When Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him and saying, "Lord, my servant is lying at home paralysed, in terrible distress." And he said to him, "I will come and cure him." The centurion answered, "Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes, and to another, 'Come,' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this,' and the slave does it." When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, "Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven,
Twice in the gospels Jesus is said to have been “amazed”: first, at the pagan centurion’s faith (today’s reading), and secondly, at the contrasting lack of faith among his own townspeople (Mk 6:6). It was typical of him to turn things back to front and upside down. However, the case is not as clear-cut as it might seem.
Jesus undoubtedly had contact with Gentiles, but the outreach to Gentiles was not central to his work. When he sent out the Twelve he told them: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans” (Matthew 10:5); and on the two occasions when he healed Gentiles he did so from a distance (Matthew 8:13; 15:28). The outreach to Gentiles did not become central till after his death. So when it did, the disciples naturally combed through their memories of him for examples of his respectful treatment of Gentiles.
Matthew makes it quite clear in today’s passage that discipleship demands a clean cut with religious, cultural and ethnic prejudices. He was a Jew writing for Jews, and he knew that hatred of the Romans would come natural to them – especially officers of the Roman army. This would be especially true after the destruction of the Temple and the scattering of the nation after the year 70. But Matthew goes even further and reminds his readers that Jesus even required them to love their enemies. “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:44-45).
Some Christians with a militant turn of mind almost make hatred a measure of faith: you are a true believer if you show intense hatred towards people who are different or have different views and values. But this could not come from the gospel of Matthew.
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