c) The Faith of a Gentile Centurion
“When Jesus had finished … he entered Capernaum. There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick 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 of 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.” (Luke 7:1-10)
When Jesus ministered to His fellow Jews, the Children of Israel, throughout their land, the Romans ruled over them, often with a heavy hand. Normally, the Romans despised the Jews and the Jews despised the Romans.
Luke's Gospel account provides us with a pleasant exception to this animosity. How good to learn how a centurion, a Roman army officer in charge of one hundred soldiers, treated the Jews in a kindly manner and even constructed a synagogue for them! (Had he, like a few other Gentiles, come to learn about the God of Israel, the living God and Creator of all, who covenanted with the Children of Israel through Abraham, Moses and David and ordered them to worship God alone and refrain from all idolatry?) And how wonderful that the Jews interceded with Jesus, their fellow Jewish brother, asking Him to hear the centurion's plea to help his sick servant! Was the servant a Jew or a Gentile? We do not know. In any case, the centurion probably cared only for his servant's need, not about his ethnicity.
When the centurion's Jewish friends approached Jesus, they insisted that Jesus help the centurion because he deserved it. He had done so much for the Jews. Yet, remarkably, the centurion himself made no such claims about his worthiness. On the contrary, he realised that he did not deserve to have Jesus in his home – for he surely was aware of Jesus' Jewishness and the general Jewish opinion about all Gentiles, especially their Roman oppressors.
Even more, the centurion's understanding of Jesus' authority intensified his own sense of his personal unworthiness. He knew what it meant to be under authority and to have authority over others. If his word could effect obedience, how much more Jesus' word! True, he was a Roman; nevertheless, he was only a human being. Jesus, however, needed only to utter the word to heal. It mattered not at all whether the patient was near or far away. Could the Roman emperor, who claimed to be divine, demonstrate such authority?
Consider the centurion’s faith. This faith makes no claims on its own behalf. It knows it has no credit account with God (i.e., one’s prayers, fastings, gifts for the poor), whereby it can “do business” and “bargain” with God for God's help or put pressure on God to get what it wants (“God, You help me and I will help You.”). It trusts solely in God, His grace and His gracious will. Surely it is significant that Jesus rejected neither the centurion's confession of his own unworthiness nor his faith in the authority of Jesus and His word. It is this kind of faith He commanded, looked for and commended.
Little wonder that people who became aware of Jesus and His work, who knew Him simply as one of themselves, were compelled to ask about His relationship with God and what God was doing through Him. Shall we recall the words of Psalm 107:19-21: “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He sent forth his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave. Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men.”
Do you remember how Jesus healed the Syrophoenician woman's daughter? What did she and the centurion have in common? Both were Gentiles. Both knew their hope depended on the Jewish healer, Jesus, to whom they had appealed to heal a loved one. Both had that unqualified faith that Jesus always expected and praised.
So we continue to see signs of how the Messiah began to fulfill the prophecies of Isaiah that God Himself would turn to the Gentiles. When they encountered Jesus the Messiah, they encountered God helping and healing, just as He had promised.
Nothing is clearer in Scripture than that this love of God is for the world, for sinners like you and me, too! Jesus came into the world to be God's Messiah and Word for all mankind. Through the centurion and the Syrophoenician woman, we see this promise slowly emerging as reality.
Yes, Jesus came for you and me, too!