It is hard to define the emotion of surprise. It is the feeling one gets when something unexpected happens, either of a happy sort or unhappy. It catches one off-guard and one has to scramble a bit mentally to put everything together and interpret what just happened. It can be a very pleasant feeling, or very unpleasant, of course.
We see several places in Jesus’ life and ministry where he registered a pleasant surprise or astonishment. When he is asked by a centurion to heal his servant, the centurion remarks that Jesus does not need to visit his home to accomplish this but only speak the word and it will be done (Matthew 8:5-13). Jesus registers astonishment at this man’s faith, saying it exceeds anyone he has met among the Jews. Here is, as someone has noted, a man “whose background and circumstances ought to have made it difficult for him to have faith, a man whose occupation prized ferocity and the ability to rely on oneself, a man whose background was paganism” (Zeisler), and yet this non-Jew who had likely converted to Judaism, recognizes the power and authority of Jesus to command healing.
In contrast to this, we see Jesus amazed at a lack of faith among his hometown residents. In Mark 1:1-6 we have the account of how Jesus preached in Nazareth and all his former neighbors could do was murmur about his family connections. It says he could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them, and that he was “amazed at their lack of faith.”
Jesus was also surprised in a disappointed way with the disciples he met walking on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection. Though there is not terminology of surprise in Luke 24:25,26, Jesus sounds surprised, saying, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?”
The question we have to ask of ourselves is, “In what way is Jesus surprised about me?” Does my faith surprise him or my lack of faith? Of course, at this point in his life, Jesus is not caught by surprise. During his earthly ministry he had willingly given up the right to access his infinite knowledge. He knew only those things he perceived, had learned, or had been given through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Now, of course, none of those limitations apply. He has shown us how to live by the Spirit. But he is still looking for faith.
“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)