There's a lot of marveling going on in the Bible. Mary and Joseph marvel in the temple when they hear Simeon's words about baby Jesus (Luke 2:33). As Jesus grows, crowds marvel at his ability to heal and teach (Luke 9:43). Pilate marvels after interacting with Jesus before his crucifixion (Mark 15:5). Peter marvels when he sees an empty tomb (Luke 24:12). Marvels: that's our Jesus verb for today.
Sometimes instead of "to marvel," the original Greek verb (thaumazo) is also translated as: to wonder, to be astonished, and to be amazed. It is usually people other than Jesus who do the marveling. But on a very rare occasion, it is Jesus himself. In the whole Gospel of Luke, it only happens once. Jesus marvels in Luke 7:9. Specifically, he marvels at the faith of a man who would likely have been considered an enemy to most religious people.
The story starts with a Centurion. Background: Centurions were powerful people in biblical times. They were commanders of armies. They represented Rome, the occupying power of the day. The average Centurion was in charge of 80 soldiers. Centurions were not a religious bunch. In general, followers of Jesus avoided them as much as possible.
The Centurion in this story has someone in his estate who is sick. Let's just go ahead and call the Centurion Augustus, since we don't get to learn his actual name in Luke's rendition of the story.
So Powerful Augustus the Seemingly Non-Religious Centurion sends some of his men to get help from Jesus to heal the sick person. Already, the story is pretty astonishing. A Centurion reaching out to a fairly unknown religious leader for help? Curious.
Jesus hits the road and heads to the home of Augustus. Jesus wants to help. Before he arrives, Augustus again sends people to speak on his behalf. They say (basically): "Jesus, Augustus knows you can heal someone without even needing to be there. He believes you can do it. He knows you can."
That's the moment when Jesus marvels. He says (more or less), "Whoa! This man's faith is astonishing! I've never seen anything like it in my whole life."
We usually expect to witness great faith from predictable sources. But now and then, faith comes from very unpredictable sources. And it's marvelous. It surprises us. It challenges us to expand our expectations of what faith looks like, sounds like, and feels like.
The Centurion in the Gospel of Luke is not an expected source of deep faith. When Jesus witnesses it, he marvels. He pauses and reflects. He allows himself to feel surprised and to even voice it aloud.
Jesus' willingness to marvel at the Centurion's faith is a powerful moment in the Gospel of Luke. It reminds us all of the expansive, unpredictable nature of God's grace.
God is at work among people and places beyond what we can imagine. Our Creator plants seeds of faith throughout the whole earth. Sometimes those seeds sprout in spots where we didn't even recognize the soil.
May the freedom of faith empower us to marvel and marvel deeply.
The Lady Pastor is a weekly column by Emily Carson. She is a Lutheran pastor serving at the Southeastern Minnesota Synod Office in Rochester. Visit her blog at: www.emilyannecarson.com.