After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, ‘He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.’ And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, ‘Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set 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 this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.’ When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.
We are introduced to a centurion, who is clearly sympathetic to his Jewish neighbours. Centurions were professional soldiers in the Roman military, in this case he was probably a non-Jew serving Herod Antipas’ army. Centurions turn up rather a lot in the Gospels, and in the Acts of the Apostles, and, maybe surprisingly, they are often portrayed in positive ways. Think of the centurion watching Jesus’ crucifixion, praising God and declaring ‘certainly this man was innocent (Luke 23:47) or Cornelius who Peter encounters in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 10:1-48).
Here the centurion sends Jewish elders to Jesus, asking him to come and heal his slave. Then he sends a second lot of messengers telling Jesus not to trouble himself, but just speak and the slave will be healed. The actual healing seems almost incidental to the story, the story seems to have more to do with Jesus’ reaction.
In the Gospels there is plenty of astonishment and amazement but it is usually astonishment at what Jesus has done or amazement at the authority with which he speaks. Here it is Jesus who is amazed at the centurion’s faith. We, the readers, may be equally amazed and astonished at this long distance healing, but Luke’s focus in telling the story is upon the faith of the centurion which unlocks the healing of the slave. What do we learn? Firstly, the centurion didn’t actually meet with Jesus, perhaps he represents the readers of the Gospel, today it is you and me, who have never met Jesus in person, Jesus Christ is, however, with us and his word is effective.
Secondly, the reading seems to point to bridges being built between Jews and Gentiles. For us, maybe, it points to the inclusively of our Faith where there is no division on the basis of race, or any other barrier that we erect.
Gracious God, we give thanks that Christ is present with us, present, in the here and now, present, through your Holy Spirit. May we never be afraid, of bringing our needs, and the needs of others, to you. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Rev’d Dr David Whiting, Minister. Sunderland and Boldon URC Partnership
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