<< Luke VII: the Centurion’s Servant >>
THE Lord came down from the mountain where He had spoken the Blessings, and came to Capernaum. There were soldiers in the city, placed there by Herod whom the Romans had made ruler of Galilee. He was a son of the Herod who was king in Jerusalem when the Lord was born. The leader of the soldiers was a centurion, which means the commander of a hundred men. A servant of the centurion who was dear unto him was sick and ready to die; sick of the palsy, grievously tormented. The centurion heard of the Lord and believed that He could help him. He knew how he himself obeyed his commander, and how his soldiers and his servants obeyed him. Here was one who could command diseases and be obeyed.
But the Jews despised those who were not Jews. Remember their feeling towards the Samaritans. We learned of it when we read of the Lord’s talking with the woman of Samaria at Jacob’s well. The centurion felt unworthy to go to the Lord, but sent to Him some of the old and honored Jews, asking for His help. And the Lord gave it, for all who seek His help are equally His children.
Now when he had ended all his sayings in the audience of the people, he entered into Capernaum.
And a certain centurion’s servant, who was dear unto him, was sick, and ready to die. And when he heard of Jesus, he sent unto him the elders of the Jews, beseeching him that he would come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they besought him instantly, saying, That he was worthy for whom he should do this: For he loveth our nation, and he hath built us a synagogue. Then Jesus went with them. And when he was now not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying unto him, Lord, trouble not thyself: for I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof: Wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto thee: but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. When Jesus heard these things, he marvelled at him, and turned him about, and said unto the people that followed him, I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And they that were sent, returning to the house, found the servant whole that had been sick.—Luke VII. 1-10.
Author: William L. Worcester 1904
Centurion loved the Jewish nation and built them a synagogue >> Natural ability ministering to spiritual life
Centurion sends elders of the Jews >> Natural ability surrendering to spiritual life
I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof >> Humility
Say in a word, and my servant shall be healed >> Acknowledgment and faith in the power and omnipresence of the Lord’s Word
I also am a man set under authority >> The Father in me doeth the works
EFFECTS OF THE LORD’S PREACHING IN THE NATURAL LIFE.
THE Christian law has been given, the law which shows the possibilities of human life from the Spirit of God.
The chapters which immediately follow, relate to the working out of this law in the natural life; later comes the application to the spiritual life ; and lastly to the inmost life, which brings full conjunction of the Divine with the Human, or, in the lesser degrees, of the Lord with man. This is the whole of the story of Matthew.
As regards the natural life, we have first, a short series of beneficent works the healing of a leper, of the palsied servant of the centurion, of Peter’s wife’s mother, the first stilling of the sea, the casting out of the swinish devils, the healing of another paralytic, also of the woman who touched His garments, the raising of the ruler’s daughter, the opening the eyes of the blind and the lips of the dumb.
The first effect of the teaching of the Christian law from the Divine love for what is good and pure and orderly, showing the possibilities of a life free from self, full of the Spirit of God, was, as it still is, to reveal the deadness of the outward forms of ordinary life. There were forms of orderly conduct, of piety, of service ; but there was no sense of the Spirit of the Lord in them. They were merely natural, conventional, full of self, with no spiritual life in them.1 And this sense of the deadness of the outward life, with no vital connection with God, is a spiritual leprosy. No one will doubt that the touch of Jesus did bring a sense of new life from God into the life of man, and made the dead forms of worship and of goodness live.
The next effect of the reception of the Christian law, represented by healing the centurion’s servant, was the renewing of the life of obedience to moral and civil law as a duty to God.
Rome stood for moral and civil law, not now spiritual, yet spiritual in its origin, and capable of again forming a basis for spiritual life. The Roman centurion, or captain of a hundred, was the representative of such law remaining. In the best days of the Roman Republic, the spirit of obedience to law as the highest duty, gave examples of civic virtue, and devotion to the public good, perhaps the most splendid that are recorded in History. But the republic was changing to the empire. The idea of the will of God as embodied in the law, was giving place to the idea of the ar bitrary will of man. The joy of obedience to the law as a duty to God was gone. The servant of the centurion was palsied.2
The Lord by His example and by His love for the law as the way of the Divine Love upon the earth, restored the joy of obedience, and a zeal of loyalty to the right, as a duty to God. The spirit of love for the law as expressed in the hundred and nineteenth Psalm, is the Spirit of the Lord, and is the life of the new Christian civilization which the Lord has raised up. It is built upon Him ; and His love for the Divine law bears it up. Israel and the modern successors of Israel may ignore it ; but many shall come from the east and from the west, and shall sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven the foundations of which are laid by a love of obeying the Divine law as the law of life from God.
In Peter’s house, his wife’s mother was laid, and sick of a fever. Peter stands for the new faith, and his wife for the enjoyment in the life according to it. Her mother stands for the enjoyment or good of the former faith more formal and literal, with much hope of reward. Her fever is from fear of the loss of the good she had, in the new and wiser ways of doing good which the Lord taught. Thus, for example, the change in the keeping of the Sabbath, from the formal representative passiveness, to the Christian laying aside of self for the sake of instruction in truth and of doing works of charity, must have caused much disturbance to the faithful, until they received the true Sabbath spirit from the Lord. The Lord’s touch gave her hand a pleasure in the wiser service which He himself loved to do and to teach. Her faithful loyalty gained a new expansion ; and she arose and ministered unto them.
With the word of His own new life from God, He relieved men from the pressure of many evils and discouragements, that their life on this plane of natural conduct and use might be full.
But there was another plane of life, that of recreation, by enjoyment of natural pleasures of instruction, of beauty, of food, of repose ; and this was represented by the other side of the sea, whither the Lord took His disciples to rest. Not strictly of the Holy Land, yet occupied by the half tribe of Manasseh, this land of Bashan represented the plane of recreation, which is not in itself spiritual, yet is essential to the support of the spiritual life. Jesus gave commandment to depart thither. And then to a certain scribe who offered to follow Him, He said: ” The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air nests ; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head.” That is, in the outer natural man to which He was going there are abiding places for deceitful lusts, and thoughts for self, but no rest for the truth of God. And to another who would first bury his father representing the preserving and saving of selfish desire, while one tries to follow the Lord too He said, ” Follow Me, and let the dead bury their dead ” that is, give it up wholly, leave it with the things that are past and gone the two little incidents illustrating the thoroughness of self-surrender with which the Lord would have men live the truth of God. (Author: John Worchester, 1898. Matthew’s Gospel.)
- Cicero well illustrates the state of the world in this respect: ” But this indeed all mortals hold thus that external goods, vineyards, corn-fields, olive-yards, the abundance of crops and fruits, in fine, every outward advantage and good fortune, they have from the gods; but virtue no one ever credits to a god. . . . Who ever thanked the gods because he was a good man ? but because he was rich, honored, or safe. De Natura Deorum. Liber III. 86, 87.
” At that time there were not any spiritual men, because the church was altogether destroyed; but they were all natural.” Swedenborg, in “The Apocalypse Explained,” n. 513.
“Spiritual good is not given at the present day, but only natural good with some.” “The Last Judgment,” n. 38.
- For an admirable account of the failure of the ancient loyalty and the establishment of the new, see Dean Church’s lectures on Roman Civilization, and Civilization after Christianity, in “Gifts of Civilization :” The Macmillan Co.
Pictures: James Tissot —-Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum