When Jesus had finished all his words to the people,
he entered Capernaum.
A centurion there had a servant who was ill and about to die,
and he was valuable to him.
When he heard about Jesus, he sent elders of the Jews to him,
asking him to come and save the life of his servant.
They approached Jesus and strongly urged him to come, saying,
“He deserves to have you do this for him,
for he loves our nation and he built the synagogue for us.”
And Jesus went with them,
but when he was only a short distance from the house,
the centurion sent friends to tell him,
“Lord, do not trouble yourself,
for I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof.
Therefore, I did not consider myself worthy to come to you;
but say the word and let my servant be healed.
For I too am a person subject to authority,
with soldiers subject to me.
And I say to one, Go, and he goes;
and to another, Come here, and he comes;
and to my slave, Do this, and he does it.”
When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him
and, turning, said to the crowd following him,
“I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”
When the messengers returned to the house,
they found the servant in good health.
As an Army wife for 34 years I just love this account of Jesus and the Centurion. First, I admire his humility. He does not want Jesus to come to his home for he knows that, as a Roman, it will reflect badly on Jesus, socially and religiously. And so he sends word for Jesus not to come “under his roof.” But the Centurion, a military man, also knows how trusting your subordinates works. Part of the ideal relationship between a commander and his troops is the ability to delegate authority to those who work for you, whom you trust, when it is appropriate. In this situation, where the Centurion seemingly ‘knows better’ than Jesus what not to do (come to his home), the commander of troops illustrates how he thinks this saving of his servant could work.
With little understanding of Jesus’ healing power (for none of us knows well how these things occur other than God’s grace, least of all this non-believer), but a great understanding of obedience, trust, and the expectation that orders will be followed, the Centurion just knows (has faith) that Jesus can heal his servant without actually seeing the sick man.
Jesus marvels at the faith of this Roman soldier who does not share the faith of the people of Israel, though it is obvious he respects it. Jesus states, basically, that this ‘idol worshipper’ has more faith in God than His own people do. Or perhaps, more precisely, the Centurion has more of an understanding of how the Power of God ‘works’ in our world. He knows from personal experience that a word from the ‘man in charge’ of other men will be carried out to the letter, that the one in command needn’t even consider whether it will be done according to his word. It will be, because he said so.
And that’s how the Word of God works in a transcendent way. The Centurion is able to make the leap of comparing his mere mortal transaction with regard to obedience from subordinates to God’s Word being obeyed by the laws of nature and of the spiritual realm. Those who seek out Jesus to come to the Centurion’s home tell Jesus that the Centurion “loves our nation” and built their local synagogue. Perhaps he was not as much an ‘idol worshipper’ as most of the Romans of that time. Perhaps, through being stationed at Capernaum with his men, the commander has come to appreciate the culture, which is inextricably tied up with the religion, of the Jewish people. And, as he “loves” their nation, as is so often the case with modern Soldiers, he has most probably come to know and love the locals, so very different from people he’s ever known in his life.
There are some who surmise that this Centurion is Cornelius of the Acts of the Apostles who is the first Gentile convert to ‘the Way,’ what will be known as Christianity. Jesus is in Capernaum and Cornelius lives in Ceasarea which, by today’s auto routes are over an hour apart, so on foot, quite a distance. But Cornelius could have been stationed in one location and then moved to the other, which is part of the life of a Soldier back then and still today. We learn in Acts that Cornelius prays to God, not gods, and is very much involved in the Jewish community in which he now lives. Seems like he was on his way to becoming a Christian for quite a while. Maybe even from the first time he heard about Jesus while stationed in Capernaum? And it takes a little while, but not that long, after the Resurrection and ascension into Heaven for Cornelius to be baptized and brought into the faith by Peter, the Rock of the Church. Exciting to contemplate! And, whether these two stories involved the same Centurion or two different men, it is still exciting to see how, as in our modern times, Soldiers who are stationed far from home get to know and learn from those in a foreign land. They come to appreciate them, their beliefs, and their culture. And, though most do not do so radical a thing as Cornelius and the unnamed Centurion, many do fall in love with their host country and the people who reside there.
It was and is a beautiful thing! There are lots of stories, historical and allegorical, about Soldiers in the Bible. I love that they usually come out looking pretty good in the various narratives. Even at Jesus’ crucifixion, we read that one Centurion proclaims that Jesus is the Son of God. It sort of makes me feel good about our modern Soldiers, too. I, of course, have a warm place in my heart for them, being married to a retired Soldier, mother to a Soldier, and mother-in-law to two others! And God’s heart is always longing for anyone who is seeking the good, even when he or she is not sure what they’re really looking for to be in a relationship with Him. That would have been the case for the examples I cited above. It is still true to this day of anyone, who is serving in the Military or not.
Goodness is always an aspect of God. Seeking good, striving to do good things, is struggling to find God. He is there, calling and waiting patiently. God will send a Peter into their lives, or someone else, to be Jesus for those seekers, and the ‘God follower’ will lead them along the Way, as well. It is evident that it happens in every generation.