We spent some time looking at Jesus’ discussion about fulfilling the law. Now, I want to look at another of the stories that bring to the forefront the issue of freedom and the law. This one is found in Matthew 8:5–13:
“When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.”But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven,while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.”
You might be asking “what does this have to do with freedom and the law?” I think that has everything to do with freedom and the law. A Roman Centurion, the very image of imperial power comes to Jesus, a backwoods, Jewish rabbi and asks him to heal his servant. The word “appealing” is παρακαλῶν and it really is pointing to an “urgent exhortation”. Eugene Peterson renders it, “came up in a panic”. I think that this is a great picture. How humiliating it would have been. Then this Centurion, this image of Rome’s great power and might did the unthinkable, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.” Truly, a remarkable image for those standing around watching. Rome was yielding authority to a Jewish rabbi. Incredible!
Jesus’ comment is even more amazing! He uses this as an opportunity to teach that the Kingdom is open to people such as this: tools of the Emperor’s oppressive regime will be invited to table fellowship with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob! This is remarkable! The violent, oppressive Gentiles are invited to the table? The sons of the kingdom are thrown into outer darkness? How can this be?
Luke’s account gives us a bit more insight into the matter:
“After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.”
(Luke 7:1–10 ESV)
We learn now that the Centurion is a man who loved the Jews. He even built their synagogue. It appears that this Centurion was a “God-fearer”. Most likely he was a not a convert to Judaism or the Jewish Elders would have made that clear to Jesus. This was a man who believed in God. His faith was such that he could not bear to have Jesus enter his home. He was “poor in spirit” and he would come to inherit the kingdom!
Jesus was free to heal and forgive this man. He was free to invite him to table fellowship with the patriarchs. The law said otherwise (or one would assume so). Freedom is again found in the breaking down of barriers between people and God. This Roman Centurion had great faith and could happily receive the fellowship of the great cloud of witnesses without worry because, “for freedom Christ set us free.”
This Centurion was the very image of the world and all of its trappings. He had money, power, and authority. Yet, his humble faith found him a place at the table. Our freedom comes from humility and it is in this humility that we can sup with “the world”. It is with humility that we can be “in the world” and “not of the world.” We enter in with those around us freely because the table is open and any may come to it. Grace has bought a spot for any who would trust in the faithfulness of Jesus.