This is among my favorite stories in the gospels for two reasons. First, Jesus "marveled at" the faith of the centurion, a man not (yet) of God's people. It's worth noting that this idea of "marveled at" (or "amazed by") is only used in reference to Jesus' response to two things in the gospels: the unbelief of the Jewish people and the faith of this centurion. There is something about this man's approach to Him that is stunningly beautiful and quite unlike what He had seen before.
The second aspect of the story that captures my attention is the concept of "a man set under authority." The foundation of the centurion's unique perspective on and faith in Jesus' power is his rock-solid understanding of authority—he knows what it is, and he knows Jesus has it. For him, authority isn't academic and abstract; he himself is under it, and exercises it over those under him.
This was a rare enough thing in Jesus' day to amaze Him, but I daresay "a man set under authority" may be still harder to find today. In our culture, it's not seen as wise or brave or sexy to be so. And while I believe there is great prudence in retaining our capacity for questioning authority, I wonder if we have exalted our own wills to the level of sovereignty. Do we submit only upon our full examination and approval? News flash: that's not being "set under authority" at all.
And another news flash: much of this is a head game. Jesus does have supreme authority, whether one acknowledges it or not. The centurion's experience and station equipped him to grasp the full power of what that means in a way that those of us who never allow ourselves to be placed under authority simply cannot. Can I have faith without believing in authority? Perhaps, but perhaps it can never be the kind of faith at which Jesus marvels.
Being a Christian in our age and culture isn't, in and of itself, a cure. Thousands (if not millions) of professed Christians never place ourselves under the authority of a church. We never let the body of Christ close enough to tell us "yes" or "no" (and certainly, one set under authority still has the right and responsibility to disobey an unlawful order). We invent for ourselves an individualized journey with Jesus that rejects both the Church's authority and His authority in calling us there. This is fantasy, not following.
(Unfortunately, there are also churches who engage in their own rejection of authority, which is another huge issue.)
The payoff, if we're looking for one, is healing. The centurion's faith, formed by His confidence in Christ's authority, is the conduit through which Jesus brings healing into his world. I don't want to go so far as the erroneous friends of Job in making the link, but can we really understand the extent of healing that God can bring into our lives if we are not "set under authority"? Will we have the construct we need to abandon ourselves to trusting Him? Without a doubt, there's healing we won't see on this side of Heaven, but without faith rooted in an understanding of authority, do we have any real grasp of what we can see?
And in regard to the Church, isn't it possible that Jesus knew exactly what He was doing in calling us there? Isn't it possible that learning grace and forgiveness under authority among other broken people who are struggling and striving to trust Him is exactly how our relational wounds can be healed? Couldn't that be just what the doctor ordered?
It is. It is just what the Doctor ordered. "Do you want to be healed?"