In the Book of Matthew 8: 5-13, we read the story about the centurion who asked for but a word from Jesus to heal his slave. If this was the only passage of the Gospel left in tact, we would still have some idea about uniquely powerful Jesus was. We would primarily think of Jesus as a healer, but as one who could not be coerced into doing these works. Jesus only worked of his free will. This short passage in Matthew reveals that Jesus had an interest in Old Testament prophecies that he interpreted radically different from others of His time.
Matthew 8:5-13 reads: "When [Jesus] entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, "Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible agony!""I will come and heal him," He told him."Lord," the centurion replied, "I am not worthy to have You come under my roof. But only say the word, and my servant will be cured. For I too am a man under authority, having soldiers under my command. I say to this one, 'Go!' and he goes; and to another, 'Come!' and he comes; and to my slave, 'Do this!' and he does it."Hearing this, Jesus was amazed and said to those following Him, "I assure you: I have not found anyone in Israel with so great a faith! I tell you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Then Jesus told the centurion, "Go. As you have believed, let it be done for you." And his servant was cured that very moment.
Three major areas were addressed in this passage. The first area that I will discuss is the Centurion soldier. Sometimes, Bibical scholars like to use passages like this in a commentary on the pacifist/just war debate. These passages are not related to this debate.
This passage says nothing one way or the other about the validity of military service for Christians or for Israelites of Jesus' time. It's easy for Americans reading this to think of the centurion as a U.S. soldier entering an American church. He's not. A better image is an American soldier stationed in Iraq entering a mosque, or a Christian British soldier seeking out a reputed South African mystic during the Boer War. Romans were the oppressor of the Jews at this time. The centurion was upholding a social evil at the time that he asked Jesus to heal his slave.
This passage also touches upon faith.
Jesus makes reference in this passage to the degree to which someone's faith helps or hinders both his missions and miracles. Elsewhere in the Gospels, we're shown that Jesus could do very few miracles in his own hometown. Very few individuals put their faith in His ability to do so. In other words, human action or inaction can restrain the power of God. This is a strong point in favor of open theist claims that God willingly created a world in which he gave genuine power of decision to humans and other free-will agents.
Lastly, the passage sheds light upon the "table" metaphor.
Jesus refers to the table of the Kingdom banquet. And from the contrast between the centurion's surprisingly great faith and the Israelite's unaccountable lack of faith, He makes the point that the kingdom banquet at which all Jews knew Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were reclined will be filled with surprising guests from outside the traditionally accepted regiment. Moreover, many who think they're already in the Kingdom of God are actually keeping themselves from entering.
What this passage means for us? We can draw an application from each of the points. First, remember that even your enemy, your oppressor, is a person capable of finding faith. He may even surprise you and teach you something about your own faith! So treat him as a human or as Jesus said "love your enemy". The Quakers use slightly different language for this by reminding us that we are all created in the image of God. For them, everyone is to look for "that-of-God" in each person. Secondly, we are reminded that God does not work by fiat, or be coercion. We are co-agents in the management of this world. God answers prayer, but your faith and determination in that prayer matters in a tangible way. Likewise, your actions matter in the same way. Never be willing to accept simply that "this is the way God wants things for some mysterious reason." Rather, be willing to contradict God, as the centurion did Jesus. The third topic that the passage touches upon in actually a two-pronged point. First, we are to keep in mind that we may be surprised at who shows up in heaven after all. Don't bother assuming who will show up at the pearly gates, because the Jews were all fairly sure that a centurion could not receive aid from the Jewish Messiah. As a corollary to that, never feel so safe in your salvation that you refuse to allow God to work in you. St. Paul put it this way: "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you."The story of the centurion and his slave are full of lessons to Christians that are saved and are walking with God. What does this story say to you specifically? Does this story rustle up a new sense of commitment to your work on being a Christian? How can you use this story to model the rest of your faith life? Do you have the faith of the centurion?