such faith in the unseen realities of the Kingdom of God!
Image credit: Christ and the Centurion, Paris Bordone, c. 1555 | Private collection | Public Domain PDUS