The Faith of the Centurion

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From Fr. Ted’s Sermon notes for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost (Matthew 8:5-13) here

Now when Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him,[6] saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented.”[7] And Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.”[8] The centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed.[9] “For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”[10] When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel! … [13] Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.” And his servant was healed that same hour.

This is an interesting Gospel Lesson about authority and power.

The centurion was a commander over about 80 soldiers. This centurion was part of the Roman army which had conquered and occupied the Jewish homeland. He commanded 80 soldiers but no doubt also commanded fear from his Jewish subjects who did not enjoy all the privileges of Roman citizenship.

The centurion requesting Jesus to heal his servant may have represented some threat to Jesus himself . The centurion could rightfully order Jesus to show up at the centurion’s home. The centurion might also cause trouble for Jesus the healer – demanding that Jesus heal his servant under penalty of death if Jesus failed.

However, the centurion is extremely respectful to Jesus, addressing him as “lord” (Greek: kyrios. Could mean “sir”). The centurion recognizes authority when he sees it.

Jesus shows his own respectfulness and obedience to the centurion’s authority agreeing at once to come to the centurion’s house. [Jesus after all taught to go the extra distance even when someone forces you to go with them (Matthew 5:40-42). And from the early Christian hymn quoted by St. Paul we know from the beginning the disciples understood Jesus as being an obedient servant (Philippians 2:4-8).] The centurion’s response reveals that he is not demanding that Jesus come, he is not pulling rank or threatening Jesus at all. In fact, the centurion shows respect for Jewish exclusiveness by saying that he himself is not worthy to have Jesus the conquered Jew come to his, the conqueror’s, home. Rather the centurion gives full recognition to Jesus’ authority, and expresses the faith that Jesus has sovereignty over disease which he can order by decree and command just as easily as the centurion orders about slaves and servants!

It is also clear that the centurion has some concern for the life of his servant. He is a man of compassion and of faith.

In the end of the story it is Jesus who commands the centurion: “go your way.” And the centurion obeys, never doubting that Jesus has this power to command disease.

Wherein lay the centurion’s power and authority? In Caesar whom he served, or in God in whom he believed? In his office of centurion, or in his faith in God?

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