Jesus was forever having conversations…all different kinds of conversations. Imagine with us now: what if you were the centurion?
Conversations with Jesus: The Centurion
Dear Friends and Family:
Greetings from Capernaum! It’s me, Claudius, with a brand new email address. Make sure to save it in your address books. I hope you’ll excuse the mass email, but I wanted to catch up. Plus, I had to tell all of you the story behind my new address. Get ready for a long email; it might take all of you (except for Mom, of course) a little bit of discipline to make it all the way through.
As all of you know, when I was originally sent on deployment this time around I thought for sure I would be stationed in Jerusalem. When I got here, though, they sent me way up north instead, up to the top edge of the Galilean Sea to this little fishing town called Capernaum. Ever heard of it? I didn’t think so! Capernaum is one of the bigger villages in the region, it’s true, but I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that most days this feels like the very furthest corner of the world. It’s hard to be stationed so far away from home; what I wouldn’t give to spend just one Saturday afternoon at the Coliseum! And nightlife? Forget it!
It does help that I’m living in an incredible house overlooking the lake. I am enjoying evenings sitting on the veranda, feeling the breeze wafting off the water. I wish sometimes that I was in Jerusalem where there’s more going on, but I guess it helps to be a big fish in a smaller pond, you know what I mean? Still, I miss all of you so much, and I miss home. Thank goodness we can keep in touch so easily by email. What did we ever do before email?!?
Things are going pretty well with me, overall. My work is challenging, but I think I’m making inroads. I’ve been given responsibility for 100 soldiers, all of whom seem to be adjusting to having me as a boss (please, no snarky comments by return email!). Our unit’s job is to keep the peace, which may sound like a pretty straightforward task. I know I thought so until I got here.
There’s a lot of political tension and unrest in the town here, which I guess I should have expected given what is going on in Jerusalem. The local people are not happy with our presence, that’s for sure. Everyday there are threats of uprisings, and I have to say that their religious leaders incite a lot of fear and anxiety. I don’t feel like my safety is threatened most of the time, but I know to keep my distance and try to be respectful of the Jewish laws as long as situations don’t interfere with getting my job done. So I don’t really have any Jewish friends—they mostly keep to themselves.
As a result I’ve been hanging out a lot with the household staff I brought with me from home. Because we just have each other, we’ve actually gotten to be a pretty tight-knit group. You remember Cornelia and Antonia from when some of you visited me in Rome last year, right? And I know all of you have heard me talk about Faustus, who is the best steward of household I have ever employed and has now become a very dear friend to me, too.
So, everything seemed to be going pretty well, with just the normal adjustment pains I would have expected, that is, until Faustus got sick.
At first I wasn’t too concerned, what with the move to this new region, change of food and water and all of that. And those of you who know Faustus will know that he is never one to complain anyway. He’ll downplay a problem in his own life because he would never want anything to get in the way of the house running smoothly. So I don’t think I noticed that he was even feeling sick until he was really sick. I don’t know what the sickness was exactly, but for sure it was some kind of wasting disease…even with my limited army medical training I could tell that. He lost so much weight very quickly; his skin was pale and sallow; he had dark circles under his eyes. When he thought I wasn’t looking, he would lean against the furniture like he didn’t have enough strength to hold himself up alone. I tell you, it was shocking to see such a robust man shrink right in front of my eyes! And I really knew he was sick when things around the house started falling through the cracks. We ran out of wine one night at dinner; my scabbard wasn’t shined for a couple of days…you know, little things like that, but things that normally Faustus would never tolerate in any household he ran. You know him!
So I called him in one day and asked him what was wrong. You’ll never believe it but he completely broke down and cried. Strong, proud Faustus started crying right there in my office! He said he didn’t know why he felt so poorly, but that he could hardly eat and the pain in his stomach was constant and stabbing. He’d tried all the herbal remedies, growing fennel in the garden, and even steaming poultices that he’d concoct alone in the kitchen late at night so nobody knew. He told me he’d even consulted the doctor here in the village (…if you could call him a doctor, of course. He’s a fisher who runs a doctor’s office on the side—mostly to stitch up gaping wounds and deal with other medical emergencies like that.)
Well, I decided we had to do something quick, so I sent a message to my commander telling of the situation and asking that someone there in Rome might go to the temple of Asclepius to pray for Faustus and ask the priest for a healing token—anything that might help. Honestly, I couldn’t bear the thought of losing him; he’s been such a comfort to me on this deployment. My commander was great—he’s known Faustus for years, too, so he went to the temple himself, in fact, and sent a healing charm that the priest there had blessed.
At home, I ordered the healthiest food be brought in for Faustus and relieved him of as many of his duties as I possibly could. I tried everything I could think of to help him get better—everything, but nothing seemed to help at all. It wasn’t long until I finally admitted to myself that Faustus was dying. This disease was eating away at him—you could see the decline every day. Soon he couldn’t get out of bed and was having to endure the indignities of servants doing everything for him. I could see it in his eyes—he was in utter pain all the time. I knew he was going to die. I knew it. Yes, I knew it, but I couldn’t accept it. I wouldn’t accept it. Really, he is my closest friend in this godforsaken place. And I knew I couldn’t go on without him. As you might imagine, the alternative medical options in a place like Capernaum are, well, nonexistent, really. There did not seem to be any option other than for our household to stand on the sidelines and watch Faustus wither and die.
So, in desperation, really, I called a Hebrew girl into my office. She worked for us sometimes but I knew she had grown up in Capernaum. I figured she would know if there was anything…anything…in Capernaum that would help Faustus. And she told me about this man. His name is Jesus…from Nazareth, this little town a short walk from here that’s more of a backwater than this place, if that’s possible. I have to say, I was skeptical. But the Hebrew girl said he was the talk of the town—everyone knew who he was, apparently, except for me. And they told me he was a Hebrew prophet—he was inciting the people wherever he went (the soldier in me got a little worried when I heard that!). But then I found out that he was asking his followers to love each other…to reach out to those in need…to live in peace, of all things.
Peace! In this climate?
I found his teachings revolutionary! But really, I was most intrigued by his reputation for healing people. HEALING them. He was traveling the countryside, she said, and the people who encountered him experienced some of the most miraculous things. In fact, she told me of a man with a withered hand, whom I remembered. He usually sat near the edge of the town begging—how many times had I seen him? So I sent for this man and, sure enough, his hand was whole. I examined his hand myself. With tears in his eyes he told me the story of Jesus who healed him—in the synagogue no less, and I knew I had to find this teacher Jesus.
So I sent Antonia then to find him. I guessed that, as a Jewish rabbi he would not welcome the attention of a woman, but Antonia was all I had. Antonia went out and met this Jesus of Nazareth on the road. She’s always been entrepreneurial, so I figured she would be the best choice for this assignment. And, as expected, she was (I didn’t reach this rank by pure luck, you know.)
According to Antonia, she elbowed her way in and told him the story. She had to get the help of some of the Jewish teachers who were there in the crowd, but they helped to get her to the front. Antonia told about our travels from Rome. She told about how we felt excluded from the community. And, most of all, she told the rabbi about Faustus. She yelled out everything—every detail—until the rabbi heard her. He really heard her. He pulled her aside, in fact, and he asked her to tell him everything about the situation. It was clear that Antonia was a foreigner, of course, and certainly not a Jew. But the rabbi listened with patience and care—honestly I couldn’t believe it myself! Then, the crowd began chiming in. Antonia said the liked me—they all told Jesus I was a fair commander and, I’m not going to lie, it made me feel really good that the reputation I’d been working so hard to build was taking hold.
There was a lot of talk among the crowd, apparently, about the synagogue—a few months back, right after I arrived, I’d heard the community was building a new synagogue—that’s like a temple for the Hebrews to worship their God, except smaller. Apparently the project was taking forever just because the men of the village could only work on it when the work of the day was done. I thought it would build goodwill to help, so I sent over my men—their first assignment in this village. As you can imagine, the synagogue was finished in no time. It was a simple project, really, but apparently the community really appreciated that—at least from what Antonia reported, it was all they could talk about.
So the rabbi responded to Antonia’s request—he and all the crowd following him began walking toward our house, coming to see Faustus, and Antonia rushed back ahead of them to tell me. But I was horrified—I hadn’t meant to interrupt the rabbi’s work. I had seen the man with the withered hand, and I knew that, with whatever power this man Jesus had, he could just say the word and Faustus would be healed. I myself am a busy, busy man. I hate interruptions, as all of you know. I didn’t want to inconvenience the rabbi even more, or ask him to come into our house—something the Hebrews do not allow as they feel interaction with any of us who do not share their faith is sinful and harmful. So, quick, I sent Antonia back out to meet him in the road. I told her exactly what to say: “Rabbi, do not trouble yourself to come to my home. Your work is too important to be interrupted, and I am not worthy, anyway, to have a teacher of your caliber interrupting his work to bother with me. Just please, command the healing from afar if you have a moment. I am a powerful man and I often get things done by just commanding them. Please, if you could pause for just a moment and say the word, I know my servant will be healed. Then you won’t need to bother with me, a Gentile, anymore.”
When Antonia delivered the message, she said the rabbi stopped in the middle of the road. He just stopped, turned to look at her in amazement and disbelief, she said. His mouth dropped open and he stood there for a few moments speechless. The crowd quieted and he was still silent, shaking his head in disbelief. Antonia told me later that she was worried—really worried that she had said something wrong. So she repeated my message to the rabbi one more time. Then he turned around to the crowd, she said, still shaking his head in amazement, and he told them that I was a man of faith. A man of faith!!! Can you believe it??! Me?? He told the crowd that he had not seen faith like mine even in all of Israel.
Can you picture the scene? A Jewish rabbi telling his followers that the faith of an outsider—someone who comes from a race they hate and fear and follows a religion they don’t understand—has more faith than all of them put together? Antonia said the crowd started murmuring then—whispering among themselves at the shocking thing the rabbi had just said. To really appreciate how unbelievable this is, you have to understand the fear mongering that has been going on around here lately. Some of the very zealous religious leaders in the region had been holding meetings to incite the people, to tell them things that are untrue about Rome and about us and our presence here, things that make them afraid and make my job of peacekeeping so much harder. I just couldn’t believe that this rabbi told the people I was a man of faith!
Meanwhile, back at the house, a miracle was happening. You all know me well enough to know I don’t usually say things like that. Talking about miracles is not my normal M.O., LOL. But I tell you, it was the strangest, most amazing thing I have ever seen in my entire life. Right before my eyes, Faustus was healed. I am not kidding. He was laying on the chaise as he’s been doing on the days when he has enough energy to come out of his room. He was covered with a heavy blanket, even though the day was very hot, and he was sleeping, as he does for most of every day. First he began to move. Then he kicked the blanket off—kicked! He slowly sat up straight, stretched his shoulders, and I noticed that the color had come back to his cheeks. And not just color, but health, I guess you could say. It was like his body began to fill out right in front of us, a total reversal of the wasting we had watched these past months.
After a few minutes, he told us he was hungry…starving, famished, and could he please have something to eat—maybe some broiled fish? None of us could believe it—Faustus hasn’t eaten much of anything other than broth for weeks, but we sat there and watched him eat with such enthusiasm—three heaping platefuls of food!
Well, the rest has become something of a legend around here. I wouldn’t be surprised if people are still talking about this years from now. Faustus is healed. Totally and completely healed. We could see it in his eyes as it happened right in front of us, but we really knew it was true when he got up out of bed and began ordering the staff around again.
As for me, life has returned to whatever normal is. I am doing my work and still missing home and all of you, but I am not the same Claudius you said goodbye to just a few months ago in Rome. I am changed. The experience of watching Faustus be healed—the words and the work of this rabbi Jesus—I just can barely put into words how they have changed me. I guess the best way to say it is the way he did: that—who would have ever believed it—I have become a man of faith. I really believe in this teacher, Jesus. His words are true and good and right. His teachings of love for each other and obedience to God are powerful and life changing. His leadership stands in stark contrast to the loud voices calling for revolt and violence and hatred; his way is the way to peace and healing—it saw it happen in my own house, right in front of my eyes.
And so, it’s true. I guess I am a man of faith; my life will never be the same. And I wanted all of you to know.
Please give my love to your families and feel free to forward this email to anyone I’ve left off the list by mistake. I miss all of you and home, but I am well. From far away I wish for all of you the peace and healing of the rabbi Jesus; I predict that you will hear of him eventually. I think his teachings might be powerful enough to change the whole world.