In my last article I wrote of the “such faith” of the Centurion that astounded Jesus and brought wonderful healing to someone in desperate need. As I was writing I was led to reflect not only on the special faith he possessed in Jesus, but also on the very fine character of the man. The story focusses on the healing Jesus brought to one of the Centurion’s servants. Luke records in his Gospel that the servant was highly valued by him. (ESV).
When we look a little more deeply at this passage in the original Greek we see that the sick man was a “servant” where the word is doulos. This is the usual word for a slave or a servant, one who lives in servitude to another person. Such servants or slaves had no privileges or rights and could be discarded like old clothes or tools when their usefulness came to an end. The word used for “highly valued” is (entimos). It can mean “precious”, “valuable”, “esteemed”. It is used only 5 times in the New Testament. In two occurrences it refers to Jesus, in 1 Peter 2:4 where He is described as “a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious”, and in 1Peter 2:6 as “a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious.”
It is surprising that the word used in such an exalted way of Jesus could be used to describe a human relationship. One could understand it to some extent in Philippians 2:29 in the description of Epaphroditus. The believers in Philippi were to welcome him as Paul’s “brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, 26 for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, 30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me. It was obvious that such an outstanding Christian man should be seen as precious and held in high regard in the churches. He had nearly died for the work of Christ.
That is why it is very surprising to read that the Centurion highly valued the servant in this way. He too had nearly died, in serving the Centurion. But the Centurion showed incredible care for the servant in sending the Jewish elders to ask Jesus to come and heal his servant. Then perhaps with an after-thought he realised that when Jesus came He would have to enter his home. He knew that the Jews saw Gentile homes such as his own as unclean. So to prevent Jesus being put in a compromising position he sent his friends to suggest an alternative to Jesus. They were to tell Jesus that all Jesus had to do was to speak healing into the man from a distance. As he himself as a Centurion could cause things to happen by speaking a word of command, so he believed that Jesus as a man under God’s authority could bring healing by a word from a distance. It was “such faith” that Jesus commended.
However there appears to be another hidden gem in the narrative. In verse 7 we read the words of the Centurion, Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. The word “servant” here is different to the word in verse 2. It is “país” which can be read as a more personal term. In this context it seems to imply that the servant was a young man or a person of whom the Centurion was particularly fond. In the words of AT Robertson in Word Pictures in the New Testament, “Pais literally means ‘boy,’ an affectionate term for the ‘slave,’ doulos (Luk_7:2), who was ‘dear’ to him.” In Australian parlance it could be read as, “But say the word, and let my young fella (or the young bloke) be healed.”
The passage made me think about many of the people I had worked for and with during my life. There were many who were similar to the Centurion who valued their employees or their less- senior workmates. But there were some who unfortunately did not seem to care very much for their employees or those under their care. Having counselled hundreds of folk over the years, it is certainly true that people can tell the difference.
How the church and the world need people who notice the needs of others, and who are willing to take some responsibility towards finding ways of meeting them. The Centurion was such a person. Perhaps we all need his virtue of valuing people and his faith to believe that Jesus can bring healing and blessing to people “out there” as we pray for them “here”!
Blog No.122. Jim Holbeck. Posted on Sunday 2nd June 2013