Jesus and the Roman Centurion, Matthew 8:5-13

Sunlight streaming through the morning fog. Courtesy Leon Kauffman.

Jesus and the Roman Centurion

By Jon Kauffman

Some Christians feel that because Jesus did not rebuke the Roman Centurion for military service, then Jesus is condoning military service.

The Faith of the Centurion

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, 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.”

10 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. 11 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. 12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment. Matthew 8:5-13 NIV

In the story, Jesus does not specifically mention the centurion’s career. We do not know that Jesus did not discuss his career with him also. The point of the story is the centurion’s faith. This story comes immediately after the ‘Sermon on the Mount” in chapters Matthew 5-7 where Jesus makes it very clear that we are to love our enemies.

Jews felt the Romans were their enemies. The Romans were brutally violent and evil. Seeing rebelling Jews on crosses around the country was a common sight. Later, at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, Barabbas who was freed was a rebel against Rome and many Jews agreed with him. A Jew joining the Roman military would have been considered a traitor. Most of those among the Jews following Jesus would not have considered joining the Roman military. Far more startling to Matthew’s audience was the fact that Jesus would offer healing, salvation, and forgiveness to an enemy and a gentile.

Jesus healing a servant of a Roman soldier was a striking contrast to the disciple’s desire to see Jesus overthrow the Romans. One of Jesus’ disciples was a zealot. Simon the Zealot. Zealots were a group of Jews who promoted armed rebellion against Roman rule. Perhaps Matthew felt that discussing how the centurion’s career built on violence contradicted the teaching of Jesus was unnecessary.

Perhaps if we follow Jesus’ example with the Roman centurion, we will heal our relationships with our enemies and make friends with soldiers from ISIS and Boko Haram?

Imagine if an American missionary with the gift of healing went to Iraq. Suppose an Isis leader came to the missionary and asked the missionary to pray for healing for his friend. Suppose the Isis leader had heard the missionary preaching. Suppose the Isis leader demonstrated his faith in Jesus in a similar manor as the Centurion demonstrated his faith. Suppose the missionary did pray for the Isis leader’s friend and his friend was healed. The missionary would no more be condoning the Isis leaders career than Jesus was condoning the Centurion’s career. Such a situation would show a Christian following Jesus’ command to love our enemies.

Later in the book of Matthew, in Chapter 24, Jesus predicted the destruction of the temple and violence resulting from the rebellion of the Jews. In 70 AD this destruction occurred. Those who followed the advice of Jesus fled and survived. Those who participated in the rebellion died. One source says a million Jews died in this destruction of Jerusalem.

Jesus saw Roman soldiers killing and abusing his fellow Jews, friends and relatives all his life. He knew he would soon die on a cross at the hand of Roman soldiers. He knew Roman soldiers would soon kill his people, the rebelling Jews in Jerusalem.

Perhaps this story verifies that Jesus loved his enemies with a wild, reckless, healing, forgiving love. He even healed the friend of his enemy the Roman soldier!

It seems to me that it takes a great leap of logic to believe that the healing of an enemy’s servant by Jesus would in any way justify us killing our own enemies today.

Suggesting that because Jesus healed his enemy’s servant means that Christians should join the military is like suggesting that when a Muslim terrorist becomes a Christian, that means we should join the terrorists in fighting the United States.

Maybe Jesus healing the Centurion’s servant was similar in 2001 to an American doctor giving Osama Bin Laden a dialysis machine a few months after 9/11?

Reasons why other Christians participate in violence: Reasons Christians Give to Say Violence by Christians is Legitimate

Jason Potterfield has written an excellent post about the Centurion on “EnemyLove”.

Copyright © 2019 by Jon Kauffman Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit and a live link are given.
Permission is gladly given to re-blog this post.

Picture: Copyright © 2019 by Leon Kauffman

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Author: Jon

Jon Kauffman graduated from Goshen College, earning a BA in Religion. Jon attended a Mennonite Church while growing up and currently attends the Salvation Army Church. Jon works as a drafter at TrueNorth Steel, Fargo, ND.

8 thoughts on “Jesus and the Roman Centurion, Matthew 8:5-13”

  1. Have to love you Mennonites. The world is indeed and evil place and growing that evil progressively. Unsure of the Mennonite view on the “end of days” entails. I would strongly recommend Walid Shoebat’s book “God’s War On Terror” In Isaiah 66 God names his enemies. I also recommend my post of day before yesterday on my website. Its about the Scopes Money Trial sort of. The Lord did not die and rise again for us to make the world a better place. He did all that to make dead people alive through rebirth by the Spirit. Those in that religion act the way they do because the ones who fly planes into buildings are the true Muslims who read their book and obey it. God has given you no power to change their heart to love you because you show them love. There is a difference between loving your neighbor and casting your pearls before swine. I invite you to learn precisely what the Bible says about that religion. Chris Queen. Lord Bless.

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    1. It is our job to love our enemies. It is God’s job to change their hearts. In the Islamic world through dreams and visions Jesus is calling many Muslims to follow him. I once read that Iran has the fastest growing church in the world as a percentage. Isaiah 66 says God is the judge. We are not called by God to take on that job.

      The Muslims who flew air planes into buildings did so because the USA has been bombing their homes and killing their families and destroying their infrastructure for 40.

      Jimmy Carter entangled the USA more deeply into the Middle East War scene to ensure a cheap and consistent flow of oil to the USA. Who is fighting the Just War? The US fighting for cheap oil or the Muslims trying to protect their homes and families?

      Granted Muslims also kill each other. Should US Christians be poking the hornets nest and killing them or working for peace. If we do our job, Jesus does the rest. See Book Review “America’s War or the Greater Middle East”, my January 8, 2017 post. https://nonviolentchristians.wordpress.com/2017/01/08/its-ok-for-bush-but-not-for-hitler/

      Linda Lee/Lady Quixote shared a link about a page of the Bible found at the site of the two towers fused into a metal beam. Was Jesus asking us to forgive the terrorists from Saudi Arabia or did he want us to attack and take revenge against Afghanistan and Iraq?

      Here is a link to the story on the Bible Gateway blog, with a video that describes how this Bible was found:
      https://www.biblegateway.com/blog/2016/09/the-911-world-trade-center-bible/

      When we have problems loving Muslims I think Nic Burleson has a great comment that applies:

      Think about this for a second. Jesus knew.
      He goes into that room with His disciples. He knows He is going to be betrayed. He knows it is Judas who will turn against him. He knows that He has been sold out for a handful of silver. Stabbed in the back by one He has poured His life into.

      Yet, in that room, hours before the death of Jesus, Judas ate too. Jesus fed Judas too. Jesus prayed for Judas too. Jesus washed Judas’ feet too. I struggle to fathom that kind of love. A love that would feed the mouth that deceived you. A love that would wash the treasonous feet of the traitor. A love that could forgive even the vilest of betrayals.

      I honestly struggle to comprehend it. And then, suddenly, I realize that I’m Judas. And in that moment, I’m so thankful & altogether overwhelmed that Judas ate too

      Nic Burleson, Lead Pastor, Timber Ridge Church

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    2. I read the table of contents of Walid Shoebat’s book. It looks like dispensationalism. I have some real problems with dispensationalism. So many dispensationalists are tempted to predict the day and the hour of the return of Jesus. The dates come and go without the return.

      When I was a kid my Dad had books describing prophecy from a pre-trib rapture dispensationalist view, but he also had books describing other views. I think some of the other views definitely seem to me to fit better into prophetic scripture.

      When I was 13 in 1971, a gentleman told me their is no doubt based on the upheaval in the Middle East Jesus would surely come in less than a year. Fortunately my Dad taught me to be skeptical of those teaching dates and times.

      Another problem is Christians being taken away before tribulation. It is difficult to imagine greater persecution than Rome during it’s three eras of great persecution when Rome tried to Exterminate Christians. Or how can it be worse than the Christians of the Soviet Union, China and Muslim countries over the last 100 years. Pre-trib rapture definitely tickles the ears of American Christians.

      God uses all things for the good of those who love God, (Romans 8:28). We can read that God even uses the evil Roman empire to do his bidding. Just as God used Babylon to punish Israel, and Persia to punish Babylon and Alexander the Great to punish Persia and Rome to punish Greece, he may use the USA to punish bad actors in the the Middle East. But if Christians are involved in that killing they will also suffer the consequences. As Jesus said, “Live by the sword, Die by the sword.” And how long until the United States is punished?

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    3. I may be wrong, but I think that casting pearls before pigs is discussing church discipline, but not forgiveness, love of enemy and restitution. If your interpretation is correct, then none of us deserve forgiveness, the love of Jesus or restitution with God. You seem to be insinuating that the Muslim sin is greater than our sin and that the Muslim does not deserve forgiveness? Why is Jesus appearing to Muslims in visions and drawing them to himself? If Jesus has compassion for our enemies should we follow his example?

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  2. “It seems to me that it takes a great leap of logic to believe that the healing of an enemy’s servant by Jesus would in any way justify us killing our own enemies today.”

    Me too.

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