Even foreigners? What really?

A centurion and his servant

Matthew 8:5–13

The authority of Jesus

When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralysed 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 marvelled 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. — Matthew 6:5–13 ESVUK

A Roman centurion stands guard at the Colosseum.

A Roman centurion stationed in Judea would not have been Jewish. That is not how the Roman Army operated. It would conscript people from all areas of the empire and beyond, but never deploy them in their own country keeping the risk of mutiny to a minimum. Very few roman soldiers were Roman citizens, these were in special regiments such as the Cohors II Italica Civium Romanorum mentioned in Acts 10:1 as the Italian Cohort.

The centurion was not only not Jewish, but he was also a member of the occupying army. Most of the people did not wish to be ruled by Rome and the army was a sign that they were subject to foreign rule. This would have been particularly disliked by religious Jews, God was to be their only leader.

What brought the centurion to Jesus we do not know. Being in a position of authority he would have been able to get the best medical care available—he could force a doctor to come. But here he was standing before Jesus seeking help. A man despised by Jews seeking a Jew’s help. The servant (or slave, the Greek word can mean either) must have meant a lot to him. After all, he could easily have employed another servant or bought another slave.

This section of Matthew’s Gospel is dealing with the power of Jesus as a king, and who belongs in his kingdom. Jesus again shows his power over illness, but it is to one who although he has power due to his position in the army would have been shunned by the people, especially the religious leaders. The centurion was a representative of their oppressors. Jesus, however, accepts him. In the Gospel accounts, Jesus is shown accepting all the people who come to him. He even taught that in John 6:37, “whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”

It does not matter who you are, where you come from or what you have done. If you come to Jesus he will accept you.


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