Luke 7: 1 – 10 The faith of the centurion
When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening, he entered Capernaum. There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was ill 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 men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.
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Both St Luke’s gospel and St Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 8: 5 – 13) contain this healing, and the two accounts are similar.
First and foremost, the incident is recorded as a lesson about faith. The centurion is a Gentile, who loves the Jewish nation, and has built the synagogue for the local Jews. He asks for Jesus to heal his servant, but says, “Don’t come to my house; just say the word, and I know my servant will be healed.” He recognises the authority of Jesus, because he himself both exercises authority and is subject to it.
His belief that Jesus need not be physically present to heal someone is remarkable. ‘Jesus was amazed at him,’ says St Luke, before concluding with “turning to the crowd following him, he said, ‘I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.’ Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.”
St Matthew ends his account like this: “When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, ‘Truly I tell you, 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! Let it be done just as you believed it would.’ And his servant was healed at that moment.”
Both gospel writers are using this narrative to emphasise the legitimacy of Gentiles in the early church, by pointing out that Gentiles can show the faith in Jesus that is needed if you are to follow him.
But I think there is more to it than that. In St Luke’s gospel, this healing follows immediately after the parable of the wise and foolish builders. The key to that parable is that you must obey Jesus if you are to be secure in your faith. And what does the centurion speak of? Obedience.
The centurion is a man in a hierarchy of authority, and he recognises the authority of Jesus. A man (or woman) under authority has to be obedient. When we submit to the authority of Jesus, we must obey him. This story hammers home the message of the preceding parable; if you’re a follower of Jesus, you need to obey him.
Thank you for calling me to follow Jesus. Please help me to obey him.
In Jesus’ name, Amen