Monday, November 28, 2011

Jesus and The Centurion

The Gospels according to Matthew (8:5-13) and Luke (7:1-10) tell of Jesus entering Capernaum a Town a little outside of Jerusalem, and being met by a Roman Centurion asking Jesus to cure his servant, slave in Luke's Gospel, and Jesus eventually effects a cure after they talk a bit. There is some differences in the retelling of the story but it is clear it is the same Centurion and the same miracle. In both Gospels Jesus is asked to cure and he  is going to go to the Centurion's house but the Centurion is well aware of the Jewish customs and it would be considered unclean for Jesus to enter under the Centurion's roof. So the Centurion says, "I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof. Just say the word and my servant will be healed.", he goes on to say he understands the position of being in power and as he controls those under him he knows Jesus controls the elements surrounding good and evil. Jesus is amazed at the man's faith and says "Go, as as you have believed let it be done.", Jesus then remarks at the sign of such great faith. The Centurion's words echo down through the centuries as they are said at Communion in The Catholic Mass every day, "I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof. Say the word and my soul shall be healed.".


Most of us in the Christian faith have heard this story many times and we are always reminded of what great faith this Roman Solider had and how faith can work wonders. There is so much more to this story though and it revolves around the Centurion. He was a representative of the greatest power on earth at the time, a victor living in a conquered land. He had many men under his command. He was a Roman, a warrior, and they were not humble nor were they very kind to the captives. Usually the Romans lorded their strength over those they dominated. It was the way of the ancient world. Yet here was a guy concerned over his servant, slave. This was unusual in and of itself but it showed him to be a loving, humane person. He had heard of Jesus as Jesus was well into his ministry. Many who had heard disregarded the news as another fad, another one of those Jewish things that was good for the people to hang onto, the opiate of the dominated. But somehow he was a man of faith. He was a friend to the Jews he knew, Luke says he helped build a synagogue for them. Apparently a man of compassion. Then he shows great concern for Jesus' reputation when he says I am not worthy for you to come to my home. It was apparent Jesus was going into his home but he didn't want Jesus to be beset with criticism for entering a Gentile's home and be called unclean. This guy was very unusual to say the least.


The Centurion probably had fought in many battles. One didn't get put in charge of a garrison unless you earned it. I will admit Israel wasn't the plum of assignments but it was an outpost where a Roman soldier could live very well and usually did taking the good out of the mouths of the Israelis. To show compassion, love and concern in those days was considered a sign of weakness, yet this Centurion showed all of this. This is why Jesus had such great respect and I think love for him. Jesus granted his request, I believe not only because of his great faith but because he saw in this Roman conqueror what he wanted to see in everyone, love, compassion, concern, justice in his dealings with others and of course faith.


We do not hear of this Centurion after this episode so we don't know if he became a follower of "The Way"
nor do we know if he went on to greater Roman glory or died at an early age. This much I do know, he certainly must be one of the many unknown Saints who are eating at the banquet of Angels at this very moment.           
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