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God's Saving Power—for All

From the April 2010 issue of The Christian Science Journal

The Healing of the centurion's servant (see Matt. 8:5–13) is often regarded as one of the great stories of faith because the centurion does not ask Jesus to come to his home to heal his servant. The centurion knows that Jesus carries the power and authority of God, and can heal even when he's not in the presence of the one needing healing. Often overlooked today, however, is the message that everyone has that same authority Jesus displayed for the centurion's servant.

First-century audiences likely were startled not so much by the healing of the centurion's servant, but by who was healed. How could Matthew preach that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah and then recount the healing of a non-Jew—an outsider? In nine short verses, a new reality is revealed by Jesus—God's chosen people have expanded to include Gentiles, people of other nations such as Romans, and marginalized individuals. In Matthew's telling of the healing of the centurion's servant the powers of authority shift, and privilege by way of heredity is not guaranteed. Placed in the middle of three healing stories, the healing of the centurion's servant foreshadows what Jesus meant in Matthew 28:19, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations" (New Revised Standard Edition). Theologian Ulrich Luz describes this section of three healings in Matthew as "a self-contained unit" designed to create an impact for the listeners of the first century and to the readers of future centuries (Ulrich Luz, Matthew 8–20: A Commentary, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989, p.1).

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus descends from the mountain after delivering what has become known as the Sermon on the Mount. On the road from the mountain to Capernaum, Jesus first encounters a leper and heals him. Then as he enters the city, he encounters a centurion and heals the centurion's servant. And after arriving at Simon Peter's home in the city, he heals Peter's mother-in-law. By grouping the three healings together, Matthew makes the point that Jesus was demonstrating God's healing and saving power applies to all people, regardless of their societal status. The main characters in each narrative represent three classes of people excluded from first-century Jewish community: a leper, a Roman soldier, and a woman. Lepers were considered unclean and treated as outcasts by Jewish society. Romans were thought of as outsiders, as well as oppressors. Women were often, though not always, viewed as property without any rights or consideration.

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