7:1-10 The Centurion and his slave
The first part of today’s reading introduces us to a Centurion. The venue, we are back in Capernaum, a place where Jesus made his home. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus and the centurion meet physically, whereas in Luke’s version the local Jewish leaders act as intermediaries. Are these the same Jewish leaders who were opposing Jesus in Luke 5:17, if so it gives the story a potentially interesting slant.
The story is about a gentile (a non Jew) accessing Jesus, and is placed here for the gentile church. Those who never have met Jesus, can still approach him with faith and be confident.
It is possible that the centurion was someone serving with the forces of Herod Antipas; we know that some of the household were followers of Jesus, particularly Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s business manager. Could there be a link here perhaps. It shows the wide appeal of Jesus as he himself does not seem to have any positive sense of Herod, and remains cautious of him, refusing to speak to him during the trial sequence when Pilate sends him to Herod.
The centurion was possibly a “God-fearer”, a term applied to a gentile who had embraced some of the Jewish way, but being uncircumcised was still considered external to the covenant, and therefore alien. We are told that his slave was close to death. We don’t know what was wrong but he was evidently seriously ill. It appears that the Centurion was honourable, it could be that the slave was Jewish as they had better standards of slavehood than the majority of slaves, the majority of whom were slavs, hence the term “slave”.
It appears that the Centurion was a major donor to the town, which in the leader’s eyes makes him worthy of Jesus’ attention.
Luke highlights the honour and sense of humility of the Centurion when he sends a legation to say,” I am not worthy to have you come under my roof”. It suggests he knows about Jesus by reputation. He states that he can have no claim on Jesus, (he is a Gentile after all, and a member of the occupying forces) but states that he knows and recognises Jesus’ authority. He understands what Jesus is about at least in power if not in who Jesus was.
Jesus marvelled at him. Luke has Jesus being marvelled only twice, the other time was at Nazareth when he marvelled at the lack of faith. Here in contrast, the centurion is said to have a faith that is greater than even found in Israel. Matthew is a slight odds with Luke in that he gives a more negative impression of the faith of those in Israel, but Luke suggests that there are those with faith in Israel, but Jesus is surprised that this man’s faith in him is greater than most. Is this again an example of Luke focussing on the outsider?
Jesus doesn’t even say a word of healing. Who is this Jesus that he can heal without even seeing or speaking?
Where is Jesus’ message going when miracles are blatantly shared even with the enemy? Remember the sermon on the mount, Love your enemies.
7:11-17 The widow of Nain
Nain is about 22 miles from Capernaum. A day’s walk. A mother’s son has died, her only son. This leaves her in a precarious position. She would have been left powerless, possibly homeless and at the mercy of others.
People prepared bodies for burial when the ill person was close to death. From a 21st Century perspective, it begs the question; was the son dead or just at death’s door and unconscious. Similar stories are found in the OT in 1 Kings 17:17-24 New International Version (NIV)
“17 Some time later the son of the woman who owned the house became ill. He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing. 18 She said to Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”
19 “Give me your son,” Elijah replied. He took him from her arms, carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his bed. 20 Then he cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, have you brought tragedy even on this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?” 21 Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him!”
22 The Lord heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived.23 Elijah picked up the child and carried him down from the room into the house. He gave him to his mother and said, “Look, your son is alive!”
24 Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.”
And in Acts 9:36-42 with Peter’s rising of Tabitha;
“36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. 37 About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. 38 Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!”
39 Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.
40 Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. 41 He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive. 42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord.”
It could be placed here deliberately to highlight Jesus forthcoming discussion about John and his defence of his ministry to calm John’s doubts. Why was John doubting Jesus? He was imprisoned, Jesus could save him but wasn’t even trying to. He was preaching love of enemies and practising it too. Did this sound like cleansing with fire and a winnowing fork at hand?
What we do see is the Luke calls Jesus LORD here, and shows that Jesus has authority over death itself. Jesus touched the bier, thus making himself unclean; we have seen Jesus’ attitudes to Sabbath laws and cleanliness laws. It is normal behaviour for Jesus for whom human need outweighed ritual law.
This is not a magic show. There is no ceremony, no prayer, Jesus just tells the young man to get up.
The reaction of the crowd, who would have included professional mourners, is described as one of awe. We need to see this in terms of fear. They glorified God not Jesus. At this time, Jesus is seen as a great prophet through whom God is working great deeds. Jesus’ fame further increased within Judea and elsewhere. He is becoming a celebrity, but there is no awareness that he is God incarnate. He is seen as a great Prophet in the line of Elijah.
Why do you think that is?
What does this bible study mean for us?
What does faith mean to you?
What effect Jesus’ authority have on you? How does it make you feel?
Who do you think Jesus is?
Luke L Morris
Oxford Bible Commentary Barton & Muddiman
Simply Jesus T Wright