#42: A Centurion’s Servant

Matthew. 8:5–13

When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.” And he said to him, “I will come and cure him.” The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.” And the servant was healed in that hour.

Some people think that in a fairly straightforward sort of way Jesus came for the poor and especially for the Jews. An easy mistake because for most of the time that was how it stacked up. Sometimes however, it is just when you think that you have got him sorted, that he suddenly does something completely different. Here he is doing a beautiful act of healing for a very unJewish, very Gentile Roman, and not even a poor struggling one, but for a rich and powerful centurion.

Romans play an interesting part in the Jesus story. It was a Roman emperor who called for the registration which led to Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. It would be the Romans who would eventually fulfil Jesus prophecy of the destruction of the Temple (Luke 21: 5). A Roman governor, Pilate, would oversee his death, and a second centurion was present at the cross declaring ‘Truly this man was God’s son’ (Matt. 27: 54).

This first centurion however was clearly exceptional. The fact that he came to Jesus, a peasant preacher and asked for help meant that he risked humiliation. His looking up to Jesus and calling him ‘Lord’ would have been unheard of. His sense of unworthiness at the idea of Jesus coming into his house was a reversal of the usual Jew/Roman relationship. More than anything else however, it was his understanding of true spiritual authority and his clear vision of who Jesus was and what he could do, that is rather breath-taking.

In my own ministry I have rarely come across such a humble, trusting and obedient person and that is amongst the Christians. The whole point about this story is that he is not a Christian; he is not a Jew; he is a Roman.

Jesus was amazed. To be amazed is to be completely, utterly and mind bogglingly flabbergasted. It must be quite difficult to amaze Jesus simply because he is so understanding. In fact there are only two instances of him being amazed. His first amazement occurs in Mark 6: 6. There he is amazed by his own good supposedly Godly Jewish people. He is amazed not by their faith but by their lack of faith, at their unbelief. This is the second; he is amazed by the extent of a Roman’s faith.

Because I am a vicar, and because I talk a lot about God and Jesus I often provoke the comment, ‘I wish I had your faith’ (if only they knew the truth) to which my reply is always, ‘Well you can’t have my faith, but you can have your own.’ Anyone, everyone, sinner, failure, outsider, outcast, you can be like the Centurion.

So let it be for you according to your faith.

There is an ancient Christian hymn that is also a deep prayer / hunger / desire for all of us who would like to amaze Jesus.

God be in my head,
And in my understanding.
God be in mine eyes,
And in my looking.
God be in my mouth,
And in my speaking.
God be in my heart,
And in my thinking.
God be at mine end,
And at my departing.