Formations 01.22.2023: An Unexpected Guest

James Tissot, The Centurion, 1886–1894

Matthew 8:5-13

Can we just take a moment to appreciate how unlikely it is for the centurion in Matthew 8 to have received a warm welcome in Galilee?

He’s a soldier in a foreign occupation force that has been running things for about a hundred years. He is, therefore, a symbol of Israel’s status as a conquered people.

He’s a high-ranking officer in that army, roughly the equivalent of a captain in the US army in charge of a company of soldiers. Rightly or not, the people of Capernaum probably came to associate him with whatever unpleasantness they experienced from their imperial overlords.

He’s a foreigner. There’s no way to know where he’s from; Roman policy was to station their officers and soldiers far from home. He could have been Spanish or Libyan or Armenian or anything else. He was almost certainly not Jewish.

That a man like this would come to Jesus was bound to raise eyebrows. Religiously, ethnically, and politically, he simply doesn’t fit here! Is he going to mock the poor, Galilean rabbi? Is he going to threaten or demand something from him?

Shockingly, the centurion comes to Jesus humbly. He has a servant who is deathly ill, and he wants Jesus to do something.

Just as shockingly, Jesus immediately agrees to go and cure him. He doesn’t ask any questions. He doesn’t talk it over with his disciples. He hears there is a need and he’s ready to go. Of course, if we know Jesus at all, we realize that his response isn’t shocking at all.

The centurion protests that he is unworthy for Jesus to enter his house. Rather, he is convinced that a simple word is sufficient for his servant to be healed. Hearing this, Jesus is amazed to find such faith.

The centurion foreshadows the many foreigners who will share in the messianic banquet even as some of Israel will be cast “into the outer darkness” (v. 13). This story, which begins with an unlikely focal character, ends with a shocking twist: some “heirs of the kingdom” will be rejected while some Gentiles will be welcomed alongside Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.


• What does the centurion’s discussion of authority reveal about how he conceives of Jesus’ healing power?
• What is the role of faith in prayers for healing?
• What does the centurion understand about Jesus that others in Galilee don’t?
• What does Jesus understand about the centurion that others in Galilee don’t?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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