When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; and there was a leper who came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” He stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.” And he said to him, “I will come and cure him.” The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also 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 slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.” And the servant was healed in that hour.
When Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever; he touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she got up and began to serve him. That evening they brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah, “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.”Matthew 8.1-17
In this section in the Gospel According to Matthew, Jesus responds with mercy to three persons. These three each represent a group who are restricted from full participation in Jewish society, and two of them, the leper and the Gentile, are usually shunned by most pious Jews because of their uncleanness. Jesus cares little about these social boundaries and goes on to interact with each of them.
The most interesting interaction would be that with the Gentile centurion. A centurion was a Roman military officer akin to a Commanding Officer of a company of soldiers today. However, this centurion speaking to Jesus seems to be one who knows and respects the Jewish religion. Perhaps he is a Gentile adherent to the Judaism of his day. He is extremely concerned about Jesus—a Jew—stepping foot in his house because he is an unclean Gentile. More importantly, he recognises that Jesus is no ordinary Jewish rabbi after hearing all the deeds of power he had done throughout Syria (4.24). As a man of status in the Roman world himself, the centurion is therefore embarrassed at having to trouble someone like Jesus.
Even more significant is his belief that Jesus can simply say a word to heal his servant who is lying paralysed at home; somehow, he believes that the elements of the world are under Jesus’ command just as his soldiers and slaves are under his command. Jesus is amazed at his right belief and praises him for his faith before proceeding to grant him his petition. He didn’t even have to say much in relation to the healing, just a “let it be done according to your faith.” This shows how much in control Jesus is of the elements of the world. He is the Word uttered by God in Genesis 1 that brought forth the cosmos without a cosmogonic struggle: “Let there be…” and it was. So Jesus simply utters a “let it be,” and “the servant was healed in that hour.”
Do we have the faith of the centurion? How much credence do we place on Jesus’ words recorded for us in the gospels? Do we believe that what he says is true and will come to pass because he is the Word of God? May God help our unbelief!