The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. Matt. 8:8
Veterans’ Day, also called Armistice Day, illustrates two enduring truths. First, it shows that the human condition has not changed. It was at 11:00 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month that, in 1918, the cease-fire was declared that set in motion the end of The Great War, also known as the “War to End All Wars.” After such unprecedented global bloodshed people naturally thought humanity had learned its lesson. They wanted to the holiday to celebrate peace and good will among nations.
Ironically, however, the Act of Congress that established Nov. 11 as a federal holiday happened in 1938, on the eve of WWII. The “Great War” of 1914-1918 had to be renamed World War I, because the even greater war of 1941-1945 (which really started in 1939 outside the U.S.) put the whole “war to end all wars” slogan into perspective. Peace and good will among nations remains a temporary, isolated, and fragile thing on the globe and the timeline of human history.
The second enduring truth of this day, then, is the need to honor secular vocations that address the negative effects of the fall into sin, especially those which demand that people sacrifice their own lives for other people. There will always be a need for soldiers, and those soldiers will always be deserving of respect. There will always be need for firefighters and police officers, too. Every vocation is a way to serve the Lord, and special consideration it given to those vocations that demand risk of life and limb. But Veterans’ Day is set aside specifically to honor those who have served in the Armed Forces.
Centurions in the Roman military system were, as the name implies, officers in charge of about 100 soldiers (cent, century, centennial, centurion, etc.). That means they answered to superior officers and gave orders to underlings with equal discipline. Jesus has several encounters with centurions in the Gospels, but He never tells them to quit their jobs. He tells them to do their jobs justly and honestly, and most importantly, as in the case of the centurion who speaks the verse quoted above, Jesus commends them based on their faith.
Any of us might learn to speak with the faith of the centurion. We are not worthy to have Jesus come into our lives, but we know that His Word of grace is everything. In the case of the centurion, his faith was such that he recognized Jesus as the rightful Lord of creation. He tells Jesus that just as centurions have to obey generals, and soldiers have to obey centurions, so reality itself, including sickness and death, must obey the voice of Lord. Jesus is amazed that the centurion has such faith and grants his request.
Centurions also, of course, play a key role in the crucifixion. But it is a centurion who finally, when all is said on done on Good Friday, says, “Surely this man was the Son of God.” We, too, are sinners. The only saving grace for us is having a Savior by God’s grace.
This Veterans’ Day we can give thanks that our nation is enjoying a period of relative peace, perhaps not internally as arguments rage about the election, but at least in terms of warfare with other nations. And we can remember that all people including ourselves are fallen people subject to the human condition. We honor those who offer to defend us today, and should remember to honor those who serve in all vocations that help alleviate the effects of the Fall.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
Rev. Peter Speckhard, Senior Pastor at St. Paul's Ev. Lutheran Church, Munster, Indiana