Matthew 8:5-6. “And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto Him a centurion, beseeching Him, and saying, Lord,my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.”
We’re going to take at least a couple of days to walk through this one. There are so many fascinating details that I don’t want to rush through this next story.
Capernaum is on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was the home town of the apostles Peter, James, Andrew and John, and the tax collector Matthew. Jesus spent a lot of time there, teaching in the synagogue and on the surrounding hillsides and shores. During Rome’s occupation of Israel, Capernaum was a major stop on the highway between Rome and Jerusalem. It was probably at its most prosperous during this time, and a large synagogue was built in the center of the city to accommodate both the citizens and the travelers on the trade routes. As such, it was a perfect hub for Jesus’ ministry.
A centurion was the captain over 100 men, which was in turn a 60th part of a Roman legion. The centurion had absolute authority over his men in every detail of their lives. Understanding the power of his position, and that he was a gentile and probably a worshiper of the Roman pantheon of gods, it is more than a little surprising that, first, he sought out Jesus; and second, that he beseeched Him. Centurions didn’t beseech anyone!
One wonders how the centurion heard of Jesus; how he knew what Jesus’ reputation already was at this period, and why he seems so readily to have believed what he had heard. Obviously, people were talking about Jesus. Isn’t it amazing how that has never stopped? People are still talking about Jesus, whether pro or con. You simply cannot ignore the Son of God!
It would seem that God had already been working in the heart of this powerful centurion. He was looking for something, anything, that would help his servant–which brings me to look at the centurion’s character.
He was that concerned for his servant? Really? That’s amazing! Apparently, this was a man of noble character; kindness, concern, sincere love for those who operated under his authority. No wonder Jesus so quickly agreed to help him.
This centurion represents a turning of the tide in Jesus’ ministry. To this point, He had spoken specifically to the Jews. Many of the people followed His progress throughout the land, but the Jewish religious leaders rejected Him. Even those who physically followed His progress turned their backs on Him in Jerusalem after His arrest. As a result, Jesus began to direct more of His ministry to the gentiles, making it clear beforehand that salvation was offered not just to Israel.
The centurion described his servant as being sick with palsy, and “grievously tormented.” Palsy was a paralytic condition often accompanied by involuntary tremors, spasms, and muscle seizures. It was painful and debilitating. It is likely that it was what we now know as Parkinson’s Disease. The Greek word used here for grievous is deinos, and denotes excessive, terrible pain.
The thing that fascinates me at this point is that the centurion simply stated the problem. He didn’t demand, order, command or force Jesus in any way. I picture him as standing strong with all his authority clearly settled on his shoulders, but with an attitude of begging for help. That’s what beseech means–to beg. That a man of such power was begging Jesus for help certainly points to a kind heart and an innate humility. Living in Israel, he would have surely learned that as a gentile he was owed no special treatment by this Jewish teacher Who could heal people of their diseases.
Stay with me. This story gets even better!