By Melanie Werner
A centurion in Capernaum who had a valued slave who was sick and dying had heard about Jesus. Capernaum was a Roman military base, so it’s not unusual for a Centurion to be there. What may be unusual is that this particular Centurion, a gentile, summoned Jesus to heal his dying slave, what some would have considered expendable property. In Luke’s version, rather than go after Jesus himself, the centurion asks the Jewish leaders to summon Jesus to his home to cure his slave. So they do. Without question, Jesus follows them. Then the centurion sends his friends to meet Jesus with the message that Jesus doesn’t even need to come the whole way to his house because the centurion feels unworthy, but knows that if Jesus says the words, his slave will be healed.
At first glance you could say this is another example of Jesus healing the sick. But on closer look, more is happening here.
The Centurion, most likely a gentile, asked the Jewish leaders to go summon Jesus. Perhaps he felt that Jesus would listen to his “own” people better than to him. The Jewish leaders go and explain to Jesus that the centurion has built them a synagogue. In their eyes, the centurion deserves to have his slave healed because of what he has done for them.
Then the centurion has his friends intercept Jesus to tell him not to come to the house. At first I thought this was rude. The man first summons Jesus and then when Jesus nears, he tells him not to come. But research explains that the centurion may have been concerned for Jesus since being seen at the centurion’s house may have subjected Jesus to ridicule and caused him to be unclean. I’m sure this wasn’t on Jesus’ mind, but it is an indication of how little this centurion may have known about Jesus. He had heard of Jesus’ healing powers, but how much more had he heard? And yet, he had enough faith to call on Jesus to heal his slave, knowing little more than that Jesus could. Not only did the centurion believe Jesus could do this, he believed he would and that he could “call it in.” Don’t actually come to my house because I fear for you, but please, heal my slave from afar because I believe you can.
Also not only does he ask Jesus not to come the whole way, but he sends friends rather than go himself. Again, rude? But isn’t this what we do every day? We ask our friends to pray for us as we pray for them. We speak to Jesus about them whether in need or thanksgiving.
None of these things seems to bother Jesus. He hears a call and responds, no questions asked, no assessment of worth, no checking the roles to see if someone is a member. He heals a person considered a nobody on the request from an outsider and declares “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”
Jesus was considered to be in a social class below the Centurion. Why then do you think the Centurion called on Jesus to heal his slave?
- Why do you think the Jewish leaders went out of their way for the Centurion?
- If this story isn’t about healing, what is it really about?
- How can this story be related to the first lesson passage from First Kings 8:22-23, 41-43?
- Why do you think Jesus said what he said?