1After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum.

2A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. 3When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. 4When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, ‘He is worthy of having you do this for him, 5for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.’

The religious “elders” in this story are not bad men. They seem genuinely moved by the plight of this Roman soldier.

It is impossible to know their motives; but it appears they had genuine respect for Jesus and considerable faith in his ability to heal. They were willing to cross a significant social barrier to meet Jesus who many of their religious cohort had judged a dangerous imposter. They were willing to be a bridge across the chasm that separated Jesus from a Roman centurion who was the “enemy” of all Jews.

Unlike many members of the religious establishment, these “Jewish elders” seem to have had no malicious intent toward Jesus. They were not trying to trap Jesus, or find a pretext to persecute him.

But, these “elders” failed to grasp the fundamental reality Jesus came to embody. They still believed life is a “worthiness” system. They approached Jesus with the Centurion’s credentials:

he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.

The kindness and charitable acts of the Centurion meant that, in the eyes of the Jewish elders, he merited Jesus’ attention. He deserved to have his servant healed because of his good actions.

The worthiness system is exhausting. I will never be good enough to merit God’s favour. If life operates on the basis of merit, I know in my heart, I always fall short.

Even worse, the worthiness system is out of touch with reality. There are many people who seem most deserving of God’s blessing and yet their lives travel through desperately difficult and painful places. There are scoundrels who appear to prosper.

“Meritocracy” simply does not add up. Evil does not necessarily always bring disaster. Goodness does not always result in a life of uninterrupted bliss. Life is more complex than worthiness. We need to look deeper.