Luke really seems like he was a fan of the word thaumazo. Eighteen times in his two-part Luke/Acts he uses this Greek word that means to marvel, to wonder, or to be amazed. The vast majority of the time, Luke uses it to describe the response of the crowd to something Jesus or his apostles had done. It gets used a few times to describe the response to his resurrection, and once in a story about Moses, but Sunday’s Gospel lesson seems to have the most interesting use of the word:
Jesus was amazed
The Synoptic Gospels only show Jesus to be thaumazo “amazed” on three occasions. Mark tells us that Jesus was amazed at the unbelief of the people in his hometown of Nazareth, while Matthew and Luke share the story we will hear this Sunday about the “great faith” of the Centurion.
Centurion might be second only to Tax Collector in the list of worst jobs in first century Palestine. Centurion’s were Gentiles, more specifically Roman soldiers assigned to keep order. This particular Centurion had been assigned a pretty awful gig. Not only was Palestine a backwoods assignment on the edge of the Empire, but to be assigned to the small fishing village of Capernaum made it even worse. There was no action in Capernaum, only a population of 1,500, mostly work-a-day folks, from whom not much extortion money could be extracted.
I imagine Centurions who drew Capernaum felt like FBI agents assigned to the Cleveland, Ohio field office, but this Centurion was different. He immersed himself in the culture of Capernaum. He fell in love with the Lord God that the faithful Jews worshiped, and even helped them build the first Synagogue in the village. He was beloved by the people of Capernaum, and so, when his slave fell ill, the Jewish elders felt no qualms about approaching Jesus and asking him to help the slave of this outsider. On the authority of their witness, Jesus was inclined to help, but it wasn’t until the Centurion’s friends came with his message of great faith in the authority of Jesus to simply say a word of healing that Jesus was “amazed.” In fact, Jesus was so amazed that in both Gospel accounts of this story, he claims to have never seen such faith in Israel.
As one who has dedicated my life’s work to the Gospel of Jesus, I can’t help but wonder if my faith is strong enough to amaze Jesus. I highly doubt it. In fact, I’m probably more like the rest of Israel in that my familiarity with the Lord breeds laziness in my faith. It is so easy to simply go through the motions of the life of faith and forget to be thaumazo “amazed” at the simple fact that God loves Creation so much that he sent his only Son to redeem it; to lose sight of the fact that it is even through grace, and not of my own doing, that I’m able to have faith at all. This morning, I too am amazed at the great faith of the Centurion, and hopeful that I can remember to approach Jesus in the same way.