He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.
After the sermon on the plain, Jesus returns to Capernaum. As a center of business and trade, Capernaum required a presence of Roman soldiers. They guarded the people from illegal business and collected customs from traders crossing Palestine's borders. Despite the commonly assumed 100, Roman centurions usually commanded 60 to 80 men.
A household servant of a Roman centurion fell ill. Apparently he was cared for and valued and may have held a position of high authority. Nevertheless, he was a servant with no rights except those given by the centurion. Although servants could be easily replaced, the centurion cares for this servant. We can't say whether this is pure compassion or if the servant was just a valuable worker.
The Jewish elders who most often opposed Jesus come to him with the centurion's request. They argue for the man's character, even though he is an unclean Gentile. This centurion won favor through his kind deeds and understanding of their customs and religion rather than getting what he wanted through brute force. Early inscriptions show that several synagogues were funded by Gentile contributors who admired the Jews, and this centurion was among those. Although the elders could not refute the healing power of Jesus, they missed the point of his ministry. Jesus did not heal based on works, but on faith. As we shall see, the centurion had both.
The crowds needing healing had pressed tightly against Jesus, reaching out hands for a healing touch. Even the opposition could not dispute the healing power of Jesus. In Jesus' home base of Capernaum it was well known that if you could get close enough to touch Jesus, possibly healing would flow from him to cure any ailment. I cannot imagine how the crowds would press against him.
The centurion responds in a surprising way. He sends a second delegation, made up of trusted friends. They come with a plea that Jesus not defile himself by entering a Gentile home. Simply issue the command, and the servant will live. The Jewish leaders had claimed the centurion deserved the help of Jesus; the centurion claimed he did not deserve to have Jesus even darken his door.
Jesus responded to the centurion the way the crowds responded to his miracles - with amazement. Such words revealed a faith far beyond any yet shown by his followers. The crowds sought signs and wonders. The opposition sought a slip-up. The centurion simply sought the unmerited favor of the Lord.
Oh to have the kind of faith that would amaze Jesus! Too often we are the crowds, seeking God in the miraculous and forgetting him in the mundane. Too often we are the opposition, coming for help when there is a need but lacking faith and humility. The centurion never met Jesus face to face but recognized his power and authority over all things. Although we can not physically see Jesus, may we have the same faith in our own lives.
"But my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. - Hebrews 10:38-11:1