“I did not even think myself worthy to come to You” Luke 7:7
These are the words of a Roman centurion, a Gentile. It is not the kind of words one would expect from a man who is used to throwing his authority around and expecting people to look up to him with a measure of fear. Something had happened to this man that changed his attitude and behaviour toward others, especially toward Jews.
When he heard that Jesus, a Jew, was approaching his town he sent Jewish synagogue leaders to Jesus pleading for Him to heal his servant. It would appear that they did not represent him faithfully. On his behalf they presented him as one worthy who merited Jesus’ power to heal. Their appeal, typical of Israel at the time and most Gentiles then and now, was on the basis of good works and merit.
As Jesus came even nearer to his town, without response, the centurion sent friends who were faithful to the centurion’s words. They repeated his words, “I am not worthy … I did not even think myself worthy to come to You.” He knew that Jesus came in the authority of God (v 8) and he knew that while God is holy he was a sinner and unworthy of His presence.
The people following Jesus in Capernaum at the time were most likely all Jews and He took the opportunity to point out the contrasting means of approach to Him by saying, “I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel” (v 9). The leaders of the synagogue had sought Jesus’ favour on merit but the centurion sought Jesus’ favour on mercy and grace. We can readily see to which Jesus responded and approved.
Historically this is how Israel has generally approached favour with God but they are not alone in this. Most religions of the world, even some claiming to be Christian, come to Jesus like the synagogue leaders, on the basis of merit or partial merit. Therefore, thinking they deserve God’s favour, they praise themselves and not God and they are unthankful toward God. After all, they did not receive a gift, in their eyes they received a payment for works done.
Of the ten cleansed lepers recorded in Luke 17:11-19 only one returned to give thanks to Jesus for healing him. The other nine thought they deserved His favour and that their healing was merited. They saw no reason to thank Jesus. Only one knew that he was unworthy and was therefore thankful.
If we do not continually have thankful hearts to the Lord it is because in some way we think we deserve His favour. At those times we are like the synagogue leaders who presented the centurion’s case to Jesus and the nine unthankful cleansed lepers. Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Luke 5:32). This centurion was not worthy to come into Christ’s presence and he knew it but he is just the kind of person who Jesus is calling to Himself.