Today’s reading: Luke 7:1-23
Today we are in Luke, Chapter 7 and the account of Jesus healing the slave of a Centurion. The first thing to notice is that this scene plays out in Capernaum. Recall from our discussions in Matthew that while Jesus is commonly associated with Nazareth, Bethlehem, Galilee, and Jerusalem much of his most important and memorable events take place in Capernaum
Second, the Centurion is obviously well liked and respected by the Jewish people. They willingly go and petition Jesus for him. Given what we know of the usual poor relations between Jews and Gentiles this is rather surprising. It’s clear that at least in Capernaum relations between the two groups were better than in the rest of Israel, if not in general than at least with this Centurion. One has to wonder if this was at least in part because of Jesus’ repeated presence in the area. What’s also interesting is the Jews seem to be confident in the fact that Jesus can, in fact, heal the slave. Unlike his hometown of Nazareth, the people of Capernaum seem to have accepted Jesus as at least a prophet with a gift of healing.
Further, the Jews ask Jesus to grant the Centurion’s petition because,
And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” Luke 7:4-5
Notice, the Jews petition Jesus to heal the slave based on the good works of the Centurion! It’s important to emphasize a few details here. The petition is not based on works of the Mosaic Law. The Centurion is a gentile and not bound by the Mosaic Law. Also, notice it is the works of another, the Centurion, which is the basis for healing a second person, the slave. Stated conversely, it is not the works of the slave that are referenced for his healing. The good works of the Centurion are the basis of his petition for the healing of the slave. Putting aside the question of the relationship of faith and works (which we have discussed repeatedly in the past) what this shows is that we are not in a “me and Jesus” world. We are in a world where our petitions can help others.
While Jesus is in route to the home of the Centurion he is intercepted by emissaries. What they say to Jesus is important:
And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too 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 servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” Luke 7:6-8
The Centurion does not consider himself worthy to be in the presence of Jesus’ much less for Jesus to enter his home. The Centurion intuitively understands who Jesus is and their respective ranks. This is why the Centurion’s emissaries speak of authority. The Centurion has secular human authority but it is nothing compared to the authority and honor of Jesus. Often we hear talk of a “personal relationship” with the Lord. No doubt, God became incarnate to make a personal relationship with him possible. However, there is another side to that coin. In some ways, our personal relationship with Jesus must be one where we understand with the greatest humility possible just who we are in a relationship with. To the extent, a personal relationship is possible it is because God comes down to our level and makes himself available to us. Our personal relationship must be one that we approach with great humility.
That is why for Catholics this verse from Luke is one of the most quoted lines in the Bible. Every Sunday before Catholics go up to Communion we repeat a paraphrased quote of the Centurion, “Lord, I am not worthy for you to enter under my roof but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” This is the great faith and humility that Jesus “marvels” at and ultimately rewards and we should seek to emulate it.
Tomorrow: Luke 7:24-50