When I asked my daughter if she wanted another brother or sister, you know what she said? She said, “No thanks, I got friends.” Kids can be brutally honest, uncomfortably honest. If a kid tells you you are fat, you are probably fat. Kids don’t just tell you what you want to hear. We all have those moments when truth comes to us from an unlikely source. When truth cuts like a knife, right through our little comfort blankets of denial. I am sure we all have stories about when a hard truth came to us from an unlikely place…
In Luke 7:1-10 we see a similar sort of thing. The truth about Jesus’ authority is acknowledged by a Centurion, someone the Jews of Jesus’ day would have seen as a person with merely “stolen” authority, at best. There is a real contrast in the Gospels with the religious leaders of the day, who missed that God was doing something new, and that the “least, the lost, and the last,” were seemingly more able to recognized that through Jesus, God was doing something new and unexpected among them. At times, an outsider can recognize something that eludes those who are too close to religion, people like myself. Sometimes truth can come from an unlikely source, like a Centurion. He represented an oppressive, occupying Pagan government. In the minds of many of Jesus’s hearers, people would think, “this guy is a Centurion… he is not allowed to have faith like that. He is an outsider. He may have the earthly power over 100 swords, but he is out of his depth on matters of faith.” Yet his position allowed him to see Jesus’ authority, something some were not willing to recognize. Jesus probably wasn’t easily amazed!
The bible is full of these kinds of stories… stories when God uses the absurd to make a point unmistakable; when an unlikely Balaam’s donkey, or young king David, or Nathan the Prophet comes bearing a truth no one wants to hear. Now and then, people with a past come to us, trying to make the best of a bad situation, trying to be faithful in a difficult situation as this Centurion was. As his servants pointed out, he had done a few good things out of his experience with becoming a God fearing gentile, like use his money to help build the local synagogue. Even this money though, might have been looked at with suspicion as being looted from the Jewish people in their occupation. He had authority, but it was a “stolen authority,” and in the eyes of the people of ancient Judea. He might never escape those scandalous ways he may once have used that authority in the eyes of many a person of faith.
I think we do the same in the church at times. If someone with a rough past begins attending your church and growing in faith, how long are their motivations eyed with suspicion? How long will the dirt of their past taint our views of the fruits in their lives? It’s simply a fact that God is actively changing hearts all around, but what happens afterward on our end? Do we forever second-guess people’s motives and shut our ears to their experiences of faith, or do we humble ourselves and learn the lesson God is trying to tell us from unlikely source?
While debating a well-known Christian, Nietzsche once said “In order for me to believe, you need to look a little more redeemed!” What a critique! When truth comes to us from an unlikely source, we have an opportunity, either to close our ears because we don’t like the messenger, or to be willing to let God use an outsider to teach us how to open our eyes. We can let our stature, our age, our education—really our unconscious arrogance—be a barrier to seeing the new things God is doing in our community and beyond. It is too easy to shut our ears to the critique of the little kid—the oddball messenger—but perhaps when we do this limit the ways God can speak into our lives, and even, what He can say to us. At times, God graces our lives with truth from outside our perspective, from outside the usual channels of our experience. Truths we miss when we are surrounded by our usual tribe, those who like us are too close for a fresh perspective. Yet God is always creating, always surprising. Why do we expect anything less from the Creator of all things? How will you handle your next opportunity?