The Miracle of the Roman Centurion's Servant
Faith can be an amazing thing. It can come at the most unexpected times and from the strangest of places. The longer you experience life, the more you see that what is expected is a laugh. Surprises come daily. Jesus was no stranger to this during His walk on earth. It wasn’t the events that caused Him surprise. It was the fact that the ones who should have received Him with open arms, were the ones to acknowledge Him slowly or to turn Him completely away. The ones who knew the least about Him, were the ones who rushed to accept Him the quickest.
When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.”
Jesus said to him, “I will go and heal him.”
The 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. For I myself am a man under authority with solders 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.”
When 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. I 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. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Then 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. (Matthew 8:5-13 NIV)
Let’s first explain who this person was that approached Jesus. A centurion was a Roman soldier who commanded at least 100 soldiers. This person would not be a favorite person of any Jew at this time. The Romans were in control of Israel and this was not sitting well with the Jewish people. In fact, most anything Roman was hated. The fact that someone who was hated by the very people from whom he sought help, tells us several things. First, he was desperate. He probably sought help from other doctors; but when they all expressed hopelessness, he went to his enemies. He had heard of a Jew who had been performing miracles. He probably never doubted the stories, but it was after all a Jew. But when it came to getting something done that only a particular Jew could deliver, this soldier proved his bravery. He didn’t back down from a challenge. And then we see that this man who was relatively high in the pecking order of the Roman army cared for a mere servant. He could not stand back and watch someone that meant something to him to suffer so.
Jesus never hesitates. So what that it was a Roman soldier? He didn’t blink. He didn’t question. He was sought after and He would honor the faith and bravery of this man. But the most astonishing thing happens. It is almost like the centurion rejects Jesus’ offer.
But it is in reality not a rejection. It is the highest vote of confidence Jesus ever got. This man stopped Jesus from physically coming. He was a centurion. He commanded many. He was used to his orders being obeyed. There was never a question that they wouldn’t be obeyed. He acknowledged that Jesus had even more command than he did. He did not even deserve to have such a great man grace his doorstep. This man had such power that all He had to do was speak and the order would be carried out. Hands did not need to be laid on the man. Just mere words needed to be spoken maybe even a few miles away and the healing would be complete. A pagan oppressive authority gave honor to a religious native carpenter. No wonder Jesus showed His surprise to those around Him.
He was always open that He had come to answer the Jew’s calls and to fulfill their waiting hope. The Jews were God’s chosen people. This did not mean that He did not love other nations. But He chose them based on the heart and faith of one man centuries before that this group of people would be the ones to honor Him, record His Word, and be the voice to the other nations. What He found was fickle honoring, forgotten words, and seclusion from the rest of the world. How could the world truly know God if they did not take up their role as beacons to a wicked world? Jesus comes to be welcomed and honored by the Jews and what does He find? He is rejected by the very ones who should have recognized Him first. This is not saying that Jews as a nation and race rejected Him. If you actually read all four gospels you will see where the everyday people accepted Him and began to follow Him (some sincerely and others not). It was the religious leaders who prided themselves in knowing the Word inside and out and having such authority in God’s church. They were so into themselves and the knowledge that they were honored with, that they never saw the very person they were honoring.
So, He comes to address the Jews and the leaders reject Him. Who then accepts Him? A Roman soldier. Someone who believes in multiple deities. Someone who is oppressing the chosen people. What on earth is going on here? Is this opposite day in Capernaum? No, it is evidence of what is to come for the foolish ones to see. Jesus lets them all know that people from far and wide will come to accept Him and they will be invited to sit at the table with all their revered ancestors. All those honored patriarchs will associate with all those “pagans” that accepted what they have rejected. In fact, when the meal is served only those that accepted the invitation will be allowed to stay in the banquet hall. All those that rejected the invitation and appeared thinking that their name dropping would get them in, will be banished. Names and lineage will get you nowhere. Only a direct RSVP will be acceptable.
He rewards the centurion by saying that he is right and that mere words will suffice. He speaks and the servant (a very blessed servant) is healed. What wonderful faith! What wonderful trust! What an example of humility for us all.
A beautiful story that actually causes controversy. Hard to believe, isn’t it? But it is when you add the version told in Luke 7:1-10
When Jesus had finished saying all this in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” 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. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 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.”
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.” Then the man who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.
Most people jump at this as a chance to show contradictions in the Bible. To an untrained eye that is not used to unbiased research, it can look that way. What everyone tends to forget is that the Gospels are told by four different men. Only two of them were with Him during His teaching time. One was on the fringes. The other one was a detailed historian who came on the scene a few years later. Therefore, all are told from different viewpoints. Anytime you have more than one person witness an event you will get multiple accounts. Look at the write ups about disasters, monumental actions and the historic life of our contemporaries. So many versions from witnesses. Are they liars? No. They are reporting what they saw and what they deemed important. If their words were completely identical, we were have more grounds for suspicion of their words.
Here, the servant of a centurion is sick. But in these verses Luke states that the centurion sent someone else to seek Jesus instead of himself. That’s a contradiction right? Not exactly. Any time you are going back in time to evaluate something, you CANNOT gauge it on current day guidelines. You need to know the culture of the event in question and everything about it. What we might deem barbaric or compassionate or amazing, could be the exact opposite if we had lived in those times. The past cannot be judged by the present. The writing styles of various cultures and times differ drastically. A Danielle Steele novel would be extremely confusing to the writers of the first century. That kind of detail and dialog was not expected for the reader. Only what was considered important for that particular audience was included. That means that certain things were deliberately excluded and not described in detail. If the audience would not be familiar with it, then it was left out. That did not make the author a liar. It showed him to be concerned about communicating properly to the intended audience. He didn’t want confusion.
In this case, Luke was very specific that it was not the actual centurion but representatives for him. If you asked Matthew why he didn’t say that, he might be shocked that you don’t understand that if the centurion sent a message it was the same as the centurion being there. In his eyes and to his audience, he said the same thing. The culture of that time would have understood that.
Someone else could argue that this version is inaccurate because of the fact that a Roman soldier sent Jewish representatives. Just because largely these groups did not get along did not mean that every single one despised each other. In fact though the hatred was real, many of the Jewish leaders became unwanted allies with many Roman authorities. This was mainly for political reasons since the Romans were in charge. It is always said to keep your friends close and your enemies even closer. This was not unheard of even then. The fact that this centurion knew the Jewish elders is not hard to believe. Did he play golf with them? More than likely not. But did he use their contacts and their knowledge of their country? Most certainly. He might not have know where this Jesus guy was but he knew that these men had eyes everywhere as all leaders generally do and so he went as a man in charge to the ones in charge to get the job done. They complied because after all the Romans ruled. Relationships between enemies is not unheard of and cannot be the reason a piece of writing is thrown away as false.
Getting to the Point
The point of the story is not if the actual centurion appeared or a representative. We cannot miss seeing the amazing forest for the few trees in front of us. The miracle is about the faith of someone who should have been the obvious doubter. He took a leap of faith into unchartered waters while the ones with the navigation charts were afraid to leave port. Jesus pointed out that all those who venture out just knowing in their hearts where their destination lies but not what the journey entails, they will arrive and dine in the hall of the Creator. How strong is your faith today? Are you a daring centurion or are you a cowardly religious person? He didn’t come to see the religious. He came to seek the ones who searched for Him and accepted Him.