The Healing of the Centurion’s Servant: What Faith Was Christ Looking For?

Fasting, attending Divine services, reading prayers – which of these actions brings us closest to God? Yet, what is really important, is not to neglect the essential, the absence of which makes all of the above meaningless. Archpriest Pavel Velikanov discusses today’s Gospel reading.

Gospel of St. Matthew, Chapter 8, Verses 5-13

Now when Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralysed, dreadfully tormented.”

And Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.”

The centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.

10 When Jesus heard it, He marvelled, and said to those who followed, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel! 11 And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.12 But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.” And his servant was healed that same hour.

velikanovThe healing of the centurion’s servant is like a hard slap in the face given by Christ to all the Jews surrounding Him.

Who was this centurion? He was a professional officer of the Roman army, consequently, a representative of the occupying authorities.

From a religious point of view, he was not even a proselyte, he was an ordinary pagan, that is to say, a person the Jews were not only discouraged, but strictly forbidden from talking to.

And so, this Roman officer, a man of different faith, an enemy of the people in every respect, comes up to Christ asking Him to heal his servant.

We often see in the Gospel that a healing occurs when in one way or another Christ comes into contact with the person being healed – whether by laying of the hands or by another means, for example, by the anointing of the eyes, as was in the case of the healing of the blind man.

However, here the situation becomes completely different.  Showing respect and deference to the Jewish prophet, the centurion says, “There is no need for You to go to my house, just say the word, and my servant will be healed.”

The Saviour is amazed to hear the centurion’s statement, because He has not come across such faith in the whole of Israel. Christ says, “Assuredly, I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness.”

What do these words mean? It is a prophetic announcement that pagans will believe in Christ.  Yet, how could it be that the faith of a man outside the bounds of true religion was stronger and more sincere than that of the most pious Jews?

At times we think that faith is nothing more than a mindset, which accepts certain truths as absolute values requiring no proof. Whereas in reality faith is first and foremost a state of burning, it is flame.  And the indication that there is flame in a person is the person’s warmth.

When no warmth emanates from a person who believes it means there is something seriously wrong with the person’s faith.  Conversely, sometimes, amidst people who seem to be far from the church, far from Christian values, you can encounter such genuine kindness, such empathy and willingness to help others regardless of rank, abilities, and talent, that it amazes you.  It is not for nothing that warmth appears in these people.  They are the centurions of this world who, though outwardly far removed from the true Church, have long been part it in essence.

May the Lord help us then to remember to keep the fire of faith burning inside us, so that we are not ashamed when we stand next to those who were alight with this flame of faith despite their outward belonging to one or another denomination.

Translated from the Russian by Maria Nekipelov

 

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