When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man 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 servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.
Here we see someone come to Jesus who is not of the Jewish faith, a recurring theme throughout the Gospels. Luke 7 tells the same story, but in the Luke version, it is the centurions’ friends who come to Jesus. When the author of Matthew says the centurion is coming to Jesus, he is referring to servants speaking on behalf of the centurion himself. Why is this important? If we look at how the centurion speaks to Jesus, we see his attitude, and his heart.
First, the centurion is concerned with his servant. A centurion would have ruled over about 80 men, so the fact that this official noticed one of his men suffering shows good leadership and empathy. Secondly, he believes that Jesus is able to heal his servant, but he doesn’t believe that he is worthy to host Jesus. Frequently in our lives, we feel the need to control everything, and that if we don’t, what we want accomplished won’t be completed. We stand over the repairman, we go with our children to buy cars to ensure they are getting the best deal. The centurion understands that the power to heal comes from Jesus, not from himself.
The centurion recognizes Jesus’s authority as being great, because while the centurion can send servants to do tasks on behalf of himself, Jesus can heal people without having to send someone. Jesus commends the centurion for his faith. Many crowds followed Jesus around, but even after observing miracles, didn’t believe in who he was. This centurion did believe, and knew he didn’t have to physically see Jesus to have faith in his power.
Jesus refers to people who will become non-Jewish Christians while also warning the Jews here. Those who do not accept his message won’t just get into heaven because they are the sons of Abraham. It takes faith in Jesus, which the centurion has. His servant is healed by Jesus.
It is important to state here the danger in assuming causality in the passage above. Jesus wasn’t forced to heal the servant because the Roman had faith, he graciously chose to. We can’t cause God to do one thing or another, he isn’t beholden to our will. All we can do is have faith (which comes from God), and know that Jesus has the power to heal.