When Jesus had completed all his words in the hearing of the people, he went into Capernaum. The servant of a certain centurion was so ill that he was going to die, and he was very dear to him. When he heard about Jesus he sent some Jewish elders to him and asked him to come and save his servant’s life. They came to Jesus and strenuously urged him to come. “He is,” they said, “a man who deserves that you should do this for him, for he loves our nation and has himself built us our synagogue.” So Jesus went with them. When he was now quite near the house the centurion sent friends to him. “Sir,” he said, “do not trouble yourself. I am not worthy that you should come under my roof; nor do I count myself fit to come to you; but just speak a word and my servant will be cured. For I myself am a man under orders, and I have soldiers under me, and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him. He turned to the crowd who were following him and said, “I tell you I have not found such great faith not even in Israel.” And those who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant completely cured.
The central character is a Roman centurion; and he was no ordinary man.
(i) A centurion was the equivalent of a regimental sergeant-major; and the centurions were the backbone of the Roman army. Wherever they are spoken of in the New Testament they are spoken of well (cp. Luke 23:47; Acts 10:22; 22:26; 23:17, 23, 24; 24:23; 27:43). The centurion must have been a man amongst men or he would never have held the post which was his.
(ii) He had a completely unusual attitude to his slave. He loved this slave and would go to any trouble to save him. In Roman law a slave was defined as a living tool; he had no rights; a master could ill-treat him and even kill him if he chose. Normally when a slave was past his work he was thrown out to die. The attitude of this centurion to his slave was quite unusual.
(iii) He was clearly a deeply religious man. A man needs to be more than superficially interested before he will go the length of building a synagogue. It is true that the Romans encouraged religion from the cynical motive that it kept people in order. But this centurion was no administrative cynic; he was a sincerely religious man.
(iv) He had an extremely unusual attitude to the Jews. If the Jews despised the gentiles, the gentiles hated the Jews. Antisemitism is not a new thing. The Romans called the Jews a filthy race; they spoke of Judaism as a barbarous superstition; they spoke of the Jewish hatred of mankind . The whole atmosphere of this story implies a close bond of friendship between this centurion and the Jews.
(v) He was a humble man. He knew quite well that a strict Jew was forbidden by the law to enter the house of a gentile (Acts 10:28); just as he was forbidden to allow a gentile into his house or have any communication with him. He would not even come to Jesus himself. He persuaded his Jewish friends to approach him. This man who was accustomed to command had an amazing humility in the presence of true greatness.
(vi) He was a man of faith. His faith is based on the soundest argument. He argued from the here and now to the there and then. He argued from his own experience to God. If his authority produced the results it did, how much more must that of Jesus? He came with that perfect confidence which looks up and says, “Lord, I know you can do this.” If only we had a faith like that, for us too the miracle would happen and life become new.