The Faith of the Centurion
When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening, he entered Capernaum. 2 There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. 3 The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4 When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, 5 because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” 6 So Jesus went with them.
He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. 7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” 10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.
Observations & Reflections
The healing of the centurion’s servant is recorded in Matthew 8 but not at all in Mark or John. It is one of the stories where Matthew and Luke, who wrote later than Mark, likely used an alternate source document that was not available to Mark. It could also be that this was an oral story that was told to each gospel writer. We do not have the original sources with us to know. What we do know is that there appears to be a bit of a contradiction between Luke and Matthew. However, the differences are quite minor.
The intro of the passage describes the centurion going directly to Jesus. In Luke’s account the centurion is too humbled and convicted to approach Jesus.
When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. 6 “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.” 7 Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?” (Matthew 8:5-7)
On this particular matter, it is important that we remember that the main point of this passage is to demonstrate the faith of the centurion, not the method by which the centurion was able to communicate with Jesus. That aside, it’s very possible that Matthew was truncating the intro to the passage and shortening it because it’s an insignificant part of the story. In addition, in the first century it is not uncommon for a servant of a wealthy owner to act as a surrogate. In such cases it would have been reported in the same manner had the actual owner showed up. Thus, Matthew’s skimming of the intro isn’t a huge issue.
Additionally, it seems as though Luke’s expanded intro might be the result of the fact that the centurion was Roman, not a Jew. That particular fact is important to Luke and his audience since Luke is writing to a more gentile audience. It packs more of a punch to emphasize the gentile portion of this story.
Lastly, the message that the Jews had, whom were sent by the wealthy centurion, would have been out of character for Matthew.
When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, 5 because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” (Luke 7:4-5)
Luke shares part of this story that would have been very unbecoming to a Jewish audience who thought salvation was for the Jews first and many would not even sit and eat with gentiles. However, Luke who traveled with the Apostle to the Gentiles (Paul) wanted to point out that this vile Roman character was indeed welcomed by Jesus because he had faith.
Faith is hard to live out when we are not ready to submit with humility to God’s power and authority over our lives. This centurion displayed that his faith in Jesus’ ability to heal his servant was not something he deserved, but rather that it would be an act of God’s Grace and authority being put at work. This is the type of faith that is admitting that we do no deserve God’s Grace and yet we believe that He can do what we think is the impossible and are not deserving of.
God’s Grace is given to us not because we deserve it, but because in His love for us and desire to do good in our lives. The faith of the centurion speaks to the fact being submissive and humble is a key ingredient to accepting God’s Grace in our lives. It is drawing the attention away from ourselves and with a humble gratitude praising God for what He is able to do.
The centurion’s faith shows that God’s power is limitless and there is nothing is outside His power or control. He even goes as far to say that Jesus does not even have to physically be in the room but just needs to speak the words. This shows that this mans faith extends behind just having a knowledge of God’s power but in truly believing in it and acting on Faith alone.
God’s power is always at work in our lives. We must choose to daily acknowledge that we are experiencing His undeserved Grace in our lives and live each day in thankful, humble, and submissive obedience to Him.
[Featured image titled “Healing the Centurion’s servant“, by Paolo Veronese, 16th century. ]