The problem with privilege is that the longer it lasts the more likely we are to view it as an entitlement. Set someone up in 5-star, luxury accommodations and, the longer it lasts, the more the awe factor tends to wane. What began with excitement can soon become the everyday ho-hum reality of expectation. The God who wired us, and then saw that “wiring” frayed and frazzled because of sin, knew this could be the case. Here’s what he says, through Moses, to the Israelites before they move into their new digs, the promised land:
“Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments and His rules and His statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery . . . Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.'”
(Deuteronomy 8:11-14, 17 ESV)
The gift becomes a given. The new becomes the normal. The promise eventually morphs into the presumed.
I was reminded of this as I read this morning in Luke’s gospel (7:1-10). Jesus travels to Capernaum and a centurion hear’s about it. But his interest isn’t in some official, Roman authority capacity. Instead, it’s because the centurion has a dear member of his household staff who is near to death and he believes this Jesus, whose reputation has preceded Him, can do something about it.
This Roman leader of a 100 fine-tuned, fighting men really is a remarkable character. First, this tough guy seems to care about his household servants, so much so that he’s willing to step out in faith on behalf of one who is deathly ill. Second, this soldier charged with maintaining Roman rule over the Jews has, in fact, become a fan of the people of God, having built them a synagogue. So highly is he regarded by those he rules over, that a delegation of Jewish elders willingly and passionately goes to Jesus and pleads for this man’s request that Jesus heal his servant.
Gotta like this guy. Whatever good comes to him, or to his household, you can’t help but think he deserves.
But here’s the deal. When the centurion hears, that in response to the Jewish elders’ petition, Jesus is heading to his home, he sends out another delegation of his friends to tell Jesus that it isn’t necessary that He come. That he believes Jesus’ authority and power is such that He need only say the word and the servant will be healed.
What faith! Even Jesus remarks, “I tell you the truth, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”
And what grabs my attention is that the centurion himself never actually goes and talks to Jesus. That he first sends some Jewish elders who know his good deeds. Then, he sends some of his closest friends who know his heart.
How come? Because he’s a big shot and can send whoever wherever to do whatever? Nope, that’s not it.
When [Jesus] was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself, for I am not worthy to have You come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to You. But say the word, and let my servant be healed.”
(Luke 7:6-7 ESV)
The Roman commander refused to enter into the presence of Jesus not because he thought he was too good for the rebel rabbi, but because he knew he was unworthy to even fall at the feet of One who Himself embodied creation’s power. He was unworthy to even untie the shoelaces of One who could heal the sick, give sight to the blind, make the lame to walk, and raise the dead from the grave. Unworthy to approach God in flesh. Insufficient to presume any favor should be extended to him, or anyone else, because of his reputation. Unfit to even seek a blessing, much less receive one.
And as I sit and chew on this man’s words, this child of God, having been graced with adoption papers some 40 years ago, is reminded that he too is unworthy.
Unworthy to approach God, much less be invited within the curtain to abide with Him. Unworthy to even be acknowledged by the Son of God, much less to be called His friend. Unworthy to bring any offering before His throne which might be deemed pleasing by a holy, holy, holy God, much less to have heaven’s best freely given as a sacrifice for my sin–to have the Lamb of God determine to be my redemption.
Unworthy of the wooing call of the Spirit which ushered me out of darkness and into marvelous light. Unworthy of the blessings that I have known. Unworthy of the inheritance which awaits.
O, might such privilege never become common place. Keep me Lord, from allowing Your mercies, which are new everyday, to become an expectation. Guard my heart from the blessing ever becoming boring or a burden.
O’ that grace might ever be new. That His glory might always be proclaimed.