Healing the centurion's servant
Healing the centurion's servant is one of the miracles said to have been performed by Jesus of Nazareth as related in the Gospel of Matthew[Matthew 8:5–13] and the Gospel of Luke[Luke 7:1–10 NIV] (both part of the Christian biblical canon). The story is not recounted in the Gospels of either John or Mark.
According to these accounts, a Roman centurion asks Jesus for his help because his servant is ill. Jesus offers to go to the centurion's house to perform a healing, but the centurion hesitates and suggests that Jesus' word of authority would be sufficient. Impressed, Jesus comments approvingly at the strong religious faith displayed by the soldier (despite not being a Jew) and grants the request, which results in the servant being healed the same day.
When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. "Lord," he said, "my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly." Jesus said to him, "Shall I come and heal him?" The centurion replied, "Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word. 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 and said to those following him, "Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Then Jesus said to the centurion, "Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would." And his servant was healed at that very hour.
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.
The story of the centurion is not mentioned in the Gospel of Mark, the earliest of the four gospels. One theory is that material not in Mark but found in both Matthew and Luke may have came from a lost source known as "Q". If true then this passage would still be an anomaly as Q is believed to have been a collection of sayings of Jesus (a list of sermons and quotations) with no other contextual material; but the story of the centurion does include background detail. It would also be the only miracle story that originated in Q. One possibility is that only the dialogue was in Q, and both Matthew and Luke added the background details from a shared oral history.
The Gospel of John does narrate the account of Jesus healing the son of a royal official at Capernaum at a distance in John 4:46–54. Some modern commentators treat them as the same event. However, in his analysis of Matthew, R. T. France presents linguistic arguments against the equivalence of pais and son and considers these two separate miracles. Merrill C. Tenney in his commentary on John and Orville Daniel in his Gospel harmony also consider them two different incidents.
Use in the liturgy
The words of the centurion are used in the Prayer of Humble Access contained in many Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, and other Christian Eucharist liturgies. The words are also used as part of the Communion rite in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church.
According to I. Howard Marshall, there were no Roman forces in Galilee prior to AD 44; therefore, the soldier was probably a member of Herod Agrippa's troops, which modeled Roman organization. While his nationality is not given, he is clearly a Gentile.
Meaning of "servant"
Luke 7:2 and 7:10 refer to the person to be healed as δοῦλος (doûlos), unambiguously meaning "servant" but has the centurion himself call him παῖς (pais) – which has a number of more ambiguous meanings including "child" (e.g., Matt 2:16), "son" (John 4:51) and, "servant" (Luke 15:26, Acts 4:25).
In his Against Heresies, Irenaeus tells us that some Gnostics believed the story to be metaphorical, with the centurion being merely a symbol of the demiurge. According to this interpretation, the demiurge tells Jesus that he has tried all he could to save the servant (humanity) but his laws have not succeeded in healing humanity or offering it a proper means towards spiritual development. Accordingly, the demiurge urges Jesus to say a word (spread gnosis) to offer true salvation to humanity.
Daniel A. Helminiak, an American Catholic priest, theologian and author of "What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality", states that the word pais, used for the servant, could have a sexual meaning. Theodore W. Jennings Jr. and Tat-Siong Benny Liew, also authors of various Christian books, further write that Roman historical data about patron-client relationships and about same-sex relations among soldiers support the view that the pais in Matthew's account is the centurion's "boy-lover", and that the centurion, therefore, did not want Jesus to enter his house for fear perhaps that the boy would be enamoured of Jesus instead. The Roman military historian D.B. Saddington writes that while he does not exclude the possibility, the evidence the two put forward supports "neither of these interpretations".
- Life of Jesus in the New Testament
- Ministry of Jesus
- Parables of Jesus
- Homosexuality in the New Testament § Pais
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- Keener, Craig S. (1999). A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. Wm. B. Eerdmans. p. 264. ISBN 978-0-8028-3821-6.
- Craddock, Fred B. (2009). Luke. Westminster John Knox Press. p. 94. ISBN 978-0-664-23435-5.
- France, R. T. (1985). The Gospel According to Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary. Wm. B. Eerdmans. p. 154. ISBN 978-0-8028-0063-3.
- Tenney, Merrill C. (1995). John. The Expositor's Bible Commentary Series. Zondervan. ISBN 978-0-310-50011-7.
- Daniel, Orville E. (1996). A Harmony of the Four Gospels: The New International Version (2nd ed.). Baker Books. ISBN 978-0-8010-5642-0.
- Hatchett, Marion J. (1995). Commentary on the American Prayer Book. HarperCollins. p. 382. ISBN 978-0-06-063554-1.
- Marshall, I. Howard (1978). The Gospel of Luke. Wm. B. Eerdmans. pp. 276–. ISBN 978-0-8028-3512-3. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- Irenaeus. "VII. Against the Incarnation". Against Heresies. Book 1.
- Helminiak, Daniel A (2012). Sex and the Sacred: Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth. Routledge. pp. 192–. ISBN 978-1-136-57075-9.
- Saddington, D. B. (2006). "The Centurion in Matthew 8:5–13: Consideration of the Proposal of Theodore W. Jennings, Jr., and Tat-Siong Benny Liew". Journal of Biblical Literature. 125 (1): 140–142. doi:10.2307/27638351. JSTOR 27638351.