Healing the Centurion’s Servant
Ordinary 9 Year C
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. Luke 7: 1 — 10
The incident in our reading ― the curing of the centurion’s servant followed a long and very concentrated sermon. The scholars compare it with St Matthew’s record of our Lord’s “Sermon on the Mount”.
The account has some unique features to reflect on. St Luke uses the incident to highlight the growing awareness among the people of the power of the word of the Lord. Another theme he intertwines is the way Judaism and Christianity get along together quite comfortably. Even in this account, two examples are written into the text and easily escape our notice unless we are looking for them.
Some Reflections on Our Text
“When he had finished all his words to the people, he
The scene is set for this short and dramatic event. Our Lord had just finished giving an intense discourse (chapter 6: 17 – 49). St Luke had already opened his Gospel (Chapter 1: 1) by indicating he wanted to demonstrate how our Lord’s words and actions were a fulfillment (the term he used) of teaching and prophecy in the ancient Hebrew Scriptures. Here at the beginning of our reading, the text uses the clause, “finished all his words to the people”. The Greek word St Luke used again was “fulfilled”. It is another hint, almost buried in the text, that the Lord is accomplishing His purpose, step by step. He is on a mission.
Having completed His instruction, our Lord walks into the nearby village of Capernaum, where He is well known.
“A centurion there had a slave who was ill and about to die,
and he was valuable to him.”
A centurion was an appointed Roman soldier commanding from 50 to 100 men. In our story, he is probably in charge of a small local post, and is certainly well respected by everyone. He is, almost certainly, a Roman but his soldiers are not. They would, in this case, have been Jewish soldiers, hired by the Herodian rulers to maintain their general oversight. A slave had been assigned to him and has become in fact, highly valued by him. The centurion may have bought him but the man could also have been a “credit bondsman”, trying to work off a debt. At any rate, he means a lot to the centurion. The slave has become seriously ill and our text says, he is “about to die”. This phrase means emphatically, there is no hope for him!
“When he heard about Jesus, he sent elders of the Jews to
him, asking him to come and save the life of his slave.”
We do not know the details, but the centurion hears others talking “about Jesus”, meaning what Jesus has done to other sick people. He listens carefully to their testimony and decides to send some “elders of the Jews” ― some leading senior authorities to our Lord. Their mission is to ask Jesus to come and save the life of the sick slave.
We note the centurion was used to commanding people to do whatever he wanted. He is here shown, very respectfully, to ask the town’s senior religious authorities to present a request on his behalf to this young Rabbi that everyone was talking about. It is clear these venerable elders have no hesitation to do as the centurion requested. They go to the itinerant rabbi who has just come back into town after a short absence, and approach Him on the centurion’s behalf.
Verses 4 and 5
“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’.”
It is clear that these synagogue authorities have a genuine respect, even affection for the centurion. So often the Jewish authorities in our Lord’s time are portrayed as politically motivated, arrogant, narrow-minded – in fact downright evil. Some of the authorities in Jerusalem at this time were beginning to head in that direction, but here, in Capernaum, it is quite a different situation. We should note the following comments from a modern Jewish article of instruction in “Judaism 101″:
“Judaism maintains that the righteous of all nations have a place in the world to come. Judaism generally recognises that Christians and Moslems worship the same God as the Jews and those who follow the tenets of their religions can be considered righteous in the eyes of God.”
The Jewish elders at the time of our recorded incident are also very respectful to the young Rabbi Jeshua (Jesus) and are inclusive towards Him as they give their reasons to justify asking His help:
• He deserves you to do this for him.” ― They hold no doubt that
Rabbi Jeshua can do it.
• “He loves our nation and he built our synagogue for us” ―
Our Lord has His permanent headquarters in this town (Capernaum)
and though frequently away on His trips, He was considered to belong
to the local synagogue.
St Luke thus takes great care to present the senior authorities of the Capernaum Synagogue as being accepting of our Lord, and in fact, being on very good terms with him. This town was no exception, as the Lord was respected and accepted on a much wider scale than is sometimes portrayed. This understanding is so important, since it helps see in contrast how corrupt certain authorities were becoming at Jerusalem ― a scenario we will arrive at later in this Gospel.
“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’.”
Our Lord, on being approached by the synagogue elders, goes immediately to the centurion’s house. Word gets to the centurion that the Rabbi is nearly there. He quickly sends some friends out and after having asked Him through the elders to come ― now tells Him to stop in His tracks, saying: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof”.
We should take note how St Luke has carefully presented this Roman Officer ― who represents a foreign occupying power ― as having a genuine benevolent attitude toward his slave, a sincere religious spirit, a reputation for kindness towards Judaism, together with reverence and genuine humility. (Ginns O. P.) He understands that as a representative of Roman Law, and enforced Roman occupation, it may not be appropriate for the Rabbi to enter his dwelling.
“Therefore, I did not consider myself worthy to
come to you; but say the word and let my servant
The centurion says, literally, “Command with only a word”. The wording of the text indicates that Rabbi Jeshua does not need to be present personally. All He needs to do is to speak the word from a distance. In fact, the centurion says, in effect, command from where you are ― say only a word ― and please I beg you, permit my servant to 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’.”
Starting from who and what he is, as a centurion, he explains he is like Jesus, under authority yet also having authority. He indicates and declares openly not only the authority this Rabbi Jeshua has, but also his personal belief in the power of the word He can speak. At this point we have to remember that the centurion has had no other proof of the young Rabbi’s power other than the oral witness of people talking about His miracles. He heard their testimony, immediately took it to heart, and is responding in pure faith.
“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’.”
So, Jesus “was amazed”. He marvelled at him, is another translation. This is a wonderful moment in Rabbi Jeshua’s ministry. It is frequently presented as meaning He considered the centurion’s faith as greater than that of any Jew ― which, of course, included His Apostles accompanying Him. But there is far more to the occasion than that.
Let us listen to one of the greatest Biblical scholars in the 9th century, the Venerable St. Bede. He wrote:
“Our Lord does not speak of the Patriarchs, but of the
Israelites of His own time, with whose faith He compares
and prefers that of the centurion, because they had
the assistance of the Law and the Prophets; but this
man, without any such instruction, willingly believed.”
In St Bede’s time, the word “prefer” (Latin — “Praeferre” — the language in which St Bede wrote) did not specify the favouring of one over another. It meant, to put forward, to submit for acceptance or consideration, to bring to light, to show, to display. In other words to focus attention.
St. Bede’s comment reflects an important Hebraism — that is, our Lord is not comparing the Faith of the Jews unfavourably; He is using the expression to elevate and magnify the faith of the Centurion. It is a technique commonly used by Jesus, which in this instance, gives due credit to the Centurion for his faith.
Our young Rabbi is so thrilled at the genuine faith of the centurion, He turns around and says to those gathered there, that He has not encountered anyone else who simply heard about Him in the conversation of others, and instantly believed; it is not just that He could do a good work, but also that He would. It is a very happy moment for Him.
It is the first time this has happened and He presents it to the onlookers for their wonderment as well.
(Read: He marvelled” — Appendix)
Our Lord is not putting down the faith He has found among the Jews. He is taking the opportunity to point out that they will be seeing more of this. They had been taught the Torah ― the Law, and the Prophets and their faith is built soundly on these. They had the benefit of spiritual formation and that is good. This man didn’t have that privilege, yet God has chosen to bless him, with the gift of faith. The Apostles will need to recognise the potential to attract disciples way beyond the borders of Israel. In fact, as the Church came to learn, they would be enabled to cross all kinds of boundaries and must not consider any to be impregnable. That is the real lesson and it remains in force for us today.
“When the messengers returned to the house, they
found the slave in good health.“
Having conveyed their message to our Lord, the friends the centurion had sent, return to the house and find the slave healed.
We do not hear anything more from the slave, nor the centurion; in fact, not from anyone. St. Luke keeps the focus on our Lord’s joy at finding such faith in a person not considered likely ever to have it.
Our Lord loved His Apostles and disciples who supported Him. They had been brought up on a firm foundation of the Sacred Scriptures. Our Lord endorsed that and built on it. But He took the opportunity to demonstrate that God’s gifts are not necessarily restricted to geographical or any boundaries. It is not for us to judge the faith of others but rather to rejoice that God spreads His blessings over a wide front. It is easy for us all to slide into a frame of mind which is exclusive and judgmental. That is very human and we will always have to be on our guard against our own prejudices. Jesus Messiah coaxes us all to rejoice with Him at how God can work marvels wherever and whenever He chooses. Let that be an inspiration as we take “the Gospel to every creature”. (Mark 16: 15).
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Appendix — “He Marvelled”
How is it that the Son of God, who foresees and knows all things, marvelled,
● The answer is, that our Lord fully partook of human nature; and
● It is the greatest of mysteries that God and Man — God with all the
□ He knows all things, and yet He increases in wisdom.
● All the mystery of His compound Being is contained in the words,
● How all this came to pass is a secret of the Trinity.
Commentary on “From St. Luke” by: M F Sadler 1898.
Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature
(Mark 16: 15)
The real Jesus is the real answer to the real needs of the world.
Let us remember God’s teaching, contained in His Word and in doing so, remain
Healing of the Centurion’s Servant
1. The Apostles and other people in our Lord’s time were brought up on a spiritual
2. The early Church soon came to look upon Rabbi Jeshua as Jesus Messiah
3. The Roman centurion felt moved to put his faith in our Lord on the basis of
Luke 7: 1 — 10
Ordinary 9 Year C
1 1 2 When he had finished all his words to the people, he entered
2 A centurion 3 there had a slave who was ill and about to die,
3 When he heard about Jesus, he sent elders of the Jews to him,
4 They approached Jesus and strongly urged him to come, saying,
5 for he loves our nation and he built the synagogue for us.”
6 And Jesus went with them, but when he was only a short
7 Therefore, I did not consider myself worthy to come to you; but
8 For I too am a person subject to authority, with soldiers subject
9 When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him and, turning,
1 [⇒ 7:1-⇒ 8:3] The episodes in this section present a series of reactions to the Galilean ministry of Jesus and reflect some of Luke’s particular interests: the faith of a Gentile (⇒ Luke 7:1-10); the prophet Jesus’ concern for a widowed mother (⇒ Luke 7:11-17); the ministry of Jesus directed to the afflicted and unfortunate of ⇒ Isaiah 61:1 (⇒ Luke 7:18-23); the relation between John and Jesus and their role in God’s plan for salvation (⇒ Luke 7:24-35); a forgiven sinner’s manifestation of love (⇒ Luke 7:36-50); the association of women with the ministry of Jesus (⇒ Luke 8:1-3).
2 [1-10] This story about the faith of the centurion, a Gentile who cherishes the Jewish nation (⇒ Luke 7:5), prepares for the story in Acts of the conversion by Peter of the Roman centurion Cornelius who is similarly described as one who is generous to the Jewish nation (⇒ Acts 10:2). See also ⇒ Acts 10:34-35 in the speech of Peter: “God shows no partiality . . . the person who fears him and acts righteously is acceptable to him.” See also the notes on ⇒ Matthew 8:5-13 and ⇒ John 4:43-54.
3  A centurion: see the note on ⇒ Matthew 8:5.
4  I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof: to enter the house of a Gentile was considered unclean for a Jew; cf ⇒ Acts 10:28.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible,