Jesus came to present salvation ‘first for the Jew’. One would think then, that He would base His ministry in the capital city of Jerusalem. But He did not. One might think that because Jesus was born in Bethlehem, perhaps His birthplace would be a good ministry center – it’s also roughly in the center of the country. But He did not chose Bethlehem either. Knowing He spent at least a good portion of His childhood in Egypt and was of the line of Judah (a southern tribe), it would’ve also made sense if He based His ministry in the southern area. He did not. Of all the places He could’ve chosen, He made Capernaum His ministry center. Capernaum was a border city, in the very north of Israel on the border with Jordan. Being a frontier city, it would’ve had a garrison of Roman soldiers. This made it all but impossible to live there and not interact with the occupying Romans. Such interaction made the citizens of that city suspect as collaborators in the eyes of many Jews.
“When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.”” A centurion was a leader of a garrison (about 100 soldiers). That means this man is no ordinary Roman. He is not merely a citizen and so largely innocent of his country’s occupation of Israel. He is a solider of Rome, and a soldier who leads other soldiers in completing their mission. Even if he is kind and good to the Jews around him, he is the very definition of Israel’s occupier. Yet here he is, calling Jesus “Lord.” This is truly remarkable, for up to this point in Matthew’s Gospel account, only the leper had seen Jesus as Lord.
Matthew is making a point. It bears pointing out that by teaching the people to follow the letter of the Law more than the spirit of the Law, the teachers of Israel had led the nation to the point where outcasts and foreigners could more easily recognize the Lord more than they could. Fortunately, Jesus does not teach as they had taught, and He does not act as they had acted. He is the Lord of all, and He purposes to grow the Kingdom of God among all. Consequently, He not only based His ministry close to foreigners (because Israel was supposed to be a light to all people), He actually practiced what He preached and what the Word taught regarding helping others as a demonstration and extension of God’s love.
To that end Jesus Himself had preached, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Now we read of how He lived that out in His response to the centurion, “Jesus said to him, “I will go and heal him.””
Not only does Jesus interact with the centurion, but He also agrees to his request and indicates He’ll go into his home. From a first-century Jewish perspective, this is worse than touching a diseased and unclean person (as He just did with the leper). For in this case He is violating both Jewish protocol (in entering a Gentile’s house) and Jewish ethics (in helping the representative of those persecuting the Jewish nation).
Thankfully, Jesus is far more interested in demonstrating and growing the Kingdom of God by ministering to broken people than He is in following the protocols and mindsets that got the Jews so far from God to start with. It bears asking the question; “Are we likewise so focused?”
Although we tend to think about saints as holy and pious, and picture them with halos above their heads and ecstatic gazes, true saints are much more accessible. They are men and women like us, who live ordinary lives and struggle with ordinary problems. What makes them saints is their clear and unwavering focus on God and God’s peopleHenri Nouwen
Jesus did not allow prejudice or the fear of seeing misunderstood stop him from bringing the blessing of God to all peoples. May we all be and act likewise.