Love in Action (1) - The centurion and his slave.
Jesus Heals a Centurion’s Servant
7After Jesus* had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. 3When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. 4When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, ‘He is worthy of having you do this for him, 5for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.’ 6And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, ‘Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; 7therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. 8For I also am a man set 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 slave, “Do this”, and the slave does it.’ 9When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.’ 10When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.
In the previous section of his Gospel, Luke shows Jesus establishing the New Israel and implementing the New Law. Having spent some time explaining the theory behind the new law, he now sets about putting love into action. In this lesson we see Jesus revealing aspects of what the law of love is all about. To understand the law of love in its entirety, one needs to examine the whole life and ministry of Jesus, eventually reaching the climax in the passion of the cross.
In this first example we meet a remarkable man of faith. The centurion was a Gentile army captain who was more than likely in command of Jews who had been recruited into the military forces. Galilee was not yet ruled directly by Rome, but was still under the Jewish King, Herod Antipas. Rome allowed him to rule and would probably have assisted him with infrastructure, including military officers (Morris p. 136). The troops would have served as a police force to maintain law and order in the region as well as to ensure that people paid their taxes. Capernaum was a border town and so the soldiers would have served as customs officials (Ellis p. 117).
A centurion was an important man who held a position of great status in the community. Even though the Jewish people and leaders had little or no time for Romans in general and Roman soldiers in particular, it is interesting to note how differently the Jewish people felt about this particular Roman officer. And the reason was simply because - as Wiersbe (pp. 74-75) puts it:
This centurion was not a Stoic who insulated himself from the pain of others. He had a heart of concern, even for the lowly servant boy who was dying from a paralysing disease.
In the centurion we see therefore the most unlikely character, chosen by our Lord to reveal one of the greatest miracles even performed by Jesus.
This passage is loaded with wonderful truths.
Firstly, it is important to note that we are reminded, once again, that no people, irrespective of who they are or what they have done, are ever excluded from God's love. There can never be any person or group of people who ever feel that they are unworthy of our Lord's love - because in fact, all people are unworthy. It is not who we are or what we have done that makes God's grace and love available to us - it is who Jesus is and what Jesus has done that we can come to Him. So often people make the mistake of thinking that a person will be saved because of what they have done. In this passage, the Jewish leaders suggested that Jesus should help the Centurion because - as verses 4 and 5 put it:
"He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us."
No person can earn God's favour; no person can deserve God's love or blessing. Christians are not people who are better than others. The Christian attitude is that of the Centurion who in verse 6 says:
"Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy ..."
We receive God's love freely, never because we deserve it - but only because God loves us and blesses us even though we do not deserve it.
Christians love others, do good deeds and are prepared to sacrifice everything for the sake of others - but note - not so that they can earn God's love and salvation, but rather because they have been given God's love and salvation as free and unconditional gifts. We come to our Lord with our prayers for ourselves and others, not because we deserve to come to God in this way, but because God loves us in Jesus Christ and enables us to come to Him by faith in the power of the Holy Spirit - even though we do not deserve it. The centurion was blessed therefore, not because of who is was or what he did, but because as Jesus says in verse 9:
"In all of Israel I've never found anyone with this much faith!" (CEV)
Secondly, people of faith become completely different. They no longer behave towards others as they are expected to by society. When people receive undeserved kindness, they respond by being kind to others. Why? Because, when God enters the life of a person, they change. The Centurion had opened himself up to God and the result - he was a changed person. We see this in the way that he had supported the Jewish people in their faith. Miller (p. 84) suggests that
He was probably a "God-fearer," who had been attracted to Judaism by its monotheism and high ethical teaching, and who even worshipped at the synagogue, but had not been circumcised as a proselyte ... It had been through the Jews that the centurion heard of Jesus and his work.
Having come to faith in Jesus the centurion felt compassion towards others, especially those in need. The centurion requested a miracle, not for himself, nor even a member of his family, but for a slave. Barclay (p. 84) suggests that 'He had a completely unusual attitude to his slave'. He had every right to do whatever he pleased with his slave, because as we know, slaves had absolutely no rights at all. Roman law described a slave as a 'living tool'. A master could even kill his slaves if he so wished. But when Christ enters a person’s life, they treat all people, irrespective of their political, social, racial, economic standing or position in society, as very special. We should learn an important lesson from the centurion's example. We should show kindness to everyone that we have anything to do with.
Thirdly, we see the importance of humility in the life of a believer. The centurion realised that he was not worthy of having the Lord come to his house. Humility is one of the most powerful indications of the presence of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Humility is not a natural gift in people because we are all born proud. Jesus frequently had to point out the need for Godly humility, perhaps best summed up in Luke 18:14 (CEV) where Jesus says: 'If you put yourself before others, you will be put down. But if you humble yourself, you will be honoured'. Christ revealed this virtue in his own life. In Matthew 11:29 (CEV) Jesus says: '... learn from me. I am gentle and humble and you will find rest'. Paul explains: 'Jesus 'humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death upon a cross'.
Lastly, we see one of the most perfect examples of Christian faith in action. Listen to the centurion's words:
But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.
The centurion knew that Jesus could heal - this was not doubted for a minute. He also knew that if Jesus were just to say the word, then it would happen. He believed that Jesus had the authority necessary to do anything. As a military person, he knew that a command would be obeyed! He did not see the need for any miraculous sign - he simply believed and trusted in Jesus. How many of us pray, confident that Jesus can heal, save, do whatever we request of him? Are our prayers not more often merely hoping for the best but not really expecting anything. There is so much evidence today of the power of Jesus - in fact much more evidence than was available to people in Jesus' day - and yet so many people still do not believe!
But notice that his faith led to action - he did something. Realising that he was unworthy, he sought the aid of others. The result he received, great blessing. Faith needs action. We too can follow the example of the centurion by asking others to pray for us. And when we also believe and trust, our Lord will bless us.
Our Lord has therefore reminded us again today of the wonderful truth that all people are special and that no person who comes to Jesus in faith will ever be turned away. But we need to come to him in faith and in all humility. We need to be ready do something in response to our faith - be it asking others to pray for us, go to the doctor - whatever we come to realise we need to do. But we are assured once more, that God loves us and welcomes all who come to him. Miller (p. 84) concludes:
It is significant that the first incident that Luke records after the forming of the New Israel and the setting forth of its law, presents a gentile manifesting the sort of faith which makes one a member of it.
Have we come humbly to Jesus and accepted Him and His Word into our lives by faith? Are we citizens of the New Israel, the Kingdom of God? Is this evident by the way we treat others? Do we follow the teachings of Christ and the New Law, or do we follow our own ways and only come to Christ when it suits us or when we want something for ourselves? Are we people of faith, always asking that the Lord increase our faith?