Gospel: Luke 7:1-10
Epistle: Galatians 1:1-12
Lesson: 1 Kings 8:22-24, 27-29, 41-43
Psalm: Psalm 96:1-9
CLB Commentary: Pastor Ken Narvesen
Pericope Commentary on Luke 7:1—10
Subordinate Issue #1: Parallel texts
Bul in his notes states:
Matthew 8:5-13 is a parallel passage. Everyone agrees with this. But John 4:46-52 ought to be placed in brackets because, for a number of reasons, it was a different occasion.
On the difference between the account in Matthew and Luke, Plummer states: “Matthew says nothing about either of these deputations, verses 3 and 6, but puts the message of both into the mouth of the centurion himself, who comes in person.”
How to solve this difference?
Morris: What a man does through agents he may be said to do himself.
The two accounts do not contradict each other. Then how account for the differences? Marshall discusses the many theories of the high critics with reference to sources and why Matthew gives an abbreviated account whereas Luke gives an expanded one. They are at a loss because the account is not found in Mark. Their many theories cancel each other out. They are not closer to a solution than before the rise of the higher critical school of thought.
Matthew was likely a witness of this account. No man can penetrate the mystery of inspiration. The two accounts supplement and verify each other. More important is to concentrate on what the text says.
An interesting issue these texts bring up is the relationship between the Jews, the Roman centurions, Jesus, and the kingdom of God. Many times the Gospels talk about the centurions as at least somewhat observers of Jesus and his ministry, and also beneficiaries of his ministry as here.
From Bul’s Notes:
Morris: Each of the centurions of whom the New Testament gives us knowledge is a man of character, look at Luke 23:47; Acts 10:22; 22:26; 23:17,23; 24:23; 27:1,43.
Hendriksen: Among all the fine things Scripture says about centurions highest praise is reserved for the one of our present account.
It seems to me the point of these references to the centurions is that Jesus came as savior not just for the Jews but for all mankind. That is why they were important to the Gospel story. There do not seem to be any implications in these references that likewise the Jews were welcoming of the Roman centurions in either their Temple or synagogue life.
Secondary Issue #2: The centurion’s understanding of authority
It is interesting also that the centurion sent his delegates not directly to Jesus but to the Jewish elders. This is a commentary on his humility and sense of propriety. He did not feel worthy of coming to Jesus directly. The elders however make an interesting comment, “He is worthy.” This speaks both to his reputation among them and also to their understanding of how a person comes to Jesus. Their perspective is entirely one of law and not of gospel. He is a good man, as Romans go, is what they were saying. They demonstrate a less adequate understanding of how a sinner can approach God than the centurion does.
Some point to the centurion’s words, “For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” and suggest that he is implying Jesus is subordinate to the Father. This too is unwarranted. Again, Bul notes:
Higher critics claim that Luke’s writings stress Jesus’ subordination to the Father and that is what the centurion means. Surely not. That would well nigh be an insult to Jesus at this point. He is stressing his own unworthiness and inferiority, not that of Jesus.
He is surely comparing himself with all other army captains. Note the emphasis on “man”, likely he is stressing his mere humanity in comparison with Jesus’ superiority. But despite that inferiority when he commands soldiers or slaves, his word causes immediate obedience. This is an argument from the lesser to the greater. If he as an inferior, a mere human, under authority, can accomplish so much merely by speaking words, how much more can the Lord command an illness, near to death, cease and health be restored!
All this leads to the real issue of the text.
Primary Issue: The Centurion’s faith
Jesus comments on this faith in v. 9 “When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” He says the same thing he did of the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:28. These two statements give interesting insights into what makes for great faith. It is not the size of faith. Remember, faith as a mustard seed… It is not the presumption of the faith. These two made no claims that they deserved Jesus to do anything for them. Rather it is the genuine and humble nature of their faith. They came out of their need.
Lenski: The greatness of the centurion’s faith appears in is HUMILITY. The man, though a high military officer and great benefactor of the Jews, deems himself utterly unworthy. In the second place, this man’s faith centers in the WORD of Jesus, the very thing that Jesus had
so much difficulty in attaining among the Jews. Of himself, merely from what this man had heard about Jesus, without further experience and teaching, he shows absolute trust in Jesus’ word and in its power. Thirdly, and as the basis of this humble confidence in the mere word, the centurion has a proper conception of the EXALTED PERSON OF JESUS.
The Result of this event:
Jesus is shown to be Lord. He saw what others could not see. And he healed. Where the elders saw a good man, Jesus saw a humble man of faith. While the plea of the elders was law based, the plea of the centurion himself and the response of Jesus were both pure Gospel. I am nothing, whatever my station in life. I make no claims on Jesus. But I look to him. If there is any hope for me, that is where I must look. This it seems to me is what the emphasis must be in preaching this text.
The LCMS Lectionary summary for this week helps bring this into focus:
1 Kings 8:22–24, 27–29, 41–43
Faith Receives Good Gifts from God in the Flesh
There is only one source of life, revealed in only one saving Gospel. Corrupting that Gospel is serious business. Thus, St. Paul is amazed when the Galatians “are turning to a different gospel” (Gal. 1:6–7). He insists that he is not trying to “please man” but be a true “servant of Christ” as he calls down a curse on any “gospel contrary to the one you received” (Gal. 1:9–10), for that Gospel alone saves. It saves as it reveals God, whose kindness is manifested in Christ and who reckons among His people all who share the miraculous faith of the centurion in God’s Son: “Lord … I am not worthy to have you come under my roof … but say the word, and let my servant be healed” (Luke 7:1–10). For indeed, as Solomon admits, “the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27). Nevertheless, in our Lord Jesus’ flesh and blood, He — whose mighty word is faithful to what He promises — comes to us even today in His Eucharist to dwell in us and bring to all who trust His promise the gift of everlasting life.