7 When He had completed all His discourse in the hearing of the people, He went to Capernaum.
2 And a centurion’s slave, who was highly regarded by him, was sick and about to die. 3 When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders asking Him to come and save the life of his slave. 4 When they came to Jesus, they earnestly implored Him, saying, “He is worthy for You to grant this to him; 5 for he loves our nation and it was he who built us our synagogue.” 6 Now Jesus started on His way with them; and when He was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself further, for I am not worthy for You to come under my roof; 7 for this reason I did not even consider myself worthy to come to You, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8 For I also am a man placed under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” 9 Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled at him, and turned and said to the crowd that was following Him, “I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such great faith.” 10 When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.
Centurions in the Roman army were middle officers. They commanded at least 50 men and sometimes up to 1000. Because Capernaum was a relatively small city, this centurion likely commanded a smaller contingent of soldiers.
Centurions in general were disciplined, literate, had served in the military for several years, and had either displayed particular valor in battle or had good political connections with Rome, implying a wealthier family in the latter case. Regardless of familial wealth, the average centurion was paid significantly more than the average soldier. I’ve seen the average legionnaire pay reported as 225 denarii, and centurions reported as making anywhere from 3,750 to 15,000. Both legionnaires and centurions could also receive monetary bonuses or a portion of the spoils from a conquered town or city. Bear in mind that one denarii per day was the average wage of a day laborer. So even a low paid centurion would be considered wealthy based on his salary alone, let alone any of the extra income he made from his participation in military campaigns.
It would appear that during some point in his life or participation with the Legions that he was introduced to the Jewish faith and believed in it enough that he was willing to fund the construction of a local synagogue out of his own pocket. There is no mention of his being a convert to Judaism, but his generosity did impress the local Jewish leaders that they considered him a worthy man and appeared comfortable enough with him to enter his home.
So when his slave falls ill, this centurion calls upon the local leaders and asks them to go to Jesus and request that He heal his slave. The nature of their relationship might have been familial. Slaves were sometimes born within a household (sometimes sired illegitimately by a free man of that household) and, while still slaves, they would generally be treated better and cared for.
It could also have been a strong friendship. Slaves that served in households were sometimes educated and skilled in a craft or trade: doctors, teachers, accountants. So it’s possible that the centurion had a long working relationship and friendship with this slave.
It is possible, I suppose, that it was a romantic attraction. But I find it unlikely, given the Jewish law and how Pharisees and scribes generally viewed Gentiles and sinners, it is doubtful that the Jewish elders would view the centurion as a worthy man if he were engaged in a homosexual relationship. (ETA: As an aside, I have no doubt that Jesus would still have healed the man, if the centurion was gay.)
Jesus, upon hearing of the matter, goes with the local leaders.
And despite the praise heaped upon him by the local leaders, this centurion has a clear understanding of himself. He does not see himself as a great man, but a simple soldier, with an understanding of authority, and thus he becomes embarrassed when Jesus’ intentions are to come to his house. His second message to Jesus is, “Don’t trouble yourself, all I ask is that you give an order and I know it’ll be taken care of.”
He’s a military man. He understands how things work. If the General wants the stables cleaned, the General isn’t the one to go out and grab a pitchfork. He tells an officer to get it done, who passes the order along to a subordinate.
The centurion believes that Jesus is someone above the natural order of things. That He has the authority to issue an order and a disease will be lifted from a sick man. I don’t know if he believed in angels or believed that there were lesser gods that Christ could order, but the same idea is there. “Just tell one of your servants to take care of it, and I know it’ll be done.”
Jesus comments on his faith. It is the greatest faith, He’s seen so far, even with His chosen disciples standing with Him. So he does as the centurion asks. He tells the men who were sent to stop Him from coming to the centurion’s home to go back and the slave will be well.
What is our view of Jesus? It’s difficult to have faith sometimes because He’s not here. We can’t send someone to get His attention. We can’t hear His commands. So we operate in a fog sometimes when the answers to our requests are not clear. When we don’t know how He will solve our problems. We don’t know if He will. There were other people in the world who were sick and dying who did not recover.
I don’t particularly want to end on a down note, but often it’s not that we doubt God is able to intervene, but we doubt whether or not God will intervene. On that, I don’t have much to say, except that we have to have faith, and we have to be there for each other in a real way that doesn’t involve saying, “I’ll pray for you” before retreating quickly away from the hurting person on our way to lunch.
A brief note, when I cite historical stuff, I sometimes include references and sometimes do not. While I admit that is sloppy on my part, I would always encourage people to fact check this type of stuff.