Read: Matthew 8:5-13
Consider: When Jesus entered Capernaum a centurion spoke to him, asking for help. This incident is highly unusual, especially for a member of an occupying force to ask for help from a local. Although Matthew’s account tells us that he asks for help, what the centurion says isn’t clearly a request for Jesus to intervene. Matthew 8:6 reads: ‘Lord”, he said, ‘my servant lies at home paralysed, suffering terribly’. Jesus picks up on this and asks the centurion: ‘Shall I come and heal him?’ (8:7).
This is a bit like Jesus asking the blind man (as recorded in Mark 10:51): ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Jesus asked him. The blind man said: ‘Rabbi, I want to see’. It was as if Jesus needed the blind man to articulate his need, recognising that Jesus had the power to heal him. We are told the outcome was: ‘Go’, said Jesus, ‘your faith has healed you’. Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road (Mark 10:52).
Let’s return to Jesus and the centurion. The centurion’s response to Jesus’ question about coming to heal his servant is as follows: The centurion replied, ‘Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed (8:8). Jesus’ response was amazement at finding such faith in Israel and we read: Then Jesus said to the centurion, ‘Go! Let it be done to you just as you believed it would’. And his servant was healed at that moment (8:13).
Why would Jesus heal the centurion’s servant when he was not part of Israel, but a Gentile? Look at what Jesus says: I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (8:11-12). Jesus knew that God’s plan of salvation was not exclusive to Israel, but open to the Gentile nations also. Jesus was, therefore, demonstrating and confirming through this miracle that his message of salvation was open to everyone.
This is what the apostle Paul says in Romans: ‘… it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring (Romans 9:8). Paul confirms this by quoting from the Old Testament books of Hosea and Isaiah (see Romans 9:25-29). Even in Genesis we see that God’s plan was always to bless the nations of the world through Abraham. In Genesis we read: Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him (Genesis 18:18).
What can we get from today’s reading? God’s plan of salvation is not restricted to one nation, but is open to all, irrespective of colour, cultural or religious background. No-one is beyond salvation if God should choose to call them. It is our responsibility to proclaim the good news, not to choose who should respond positively to the message.
Pray: Father, awaken our spiritual ears to hear when in conversation with people, recognising that they might not be articulating their need clearly. Give us the right questions to ask that reveal their true need and help us to point them to Jesus. Amen