Red Letter Year: 7/11
1 When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people, he returned to Capernaum. 2 At that time the highly valued slave of a Roman officer was sick and near death. 3 When the officer heard about Jesus, he sent some respected Jewish elders to ask him to come and heal his slave. 4 So they earnestly begged Jesus to help the man. “If anyone deserves your help, he does,” they said, 5 “for he loves the Jewish people and even built a synagogue for us.”
6 So Jesus went with them. But just before they arrived at the house, the officer sent some friends to say, “Lord, don’t trouble yourself by coming to my home, for I am not worthy of such an honor. 7 I am not even worthy to come and meet you. Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed. 8 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.”
9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed. Turning to the crowd that was following him, he said, “I tell you, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel!” 10 And when the officer’s friends returned to his house, they found the slave completely healed.
11 Soon afterward Jesus went with his disciples to the village of Nain, and a large crowd followed him. 12 A funeral procession was coming out as he approached the village gate. The young man who had died was a widow’s only son, and a large crowd from the village was with her. 13 When the Lord saw her, his heart overflowed with compassion. “Don’t cry!” he said. 14 Then he walked over to the coffin and touched it, and the bearers stopped. “Young man,” he said, “I tell you, get up.” 15 Then the dead boy sat up and began to talk! And Jesus gave him back to his mother.
16 Great fear swept the crowd, and they praised God, saying, “A mighty prophet has risen among us,” and “God has visited his people today.” 17 And the news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding countryside.
We have two stories here. The first is found in Matthew, but altered a good bit here. The second is unique to Luke. In Matthew (8.5-13), the centurion comes himself and speaks directly with Jesus. Here, the centurion and Jesus never meet or speak with each other directly. In fact, Jesus says almost nothing in this scene – he does not even declare the servant healed – only the remark about his remarkable faith remains. As Luke tells it, the story bears a lot of resemblance to Elisha healing Namaan of leprosy (2 Kings 5). The second story bears a lot of resemblance to Elijah raising the Sarepta widow’s son from the dead (1 Kings 17). This leads to the crowd recognizing that Jesus is a “great prophet” in v.16. Luke tailored the first story and placed it alongside the second to reinforce this truth.
Here are a few things worth noting:
- The Jewish elders sent by the centurion were local leaders of the synagogue in Galilee, not connected with the elite leadership of Jerusalem and thus not (as much) at odds with Jesus.
- The centurion has his friends call Jesus “Lord” (v.6) which for Luke is an expression of faith in Jesus.
- In his narration of the second story, Luke himself calls Jesus “Lord” for the first time in his Gospel (v.13). The term has been used before, but only in quotes. Luke was too careful for this to be accidental.
- In the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus instructed his followers to have compassion on people. He displays compassion on the widow in v.13. This reinforces the prior teaching and gives it a narrative context: our hearts should overflow with compassion, just like Jesus.
- Jesus ministers exclusively to outsiders in these stories, people of the reversal. The centurion is racially excluded. The servant is economically excluded and also under the cloud of racial exclusion by being in the centurion’s house. The widow is excluded based on gender and economics. And the boy is dead – the very embodiment of “unclean.” Jesus has no business caring for any of these. Such is the opinion of all the religious leaders, including John the Baptist. But these stories bear out the reversal Mary, Zechariah, and Simeon prophesied about. These are the people Jesus came for. These are the people who call him Lord.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.