A Gentile Roman centurion—the commander of a troop of one hundred soldiers—amazed Jesus with his faith. He had a beloved servant at home who was dying. The centurion had heard of and perhaps had even witnessed Jesus’ power to heal and sought him out. When Jesus heard about the dying servant, he readily agreed to make his way to the centurion’s home to minister to him.
“But the officer said, ‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you come into my home. Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed’….Then Jesus said to the Roman officer, ‘Go back home. Because you believed, it has happened.’ And the young servant was healed that same hour.” (Matthew 8:8,13, NLT)
I have been ministering recently in a state prison, to women who are in transit. Some are on their way to the units where they will be serving their sentences, some are transferring from one unit to another, and some are being transported back to their units after receiving medical treatment. I never know who or how many will be there.
The corrections officer invites them to come out of their individual cement boxes for Bible study. Most of them, even if they have only a tiny bit of hunger for God, will come and join us. Why not? There aren’t a lot of fun activities to choose from in that circumstance. Bible study appeals more than lonely isolation. When I greet these sisters at the door to the room where we meet, they often seem disoriented, frightened, and weary. I can only imagine the things they have experienced in their lives.
At each meeting, I become aware and remember at some point that the presence of God penetrated those walls and bars and gates long before I arrived. I recognize the glory of the Holy Spirit, the one who makes himself felt and known when his people gather to worship and fellowship together. The one who brings light into dark places.
I ask the women if they believe that God knows where they are while in transit. Has he lost track of them? Does he know who they are, how they got there, what they need? Are the walls and bars and gates any impediment to his love and care for them? They quietly acknowledge their faith that he never loses sight of them. I recall this poignant prophecy from Isaiah 49:14-15:
“Yet Jerusalem says, ‘The Lord has deserted us; the Lord has forgotten us.’ Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you!”
Most of the women I meet there are mothers, so this hits home with them, as it does with me.
God exists both within and beyond the limitations of time and space that we inhabit. We can pray for a sick relative on the other side of the world, and they might as well be in the next room, as far as God is concerned. If we are to believe and contextualize the words and acts of Jesus, when we “say the word from where we are,” his power goes forth faster than the speed of light. We can do this with authority because we have his same resurrection power dwelling within us (Acts 4:10; James 5:16). The outcome is up to him.
It’s a joy and an honor to visit with and minister to these women. It is a joy because it is right in the center of God’s heart to visit those who are in prison (Hebrews 13:3) and walking in obedience brings joy. It is an honor because these sisters of mine often know far better than free persons the meaning of justice and mercy. They experience and express redemptive love and transformation as they accept the consequences of their own sins and bad choices. Often it is in prison that their lives and souls are saved from destruction. I am moved beyond measure and also transformed by their company.
I encourage these women—and you and myself– to “say the word from where you are,” with confidence that Jesus hears and sends his healing power through even the strongest wall.
Because we believe, things happen.