In Matthew chapter 8, Jesus makes two remarks about people’s faith. One man, he says, has great faith. Later in the chapter he tells his disciples that they have little faith. Each account, by itself is remarkable, and by comparing them we can possibly get some incredible insights about faith.

In the first story (5-13), a Roman centurion comes to Jesus and asks him to heal his servant. Jesus asks the centurion if he wants him to come to his house. The Roman leader tells Jesus “No. Just say the word, and my servant will be healed.”

Jesus was amazed and told his followers that he had not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.

Towards the end of chapter 8 (23-27), we find Jesus fast asleep in a boat with his disciples. Matthew tells us that a furious storm came up on the lake and that the waves swept over the boat. The disciples were afraid and woke Jesus up, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”

Jesus said to them, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” And then Jesus rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.

In comparing these two stories, naturally the question comes up, why did the centurion have such great faith, and the disciples such little faith? It seems to me that it should be the other way around. The disciples should be the ones with great faith. They traveled with Jesus and everywhere he went he healed people and cast out demons and taught the multitudes about the Kingdom of heaven. The disciples were somewhat intimate with Jesus and not only learned from him about faith, but also saw faith in action.

The Roman centurion on the other hand was not even a Jew. He was a gentile. Probably hated by most Jews because of the Roman occupation. What little knowledge he had of Jesus probably came second hand from a few stories and rumors told him about this miracle worker. Not exactly the makings of great faith.

So why the great faith of the centurion and little faith of the disciples? Who knows? God knows, but he isn’t telling. Or is he? Maybe there are a few clues in these stories to enlighten us about their faith and perhaps ours as well. Here is my theory.

Matthew indicates that the Roman centurion knew a little something about authority. A Roman centurion was in charge of 100 soldiers. He had authority over 100 soldiers. He was also a man under authority. When his superiors said “Jump!”, he asked “How high?”. By the same token, when he gave orders to the men under him, they obeyed him or died trying. The whole Roman army was under the authority of Emperor Caesar. He had a goal, and a plan for reaching that goal, and every soldier in his army had a role to play in achieving that goal.

In the same way, I believe, that the centurion had an idea about the way Jesus was able to heal people. He either had super-natural authority to heal people, or was under the authority of someone who had the power to heal people. And what was the goal of healing people? To relieve human suffering. People were miserable when they were sick, and happy when they were healed. Hence, the ultimate goal of Jesus was to make people happy. The centurion must have believed that either Jesus was God, or was working under the authority of a God who loved people and wanted them to be happy. If this was the case, then there was no need for Jesus to go to his house or lay hands on his servant. All he had to do was just say the word, and his servant would be healed, and many would be made happy. The servant, the servant’s family, if he had one, his friends, and the centurion.

The disciples,on the other hand, the “little faithers”, were freaking out in the boat, in the middle of the lake as waves surged over the side. Was Jesus panicking? Not so much. He was sleeping. The disciples woke him up screaming, “Lord save us! We’re going to drown.”

Ultimately they didn’t believe that God, or Jesus, had ultimate authority over everything. They didn’t really believe that God loved them and wanted them to be happy. The believed in the Evil Powers that lurked in the depths of the sea, that caused big storms which chewed up little fishing boats and spit them out, just for the fun of it. If they would have believed that God loved them and wanted them to be happy, they would have had a terrific time enjoying the wind and the waves and the wild ride, much like thrill seekers do on an exciting water ride at an amusement park. But, alas, they were full of fear, and their little faith was abundantly clear.

So what about us when the storms of life hit our little boats with fury. Do we grab on for dear life and scream for Jesus to help us, or do we grab on for dear life and enjoy the ride, knowing that the God of the furious storm is right along side us, laughing all the way?

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