Thoughts on Matthew 8:5-13
This is a very interesting and instructive passage. It’s interesting because of the dialog between the various characters in the story – a Roman Centurion, a sick bondservant, Jews following Jesus, Jewish elders, and, of course, Jesus himself.
We know that most Romans despised the Jews and would have never called one, “Lord.” By calling Jesus “Lord,” this Roman risked both being punished and/or disgraced for acknowledging the lordship of not just a Jew, but a Jew who claimed to God – and was later executed for it by the Romans. He also risked angering and losing favor with the ruling Jews of Capernaum who would become jealous of Jesus (we learn in the parallel passage in Luke 7:1-10 that this Centurion was well-liked by the Jews and that he had built their synagogue).
As far as the invalid bondservant goes, we don’t know if they were a Jew, a Roman or from some other country Rome had absorbed into the empire. It’s interesting because the Centurion loved his servant enough to risk the things in the previous paragraph, and Jesus was willing to, at best, heal a Jew who was a bondservant who belonged to Gentile, or, “at worst,” heal a Gentile servant of a Gentile master. Either way, there are a number of cultural complexities and broken norms.
We know from Biblical and non-biblical sources that the Jews believed they would become unclean if they entered the house of a Gentile, which helps make sense of Centurion’s reluctance to have Jesus come into his home. It’s possible since he knew Jewish laws and customs so well that he was actually showing Jesus kindness by refusing to let him enter his house and become unclean. Regardless of his motive, the result was Jesus extolling his faith over and against the weak faith of the Jews.
This passage is instructive not only because it’s proof that salvation is for both Jews and Gentiles, but also because of how Jesus exalts faith over worthiness.
In order to see this final point, you will need to read the Luke passage and how the Jewish elders implored Jesus to heal the servant because the Centurion was deemed “worthy to have [Jesus] do this for him” because he loved the Jews and build them a place of worship. However, Jesus made no mention of the worthiness of this Roman when he consented to heal the servant. Rather, he “marveled” at the Centurion’s faith and, as the Matthew telling of this story concludes with Jesus saying, “Go, let it be done for you as you have believed.”
What’s the application for us? It’s that we need to stop striving to be “worthy” to be loved and accepted by God. Jesus isn’t looking for us to be worthy of saving, healing, hearing, blessing, etc. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:27-29, “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” Paul also says in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
God’s love is not lavished upon us because of our worthiness, but Christ’s. Jesus lived the perfect life we could not, bore the wrath of the Father for us on the cross, and was raised from the dead to demonstrate his power over sin and death. Because of that, we can have Jesus’ righteousness imputed to us, God’s wrath removed from us, and live in the hope of being raised from the dead like Jesus. And, as Paul emphasized in both passages above, the way God does this removes all grounds for boasting in our worthiness. God alone gets the glory.