7 After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. 3 When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. 4 When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, 5 for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” 6 And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; 7 therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. 8 For I also 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 slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” 9 When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10 When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.
Capernaum. The etymological meaning of the Hebrew word Capernaum is “village of comfort” (Caper - Village and Nahum - to cover, to purge or to atone). It was one of the basic centers of Jesus in which we were able to see many ministerial accounts of Jesus. Basically, it was situated near the banks of the Galilean Lake. He performed many miracles in the village which gained him lots of popularity. Even though Jesus was from Nazareth, Capernaum became his home after he was rejected at the synagogue in Nazareth. His exposition on the word of God from the book of Isaiah at Nazareth revealed his manifesto (Luke 4:16ff). He was very well accepted in this village, where we have the archaeological evidence of Peter’s house. In spite of the much activity the subjects of the village consistently lived in poverty because of the tax system. The taxes drained their hard work and the imperial tones subdued their human dignity. The peace of the village was maintained by violence and force. Roman officials were one of the key tools used by the authorities to keep the system alive and people were tortured because of the powerful exploitation of the rulers. Their lives were in a mess.
Centurion: A centurion was a Roman official who was in charge of 80 to 100 soldiers. The degree varies in par with their ranks. In Roman army we can see an army unit called Legion which constitutes 5200 to 6000 soldiers. The “Legion” was subdivided into ten units called cohorts. The cohorts were subdivided into six centuries, of about 80 to 100 men each. Each century was commanded by a centurion.
Slave: The institution of slavery was present during the time of Jesus. Without doubt the system of masters and slaves’ projects evidence of oppression and exploitation of the weak and the meek. However, the centurion valued his slave marks the key interpretation to the text.
Jesus: We can notice a paradox in this text that is so self-evident; the love of the master to his slave and his engagement to redeem the life of his slave. Normally slaves were seen as inanimate objects and were abused by their master. But the act of the centurion who cared about the life of the dying slave amazed Jesus about the value system the centurion had. The inherent qualities of the divine in pleading life for his subordinate adds more meaning to the text when we interpret it in context. Jesus was well pleased about the act of centurion because his humility and concern for the other is the quality of God’s Kingdom values. Even though the slavery is an inhuman system, the human concern of the centurion amazed Jesus because the morality of the centurion seemed to be the antidote of change. I feel Jesus highlighted this centurion because he would have felt that the concern for “Life” makes one human. Mutual respect and dignity for everyone is the key moral that articulates the aroma of true peace and justice in society- the society which Jesus dreamt about.
Today we can see how the slavery system has taken its shifts and the status quo of mind which discriminates people. It can be altered only when we believe in the Life. Life is a gift of God to all and Jesus is our model who died on the cross as a sign of a powerful protest against the powerful and privileged who manipulated and misunderstood the meaning of life. By lifting the character of the centurion, Jesus is telling us to believe in LIFE FOR ALL to realize the real faith community of God.
May God Bless these Words. Amen.