The Faith of a Roman Officer

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Matthew 8:5–13 (NLT)
5 When Jesus returned to Capernaum, a Roman officer* came and pleaded with him, 6 “Lord, my young servant lies in bed, paralyzed and in terrible pain.”
7 Jesus said, “I will come and heal him.”
8 But the officer said, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come into my home. Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed. 9 I know this because I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this,’ they do it.”
10 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed. Turning to those who were following him, he said, “I tell you the truth, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel! 11 And I tell you this, that many Gentiles will come from all over the world—from east and west—and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven. 12 But many Israelites—those for whom the Kingdom was prepared—will be thrown into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
13 Then Jesus said to the Roman officer, “Go back home. Because you believed, it has happened.” And the young servant was healed that same hour.
In Matt. 8:1 to 9:34, Matthew focuses on miracles that reveal the identity of Jesus.  In the first two miracles in this section, Jesus heals in response to the faith of the person asking.  All of these people are those who are on the margins of society.  Jesus heals a leper (vv. 1-4), and the servant of a Roman officer (vv. 5-13).  The Roman centurion was a Gentile.  Ministry to this Roman officer would have evoked strong resentment from the Jewish leaders, Pharisees, and nationalistic elements of Jewish society.
The Roman centurion was an officer of the Roman Army who had command of a 100 soldiers.  The Roman officer uses a tender word to describe his servant, “my child”, that demonstrates a tenderness toward this servant.  The servant was more than a slave, the centurion is genuinely concerned for this servant.  The condition of the servant was dire, he was lying paralyzed and tormented by suffering in terrible pain.  Jesus immediately expresses His willingness to go and heal him.
The fact that Jesus is willing to touch a leper to heal him (v. 3), and to go to the house of a despised Roman centurion demonstrates that He was not concerned with becoming ritually unclean under the Law.
However, the centurion dissuades Jesus with an explanation that shows he has a deeper understanding of who Jesus is than even Jesus’ closest disciples.  The centurion understands the concept of authority.  As a Roman officer he can speak a command and expect that it will be carried out.  He understands that Jesus also has authority.  Later in the chapter, 2 demoniacs name Jesus as “the Son of God.”  If Jesus is truly the Son of God, a word of command is as effective as a visit to heal the servant.  At it’s heart, this miracle acknowledges Jesus’ identity.
Jesus’ response is astonishment (v. 10).  This Gentile has demonstrated more faith than anyone of Jesus’ Jewish followers.  Faith, in this context, means confidence in who Jesus is.  Jesus heals in response to the faith demonstrated by the leper and the Roman officer.
In vv. 11 and 12, Jesus indicates that many Gentiles will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, while many Jews (who by their descent from Abraham consider themselves heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven) will be thrown outside.  Why?  Faith in Jesus Christ is the defining criteria.
The significance of these verses goes beyond the Jewish-Gentile hostilities of the first century.  Up to now, the missionary sending countries of Europe and North America have considered themselves to be the blessed.  There are some in the United States who consider Americans to be the new chosen people of God.  They conflate being American with being a Christian.  Jesus says that there will be many in the Majority World who will enter the Kingdom of God, while those who trusted in their birth will be excluded.  Many of those on the outside looking in will have been considered good church members.  Neither being born in the church, nor filling a pew, nor having your name written in the church rolls makes you a Christian.  The only thing that counts is having your name written in the Book of Life.
Lord, help us to repent of seeing ourselves as God’s chosen people as a result of the accident of our birth.  Truly you have blessed us in the United States.  But help us to recognize that to those who have been given much, much is required.  Help us to recognize that the accident of our birth in a country with such great resources as the US makes us accountable for how we use the resources which we have been given.  Help us to recognize Your authority, Jesus, that you are the Son of God.  And help us to respond in faith, trusting You with all that we have and all that we are, that we will not be on the outside looking in on that last day.  Amen.

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