Today’s reading is Luke 7:1-17 (ESV):
Jesus Heals a Centurion’s Servant
7 After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. 3 When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4 And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, 5 for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” 6 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.7 Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. 8 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.”9 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.” 10 And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.
Jesus Raises a Widow’s Son
11 Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. 12 As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. 13 And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” 15 And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16 Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” 17 And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.
On their first adventure together in outer space in the popular television show Doctor Who, the Doctor attempts to provide his new companion, Amy Pond, with rules about how he travels, although he deviates from them constantly. Trying to understand, Amy says, “You never interfere in the affairs of other people or planets, unless there are children crying?” While Amy begins to discover the Doctor’s compassion, the devoted fan base understands the Doctor always interferes in his attempt to save lives, civilizations, and history. His attempts are usually unsuccessful, so avoiding attachment to minor characters is crucial, but his intentions and actions reveal the character of his hearts, as do those of the centurion and the widow in today’s passage.
Luke describes two miracles performed by Jesus: the healing of the centurion’s servant and the resurrection of a widow’s son. While Jesus heals in both instances, the miracles are starkly different in how the receivers of the miracles act.
The first miracle easily could have been unnoticed by an absent-minded reader, as the only indication of any miracle are the ending four words “found the servant well.” Luke’s description of the miracle compared to Matthew’s account focuses far more on the process of asking Jesus for help than anything Jesus said or did. In fact, Jesus only comments on the centurion’s faith, with the implication that Jesus healed the centurion’s servant. The miracle is not the point of the story; Luke instead wants to highlight the importance of how we ask God for help.
Luke never reports the centurion directly asking for help; instead, he first sends elders, then his own friends. We could interpret this in multiple ways. Perhaps the centurion first sends elders to establish ethos, assuming Jesus will find the elders more important and worthy of help, an incredibly humbling action for a military leader. He then sends his own friends to give the message a personal touch, but he himself is too lowly to appear before Jesus. Perhaps the centurion works through others in order to imitate God, who acts through human beings, in order to demonstrate his faith. Perhaps it’s because indirect requests are equally important as direct requests. In all of these scenarios, the centurion demonstrates how deeply he cares for his servant and how highly he thinks of Jesus. How we ask matters, because it reflects our relationship with God.
Regardless of our analysis, Luke emphasizes that the centurion demonstrates faith. He believes that Jesus can heal his servant without any contact with the servant, and we should demonstrate our faith similarly. Whether we ask others to pray for us or trust God with any issue regardless of circumstance, we should understand that the results are not what’s important, but the asking.
Or is it?
While the story of the centurion focuses so much on asking for a miracle, in the story of the widow, Jesus raises someone from the dead without being asked at all: the widow’s silent suffering was enough.
By juxtaposing the extreme effort of the centurion and the simple cry of the widow, Luke explains that while our relationship with God is crucial and laudable, God’s work is not necessarily dependent on our faith. Our trust in God is evident in how we ask God for help, but God does not need to be asked to perform miracles. While the centurion’s respectful manner demonstrated his belief in Jesus’s power and righteousness, Jesus did not need to be wooed by elders to convince Him to save the servant. God will still work in the world, even if He is not directly asked, even if we don’t demonstrate our faith. We have a God Who cares, Who will resurrect the dead in order to halt a woman’s suffering. Christian worship songs commonly describe God’s goodness, and certainly His healing actions demonstrate this. Jesus couldn’t walk by the weeping widow and ignore her cries. Devoted Christians understand God acts in order to save lives, especially in this preparatory time before Easter: there is no greater action than Jesus’s death on the cross.
So why did I hark on for so long about the centurion? Jesus’s actions show His perfect character, and the centurion’s show his. We should strive to understand to emulate the centurion’s faith, a faith that will amaze our glorious God, and we must consider what our actions reveal about our characters and our faith.
Elizabeth Hubbard ’18 lives in Lowell House and is studying Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology.