Now, if there was a class of people that the Jews despised, it was the gentiles, and the one gentile nation they detested the most was the Romans, unless it should be the Samaritans. Yet this man had lived so in Capernaum that he had won their favor and esteem; he had commanded the respect, not only of his own soldiers, but of those Jews that would naturally have hated him. He went to Christ and wanted Christ to heal his servant, be cause he loved the nation. They thought because he had built them a synagogue that he was one of the grand est of men, and it looks as if God left all His work to go and heal this centurion, because he was worthy. Perhaps they said, “The very synagogue I occupied last Sunday was built by this centurion. Now, come, because he is worthy.” Didn’t do it on the ground of grace, they did it on the ground of his worthiness.
Now, if you will just follow the whole scene, you will find that Christ wanted to teach another lesson. I remember being in Scotland a few years ago, and on my way to the church, a friend said, I hope you will not bear very hard on whisky. The steeple on the church where you are going to preach was built by a distiller, and it would hurt his feelings if you should say anything about whisky.” That was just the way to keep me from saying anything about it, you know. I had to give my opinion about steeples that were built with whisky money. There are a good many who have an idea that distilling is all right, if they will only give their money to the church. That will cover a multitude of evil, and make it all right.
These Jews thought this centurion was all right, because he had built then a synagogue. Now, a man may build a synagogue, and still be a black-hearted villain. But not so with this centurion; I don t think it was because he had built a synagogue that his name shines so bright in history. I will tell you what I think. He wanted Christ to come and heal his servant, and I suppose that servant was a slave. A different set of people we have now! Most of us, if we have a servant, and he gets sick, we just get him home as quickly as possible, or to some hospital. Perhaps we get a free bed, if we can. We get him off our hands, because we don t want to be bothered with a sick servant. We have paid them their wages, and we think that is the end of our responsibility. Not so with the centurion. It wasn’t his son, nor his daughter, nor his wife, nor mother. It wasn’t some member of his family, not any one that was bound to him by the tie of nature, but a servant, and he was dear to him.
Ah, my dear friends, there is a lesson. I don t believe this nation has ever seen a better day to show our friendship to ward those who are down. The gulf has been becoming deeper and darker for twenty years, and now we have a good opportunity to bridge the gulf. Let us follow in the footsteps of that good Samaritan. Let the millionaires look very carefully now after the men who have been piling up their wealth for them. Follow the footsteps of this good Samaritan, and see what will come out of it. He won the esteem of every servant he had. Do you tell me that if that servant was very dear to him, the centurion was not dear to the servant? I was in California some time ago, and quite a number tried to tell me that the Chinaman hadn’t a soul, and that a Chinaman wasn’t capable of loving. I said, “It is utterly false. There is not a son or daughter of Adam on earth, that isn’t capable of loving.” Before I left California, they told me of a man who got a Chinaman just as he came to this country, and took him into his family and treated him kindly, and by-and-by the Chinaman became his body-servant. At last misfortune overtook his master. He died, and left his widow without any means of support. The poor Chinaman had worked hard and long, day and night, to get back to China. Every company that brings a Chinaman to this country has to sign a contract that they will bring him back dead or alive. Sometimes they scrape the flesh off the bones, and send them back to be buried in their own country. This man had been working and toiling hard to get money to go back, but when he found that his master had left his mistress without money, he took the thousand dollars and insisted upon her taking it. And yet they say a Chinaman can not love! My dear friends, you cannot expect anything better from the world, but when you find those who profess to be Christians, what is going to become of the cause of Jesus in the world? I wonder if you are looking after those who serve you. Are any of them unfortunate just now. Are they in need? Your soup-houses may be all right, but I wouldn’t like to have a servant of mine go to a soup-house. Would you? I wouldn’t like to have a man who is toiling for me degrade himself, by going to a house to beg for soup.
Dwight Moody, “THE CENTURION AT CAPERNAUM”, Dwight Lyman Moody’s life, work and latest sermons as delivered by the great evangelist : together with a biography of Ira David Sankey
Dwight Moody’s bio has been discussed here before. Early drafts of this blog post were entitled, “Chinaman”. Wikipedia notes the word has derogatory connotations, and has this assessment:
the term Chinaman is noted as offensive by modern dictionaries and is no longer the preferred nomenclature:
I hope that the sharing of this quote from Dwight Moody, which is a criticism of racism against Chinese Americans, provides more edification than the hurt caused by using the word.
The story of the Centurion is found in Luke and Matthew. I had never thought of the SJ implications of this passage until now. Moody finds it striking that the Centurion, a member of the hated, oppressing class (Roman soldier) would go to such lengths to get a servant healed. Moody thinks this is what touches Jesus, not merely his donations to the temple.
The excerpt concludes with Moody’s attempt to refute a deadly serious, racist stereotype: that Chinese people cannot love, that they have no souls. It is utterly preposterous to any student of the bible or psychology, to anyone who’s met real people, but in California, Moody met “quite a number of people” who told him this. By context of conversations with a great evangelist, I imagine these were church people discussing evangelization who held to this bigotry. Of course, this is great sin. This sin would cause not only all kinds of temporal problems and social hurts, but also cut people off from hearing the Good News, which has eternal consequences.
Modern conservative Christians are getting (unreasonably) exasperated with talk of racism, and so Moody’s spirit is not found among them. But I also find Moody’s approach not exactly in tune with our modern liberal activists. Moody isn’t asking for protests with signs outside anti-Chinese businesses. He is declaring the Gospel.
Moody takes the racist stereotype and tells a story of one whose behavior precisely disproves the stereotype. Apparently told from a church pulpit and preserved forever in a book of church sermons. He calls the church itself to repentance, that the example of selfless love from a non-believer overshadows anything we believers might be doing. Moody is not afraid to point to where the real damage lies: “the cause of Jesus.”
PRAYER: Dear Lord, allow us to proclaim that all people are worth to You and to us that they have worth beyond the flesh on their bones. Save us also from the “soft racism” of tying people’s worth to their social utility or benevolence. Remind us that you died even for your enemies. Amen.