… When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment. (verses 10-13)
In the midst of his Gospel, Matthew quotes Jesus declaring that he was “sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). The statement doesn’t surprise us because throughout his ministry Jesus is solely located in Israel itself. He draws on Old Testament scriptures, celebrates Jewish customs, speaks to the religious leaders of Jerusalem, and delivers the good news that “the kingdom of God is near,” fulfilling a very Jewish yearning.
But all the way through his Gospel, Matthew gives hints that the scope of Jesus’ ministry is very much bigger indeed. We get a taste of it here with this Centurion.
But first, notice that when Jesus said he was “sent only to the lost sheep of Israel,” he was interacting with a Canaanite woman who was begging for healing and deliverance for her daughter, afflicted by a demonic spirit. Jesus made his comment, clarifying his present ministry – he was focused on Israel. But then, immediately, he does something unexpected. He grants the woman’s request, doing so on the basis of her faith. That’s what counts. She’s not part of the nation of Israel, but Jesus answers her plea. It turns out that faith is important.
Earlier, right at the beginning of the Gospel, we find Magi from the far east coming all the way to Israel to find the King whose birth they have observed in the stars. Ironically, the religious leaders in the heart of Jerusalem know exactly where the promised King will be born – Bethlehem – but refuse to travel the 8 km down the road to even see. These foreigners, on the other hand, have travelled days on end – it seems they, too, even without fully understanding, are motivated by active faith.
Then, at the very end of his Gospel, Matthew reports Jesus’ final words. “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). He’s urging his followers to spread the message to the ends of the earth, so that anyone, anywhere can respond in faith. His reach is broad indeed.
Here, in Matthew 8, the Centurion gives us a clear sighting of the same. He’s a rank outsider – not only a Gentile, but also part of the oppressing Roman presence. Yet he believes Jesus can heal his servant, with just a word. Amazed, Jesus says he has not seen greater faith in all Israel. This foreigner, it turns out, provides a taste of the future reality: “many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast … in the kingdom of heaven.”He trusts Jesus – that’s all that matters. So Jesus grants his request. “Go!” he says. “Let it be done just as you believed it would.” Faith is the response that opens the way.
So, too, today. The good news has stretched out to all people, everywhere. Jesus is working his purpose out. Access to the table isn’t dependent on ethnic heritage or national background. It’s dependent on faith, pure and simple.
So, share the news. Don’t hold back. Even those you’d think were outsiders – like the Centurion, like the Canaanite woman – can respond in faith. It’s what Jesus is looking for.
Lord, thank you that you call forth faith within us. Thank you that your invitation stretches out to all. Strengthen me to share the message with those around me. For the glory of your kingdom. Amen.
Reflect: Think of one or two people in your circle who do not yet know Jesus. Pray for faith to be birthed within them in response to the good news. Pray regularly.