The Centurion’s Servant

Today as we continue our look at the way the New Testament portrays Jesus looking at various sections throughout, we’re going to be looking at the story of the Centurion’s servant found in Matthew 8. This story is also found in the Lukan narrative. The portion from Matthew is here:

 5When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. 6“Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.” 7Jesus said to him, “I will go and heal him.”

 8The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9For 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.”

 10When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. 11I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

 13Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! It will be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that very hour.

Whereas the account in Luke 7 reads as follows:

 1When Jesus had finished saying all this in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. 3The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, 5because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” 6So 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.7That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8For 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.” 9When 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.” 10Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.

Now in both of these, we find that this centurion was obviously someone respected in Israel and was most likely, a God-fearer. This refers to someone who respected the Jewish tradition and could be considered a worshipper of YHWH, but did not follow the ritualistic practices. (A lot of guys weren’t keen on circumcision. Imagine that….)

For those concerned about the supposed contradiction, a reply is generally that the person being sent is as the Centurion itself. It’s a metonym. Consider if you heard a news report that said the White House issued such and such a statement. You would understand that to be the President. The White House refers to the executive branch of the government.

This centurion asks Jesus to come and heal his servant and Jesus says that he will go and heal him. The centurion though tells Jesus that he is not worthy to have Jesus come into his household. This is enough to get us thinking right now.

What kind of view must this centurion have of Jesus that he is not worthy to have him in his house? Normally, a Jew wouldn’t enter the house of a gentile anyway. Jesus is already going beyond the bounds by even making it a possibility. 

Before this story, we have Jesus touching a leper and healing him. A Jew would not touch a leper as he would become unclean then. The point is that Jesus seems to work in reverse. His cleanliness passes on to the unclean rather than the uncleanliness contaminating him. It’s almost as if Jesus is the source of cleanliness….

Now we have Jesus not hesitating again, but the centurion at this point at least sees Jesus as a holy man and he is not worthy to be in the presence of one who is so holy. It is when we get to the next part of the story that we see more.

This centurion is a man with authority and he knows the way the game works. If he tells one of his men to do something, he does it! A centurion would lead a hundred soldiers and if he told one of those soldiers to do something, he knew that soldier would do it. He had the authority over those soldiers.

The authority he has in that realm, the centurion understands Jesus to have in the realm of sickness. All Jesus needs to do is speak and the servant would be healed. This indicates a far greater control than any human authority. It could be the centurion understood that as he rules in a human realm, so Christ rules in the spiritual realm. (Of course, I consider Christ the Lord of humanity. The difference is at this point, we tend to not acknowledge that.)

Jesus did not condemn this view. Instead, he congratulated it and said he had not seen such great faith in all of Israel and made a promise about the coming kingdom indicating that he has knowledge of the kingdom and knows who will be there and who won’t be.

And of course, the centurion’s servant was healed without Jesus having to enter the house. Once again, we should be reminded of the uniqueness of Christ. While miracles like this do not prove his deity, taken combined with other claims we shall see and the other actions he does, we certainly have a strong case.

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