Summary: Why did Jesus find more faith in a Roman Centurion than all of Israel? who are God's people
The Healing of the Centurion’s Servant
Matthew has just finished cleansing a leper in last week’s passage. The leper was unclean. He was not allowed to enter into the congregation of Israel. He had to remain outside the community as an outcast to society. Jesus healing of him if followed in obedience by following up and showing himself to the priest would allow him to reenter the community. He could be included again on what the Jews would have considered “the people of God.”
Today we will meet another outcast. He did not have physical leprosy but would have been considered in the same light by the Jewish population. He had a need just as great as the leper. Would Jesus intercede for this untouchable as well? Would he be able to gain admittance to the community of God. Let us see.
Exposition of the Text
In this morning’s passage, Jesus is approached by a centurion who had a son or a beloved servant who apparently had been paralyzed in an accident. The Greek literally says that he was thrown into paralysis and remained in that condition. A centurion was a low level officer in the Roman army who was in charge of a hundred soldiers. The equivalent rank in today’s army would be that of lieutenant. The centurion had to pass down orders or issue orders to his men, so he would know both how to receive orders as well as to give them. There were detachments of Roman soldiers dispersed throughout Palestine. Part of this was to maintain order as a king of police department. The other purpose was to integrate the conquered Jews into the larger roman society, a process known as Romanization. By sword or by carrot, his role was to maintain order and make good obedient servants of the people.
In his interactions with the people or perhaps in direct observation, he had become aware of Jesus of Nazareth. It was his job to know what was going on. Perhaps he looked with cool indifference for a while as a spectator interested only in the interests of Rome in maintaining peace. But adversity can make people think differently. After this young lad became paralyzed and was convulsed with pain, the centurion acted by coming to Jesus. Jesus appears to have been busily engaged in teaching, healing, and casting out demons as He had been accustomed to doing for some time. He told Jesus about the boy’s condition with an air of desperation.
Jesus’ reaction was one of compassion. He said He would come in person to heal the boy. Because we are accustomed to see Jesus as compassionate to all who will come, we overlook at how shocking these words of Jesus would have been in that mostly Jewish crowd at Capernaum. He was saying that He would enter into a house of a Gentile dog, and a Roman at that! We can see how entrenched this taboo was in the book of Acts when the Lord had to use the vision of the unclean animals with Peter as well as a direct command to enter the house of another Roman Centurion, Cornelius.
The incident recorded in the Gospel of Luke reinforces that the crowd was perfectly aware how unusual this request was. There were some in the crowd who felt that they needed to vouch for the character of the centurion. They said that he was a good and deserving man. He wasn’t the usual Roman. He had had his men build the community a synagogue. These people believed that a Jewish Rabbi would never stoop to help a hated Roman without their intercession.
Jesus did not need and does not need to be informed about the character of a person. As God the Son, He knew what is in everybody’s heart anyway. And Jesus does not need to take advice from any man or woman of how to do things. He was willing to come to this man’s house and heal the boy. This was even beyond the wildest imagination of anyone in the crowd, including those who interceded for the centurion. This was an outrageous statement.
The centurion himself shows that he had studied the Jewish people well. He knew how out of place Jesus’ statement was. He did not want to stir up trouble among the populace. He knew by Jewish standards that he was unworthy of Jesus’ attention and said so. And perhaps this went beyond his understanding of the racial and religious barriers. But he also wanted the boy healed. So he showed unusual insight by simply requesting that Jesus simply speak the command from where He was. He believed on Jesus. The same Jesus who could heal in person also could command healing from a distance. He was a centurion and understood authority. Someone in Rome or Caesarea could issue a command to the centurion to do something, and he would see that it got dome. He could issue orders to his men to build a synagogue, and it would happen. The centurion believed that the Lord had command over the elements. This is not to say that he perfectly understood Jesus and had an advanced faith. But he believed on Jesus.