The healing of the centurion’s servant, as described in the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 8:5–13) and the Gospel of Luke (Luke 7:1-10), is a powerful account of faith, compassion and the profound impact of Jesus’ sovereign ministry.
A centurion was the commander of about 100 men, the smallest unit of a Roman legion. And the healing of one’s servant highlights this centurion’s deep belief and humility, who approached Jesus seeking healing for his valued servant. Let’s explore this narrative, its significance, and the lessons we can draw from this remarkable encounter.
The healing of the Roman centurion’s servant
This story shows up in the Gospels of both Matthew and Luke. Luke’s account reads this way.
When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening, he entered Capernaum. There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” So Jesus went with them.
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 (Luke 7:1–10).
Capernaum: the setting for the story
Capernaum was significant during the time of Jesus. It’s mentioned several times in the New Testament and is closely associated with His ministry.
Capernaum was a bustling fishing village and a major center of trade and commerce located on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee in modern-day Israel. It was strategically positioned along major trade routes, making it a diverse and prosperous town.
Jesus spent significant time in Capernaum and performed numerous miracles and teachings there. The Gospel of Matthew mentions that Jesus made Capernaum His home base during His ministry in Galilee (Matthew 4:12, 9:1).
One of the most famous accounts from Capernaum is the healing of a paralyzed man, where Jesus forgave the man’s sins and then told him to walk, which he did (Mark 2:1–12). Jesus also healed Peter’s mother-in-law and performed many other miraculous healings in the city (Mark 1:29–34).
Jesus’ most well-known sermon, the “Sermon on the Mount,” was preached not far from Capernaum. This sermon, which includes the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1–12), is considered a cornerstone of Christian teachings.
Over time, the city of Capernaum became a symbol of Jesus’ authority and power. But that didn’t stop Him from pronouncing a judgment upon it, saying it would be brought down because of its lack of repentance (Matthew 11:23–24).
Today, the ancient ruins of Capernaum can be visited in Kfar Nahum (Capernaum) National Park in Israel. The remains include a synagogue, believed to be the same one where Jesus taught, as well as the foundations of houses and other structures from the time of Jesus. The site attracts many Christian pilgrims and tourists who seek to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and explore the region’s rich history.
The centurion’s faith and humility
The centurion’s remarkable faith serves as this narrative’s focal point. He demonstrates a profound understanding of Jesus’ authority and power, recognizing that a mere word from Jesus could heal his servant. The centurion also acknowledges his unworthiness, stating, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof” (Matthew 8:8). This confession reveals his humility and recognition of Jesus’ divinity.
One of the first signs we get of the centurion’s humility is that he was reaching out to a Jewish miracle worker to begin with. Rome was an occupying force in Israel. And while it wasn’t unheard of for Romans and Jews to work together—and even be friendly, centurions were typically instructed to be aloof from the Jews so there would never be any conflict if an incursion was required.
Differing accounts of the centurion’s message
In Matthew’s account, we’re told, “When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly (Matthew 8:5–6).’” But Luke tells us that the centurion had sent Jewish elders to speak to Jesus.
At first glance, this might seem contradictory, but not when considering the centurion’s authority. A centurion sending a Jew to do his bidding was the same as the centurion doing it himself. For Matthew, a Jew writing to other Jews, there could be a number of reasons to omit this detail. Luke’s account shows that the centurion had an affinity for Israel. It’s possible that Matthew didn’t want Jewish leaders to read this detail as the centurion misusing his authority. Whatever Matthew’s reasoning, Luke, a Gentile, doesn’t share the same sensitivities. Matthew also includes a prophecy about Israel that Luke leaves out.
The centurion’s desire to heal his servant caused him to send Jewish elders to implore Jesus for assistance. His willingness to do so demonstrated great humility. First, it showed that the centurion was sympathetic to Judaism to the point of believing that a Jewish miracle worker might be able to heal his servant.
When the Jews come to Jesus, they speak up for the centurion, telling the Lord that the centurion loves Israel and built their synagogue, demonstrating tenderness and humility toward Israel. As Jesus approaches this man’s home, the centurion comes out and displays another layer of humility. While he believes Jesus can heal his servant, he doesn’t feel worthy to have Jesus in his home (as Gentile homes were considered unclean). Instead, he encourages Jesus to simply command the illness to leave.
This acknowledgment of unworthiness and the belief that Jesus could heal his servant by simply exercising His authority demonstrated the centurion’s faith.
Jesus’ amazement at the centurion
One of the most fascinating details in Luke’s account is Jesus’ response to the centurion. Luke tells us that Jesus was “amazed” at his words. The Greek word translated as amazed is thaumazó. It’s also translated throughout the New Testament as marveled and wondered. It’s the reaction one has when something catches their attention and makes them ponder its significance.
Jesus turned to the crowd and announced that He had not seen this kind of faith in Israel. This was a significant proclamation. It foreshadowed the acceptance of the Gentiles into God’s kingdom. Paul explains this in Galatians 3:
So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith (Galatians 3:5–9, emphasis added).
The centurion demonstrated the kind of faith that made him a child of Abraham, even though he was a Gentile soldier occupying the land of Abraham. And so, Jesus responded to the centurion “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would” (Matthew 8:13) and healed the servant right then and there.
Lessons from a Roman centurion
The story of the Centurion’s servant provides valuable lessons for us today.
First, it demonstrates how faith transcends cultural, social and religious boundaries. The centurion’s unwavering belief teaches us that one’s position in society or religious background does not have to hinder genuine faith.
It also emphasizes the importance of humility. Despite his esteemed position, the centurion recognizes his own unworthiness and approaches Jesus with humility and reverence. Humility opens the door to deeper faith and an intimate connection with God.
The healing of the Centurion’s servant remains a powerful testament to the transformative power of faith and the boundless compassion of Jesus. It challenges us to examine our own faith, inviting us to approach God with humility, trust and the expectation that Jesus can and will reach into our lives. Furthermore, it encourages us to embrace a spirit of inclusivity, recognizing that genuine faith can be found in unexpected places and among unlikely individuals.
If you want to learn more about the amazing feats Jesus performed during His ministry, check out “The Miracles of Jesus.”