Listen to “Donor Perks” by Fred Smith
There are two instances in Luke’s writings where Roman centurions get special treatment for being good people and influential friends. The first is the Roman centurion in Luke whose valued servant is ill and the second is Cornelius in Acts who had a vision of an angel telling him to bring Peter to his home. For both, they had earned a reputation of being godly men whose gifts to Jews had been generous. It’s the first centurion who interests me the most for a couple of reasons.
First, it seems he sends some elders of the Jews to make his case to Jesus. As they describe it to Jesus he is a man who deserves this favor because he “loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” I can imagine any centurion thinking this is the only way to get access to Jesus and the Jewish elders assuring him they can move his case to the front of the line and get the ear of Jesus. After all, he is a significant donor, a good man, a friend of Israel, and such a leader would expect this. As well, it would be useful for a young ministry to have such a sponsor with influence. Everyone wins. Does it sound familiar? Do we have similar expectations as donors and are there people around us who can make things happen because of that? Do we get invitations to meet with important people? Do we get moved to the front of the line, into the roped-off sections or close to the head table? Are there people around us who work hard to get us into the right places to meet with the right people due to our status as donors? Of course we do and we get used to it. Any special privilege over time becomes comfortable and even expected. It’s part of the advantage of being a donor. We can pull strings and get special treatment. That’s how it works and it is naive to think otherwise.
An Inconvenient Reversal
The real surprise for me is the response of Jesus. I would expect him to be offended or to say, “The first will be last and the last first.” No one gets VIP access to Jesus. I might have actually applauded if he had demanded that the centurion come in person to make his request. But he does not say this. For whatever reason, Jesus leaves what he is doing and goes with the men sent by the centurion. Then on the way to his home the word comes from the centurion that he has changed his mind and Jesus does not need to come. Instead he recognizes the authority of Jesus – making the trip unnecessary. Again, the unusual response of Jesus. “This is the greatest faith I have seen.” He isn’t upset about the request for special treatment and then what might have been an inconvenient reversal.
I would love to see more of us make the same shift in our thinking as the centurion. Instead of using the system to get special treatment, we would say about ourselves, “We do not deserve this because we are donors. This is not the way things should be done. We will trust instead.” It’s not easy to stop all the well-intentioned (and some not so well-intentioned) people who have learned how to get passes and favors for donors…but it is a step in the right direction. What if we graciously declined the offers and perks and made it unnecessary for the ministries to figure out ways to make us feel special? After all we don’t really deserve it.