Page 7 of 8
JESUS AND THE ROMAN CENTURION
Throughout the Gospels Jesus always confronted people with their spiritual needs. Often that confrontation was in the form of a pointed identification of personal sin followed by an immediate command to reform. For example, Jesus confronted the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-22) about his love of money; he challenged the woman at the well with her infidelities (John 4:7ff.); and he rudely challenged the Pharisees concerning their hypocrisies (Matthew 22:18; 23:13). In the Centurion passage (Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:3-10) Jesus does not confront the Centurion (a professional soldier who is in the employ of an oppressive and imperialist state) about the evils of military occupation or the wickedness of the Roman Empire. Nor do we have record of the Centurion making a spontaneous vow to reform his life, as we do in the account of the taxman Zaccheus (Luke 19:1-10), whereby we might surmise such a confrontation.
Further, this event illuminates a proper understanding of authority. The Centurion understood that a powerful prophet like Jesus rightfully exercised delegated divine power (Matthew 8:9). The Centurion expected that Jesus could simply give a command and it would be done. Jesus marvels at the Centurion‘s understanding and faith and holds him up as an example that others should follow. Jesus then responded to the Centurion’s expression of belief by healing his servant (Hebrews 11:6).
In the same way, John the Baptist‘s prophetic preaching demanded radical repentance for sinful actions. It is significant that in his recorded interaction with military his concern is with the soldier‘s personal conduct and not with their employment.
The account found in Luke 3:7-14, like the other Synoptic accounts, frames the encounter in terms of repentance. The demands of the Baptist are clearly ethical: “Produce fruit in keeping with your repentance!” ”But what should we do then?” the crowd asks...Then some soldiers asked, “And what should we do?” to which John replies, “Do not extort money and don‘t accuse people falsely – be content with your pay.”69
Both Jesus and the Baptist dismay both pacifist and just war theologian. Neither makes an unambiguous affirmation or condemnation of the military profession. Jesus makes no comment about the Centurion‘s profession. It therefore is an argument from silence to note that this commander of soldiers is engaged in an honorable profession. The (Gentile) Centurion‘s faith is exemplary – “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel” (Matthew 8:10).
There is not one condemnation for the honorable conduct of the profession of arms throughout the pages of scripture. This is not to say that evil and morally inexcusable actions have not been faithfully recorded in the Bible (such as the killing of infants, Matthew 2:16-18) and condemned. On the other hand numerous military heroes are lauded in the pages, such as King David‘s mighty men (2 Samuel. 23). NT writers frequently import military allusions to explain faith concepts (2 Timothy 2:3-4; Hebrews 11:32; James 4:1; 1 Peter 2:11).
Jesus the Messiah did not teach pacifism; he did teach a lifestyle of dependence upon God and non-retaliation against fellow human beings. The commands to love neighbor (Matthew 19:19) and to subordinate all desire for revenge to God (Romans 12:19; Hebrews 10:30) against a future reckoning (Luke 21:22) eliminates the possibility of retaliation from the Christian life.
While Christians are free, and even obligated, to forgo self-defense, they are not free to ignore the distress of others. Christians have an obligation of love that requires them to protect others. Peaceful means must be explored first, and non-violent solutions to conflict valued above all others. If force is necessary, it must be proportionate to the offense as a just response in the face of violent aggression. This is the beginning and foundation of Just War teaching.
A citizen of the Kingdom of God (Ephesians 2:19) is necessarily an inhabitant of this earth who supports the ruling authorities (Titus 3:1), pays taxes (Romans 13:6), and is a productive member of society (2 Thessalonians 3:10). It therefore follows that Christians ought to serve in government, in the military, in commerce, in medicine, in education, and in any other walk of life not expressly forbidden in scripture. The Christian is to discern the how to righteously live in two kingdoms, and to live boldly as Christ’s disciples regardless of the calling.
The military profession as it is justly practiced is an honorable vocation before God. Because human society must be rightly ordered and protected, there is an on-going need for human protectors of humanity. While we have much to learn from Christian pacifists about restraint of power and seeking peaceful resolutions to human conflicts, there will always be a need for those who make and restore peace by force of arms.
Finally, Jesus the Messiah taught a lifestyle of dependence upon God, personal non-retaliation against fellow human beings, and love for one‘s neighbor requiring robust participation in human society. We have reviewed many of the divine roles that describe the Christ and his ministry. In Jesus Christ we have both the Divine Warrior and the Lamb of God. Only the Messiah embodies and reconciles both of these roles (and many more). The entire Christian communion looks forward to the day when Christ returns and sets all things right.
Wylie W. Johnson has served as the Senior Pastor of The Springfield Baptist Church, Springfield, Pennsylvania, since May 1997. Ordained in 1982, he served five years as Assistant Pastor at First Baptist Church, Metuchen, New Jersey; followed by 10 years in the active Army Chaplaincy prior to coming to Springfield. His education includes a D.Min. (Lutheran Theological Seminary of Philadelphia); M.Div. (Denver Seminary); MSS (U.S. Army War College), and a B.A. (The King’s College, New York).
He retired in 2012. His last assignment was service as the Command Chaplain for the Military Intelligence Readiness Command of the U.S. Army. He is a veteran of five conflicts and a master parachutist. In his Army career, Chaplain Johnson served in Honduras, Korea, the Persian Gulf, Somalia, Haiti, Germany, Afghanistan, and Iraq, as well as numerous locations in the continental United States.
|Last Updated on Monday, 25 March 2013 18:17|