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Veterans Day Reflections: Jesus & The Centurion

This Veteran’s Day I want to take a moment to offer some historical perspective to this American holiday. I also want to reflect on an encounter Jesus had with a soldier in the Gospel of Luke. Lastly, in light of Christ’s example,  I want to offer some insight as to how Christian men and women might think of and respond to Veteran’s Day.

The origin of Veteran’s Day goes all the way back to World War I, when fighting ended on November 11, 1918 as a result of an armistice, or ceasefire between the Allied forces and Germany.  This happened on “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of ‘the war to end all wars.’”(1)  It is this event 99 years ago that serves as the beginning of what we now know as Veteran’s Day.

Originally referred to as Armistice Day, November 11th was made a national holiday by an act of Congress in 1938, and later in 1954 the name of the holiday was officially changed to Veteran’s Day.

Currently there are 16.1 million veterans alive in America who have served during wartime and another 5.2 million veterans who served during peacetime(2). There are 1.3 million people actively serving in the military today and an additional 800,000 men and women serving in reserve capacities(3).  Veteran’s Day affords the citizens of America an opportunity to honor, to thank and to serve those men and women who have chosen a life of sacrifice and service through the US armed forces.

Today, I think of the grandfather I barely knew.  My grandpa Jean Pronovost served in the US Navy during World War II.  He fought in the Pacific Theater, including the Battle of Guadalcanal and he even received a commendation for acts of heroism during a Kamikaze attack upon the ship in which he served.  He was one of five brothers who served in the US military during the Second World War.  He died when I was eight years old and I never got to hear him talk of his service or express my gratitude.

I think also of my great-grandmother Olivia, a five star mother, who had to watch five of her sons go off to war.  Her son William never made it home and was buried at sea.  Her other son, my grandpa’s twin brother Dean, was a prisoner of war who was captured by the Japanese and lived through the horrors of the Bataan Death March.  I cannot imagine the sacrifices just my family made, let alone the millions of military families and individuals who have given so much over the generations.

How ought The Church think of veterans past and present and what responsibilities do we as Christians have to veterans? In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus interacts with a centurion, and in-so-doing I believe he provides a model for how we might think of and interact with soldiers on this Veteran’s Day.  

A centurion was a Roman soldier in charge of 100 men.  For the Jews, these soldiers served as constant “representatives of Roman occupation”(4) within Israel during the time of Christ.  One could even say these Roman soldiers were the enemy of the Jewish people, which makes the positive way they are portrayed in Luke’s Gospel quite surprising (v. 3:14, vv. 7:1-10, v. 23:47).

In one particular instance found in Luke 7:1-10, Jesus encounters a centurion who was deeply troubled by the dire sickness of his highly valued servant.  He reaches out to Jesus in hopes of a miracle.  Rather than rebuke or rebuff the gentile soldier who was a representation of the occupying Roman force that had so deeply afflicted the people of Israel, Jesus instead engages the man and shows compassion toward him and his servant.  The end result is that the servant is healed and Jesus is marveled at the soldier’s faith. Here’s how Luke records it,

When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him (the centurion), and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well. LUKE 10:9-10 ESV

Notice what Jesus modeled in how he chose to interact with this soldier:

  1. Jesus showed compassion toward this soldier and his situation.  He looked beyond the external things that could’ve created division and instead looked at the inner need of this man and was moved to respond.
  2. Jesus responded with action by ministering to the soldier and his pressing, urgent felt-needs.  He heard of the need and without hesitation “Jesus went with them” to heal the servant.
  3. Jesus engaged the soldier and as a result the soldier’s faith flourished.  He listened to the soldier and responded with amazement to his words.

On this Veteran’s Day, as millions of Americans remember and honor those men and women who have given so much, may the people of God love and serve soldiers the way Jesus did. On this Veteran’s Day, and in the days, weeks, months and years that follow:

  1. Show compassion to the soldier, many of whom bear the visible and unseen wounds of the battlefield.  Many veterans have seen and experienced unspeakable challenges which can pose significant challenges to everyday life.  For example, the (a)suicide rate among veterans is staggering, as well as the (b)homelessness rate.
  2. Serve the soldier, many of whom have urgent, pressing felt-needs that you individually or the church collectively can lovingly address.  There are many opportunities within our community to serve and care for veterans such as volunteering at the (c)Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center or at the (d)Milwaukee Homeless Veterans Initiative
  3. Engage the soldier, many of whom could benefit greatly from a simple “thank you”, or even better from authentic friendship or healthy community.  Look for ways to develop, grow and sustain meaningful relationship with a veteran.

As The Church follows the example of Jesus in intentionally modeling compassion, service and engagement, may God make Himself known in the process and grow the faith of the soldier in healing, freeing and hope-inducing ways!

a) https://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=2951

b) https://www.va.gov/HOMELESS/accomplishments/2016-by-the-numbers.asp

c) https://www.milwaukee.va.gov/giving/

d) http://www.mkehomelessvets.org/

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1) https://www.va.gov/opa/vetsday/vetdayhistory.asp

2) http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/veterans-day-facts

3) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Armed_Forces

4) https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1678

 

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