29 November 2010

Matthew 8:5-11

"Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed." (v. 9)


The centurion is a soldier - used to orders and commands. For him authority was not to be questioned, you followed and obeyed. 

But the centurion's attitude towards his servant was contrary to the prevailing view of the Roman Empire. Servants or slaves were considered as a piece of property to do with as the owner saw fit. They were to be used and then disposed of when they had outlived their usefulness. Yet this Roman soldier was grieving that his slave was ill, and was determined to do something about it. Quite possibly it was the man's love and care of his slave that moved Jesus to act. It is love like that which overcomes barriers where it is between freeman and slave, or between Jew and Gentile (non-Jew) (cf Galatians 3:26-28). 

The manner in which the centurion approached Jesus displayed a respect for the Jewish faith, as he knew that Jesus (a Jew) entering the house of a non-Jew would mean breaking Jewish law as "the dwelling places of Gentiles are unclean" (the Misnah). 

The soldier's solution to this problem displays his background - a man used to orders and authority. He suggests to Jesus that he "only speak the word, and my servant will be healed".

These words are echoed in the Holy Communion service. The minister celebrating Communion says, "Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper" and the congregation respond "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed." 

In response to the centurion's invitation Jesus responds in verse 11 with an acknowledgement that this soldier will sit and eat with Abraham and Isaac in heaven. This is a reference to the great feast that will happen when the Messiah returns - a banquet at which all Jews would expect sit down and feast. Here is Jesus responding with the breaking down of an even greater barrier. Jesus indicating that the entry to the banquet is not governed by membership of a particular race - it is a matter of faith, faith regardless of all else. 

So in the context of the reading, the words in the Communion liturgy have even deeper resonance. 

And for the record in verse 13: "... to the centurion Jesus said, 'Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.' And the servant was healed in that hour." 

To Ponder

What are the barriers in your life that Jesus needs to overcome?

The centurion risked status and reputation in speaking to Jesus and asking for his help. How far will your risk your status and reputation to follow Jesus?

"I am not worthy to receive you." Reflect on these words in the context of a world preparing to celebrate the coming of Christ as a baby in a Bethlehem stable.

Bible notes author

Ken Kingston

Ken Kingston preaches in the High Wycombe Circuit. He has worked for the Connexional Team since 1992 in a variety of roles and has been involved in 'Called by Name' and 'Time to Talk of God' amongst others.