“When He finished speaking to the people, He entered Capernaum. A Roman captain there had a servant who was on his deathbed. He prized him highly and didn’t want to lose him. When he heard Jesus was back, he sent leaders from the Jewish community asking Him to come and heal his servant. They came to Jesus and urged Him to do it, saying, ‘He deserves this. He loves our people. He even built our meeting place.'” Luke 7:1-5.

Quite a guy, this Roman captain! A most unusual man! Not like the run-of-the-mill Roman soldiers, it seems. He had a heart for people, unlike most of the others who were ruthless in the course of their duty. He cared about his servant and was distraught when the man lay dying.

He was also sympathetic towards Jesus. He knew about Him; he may have even been on the outskirts of the crowd, listening to Him while he was on duty doing crowd control. Was he perhaps one of those who were among the soldiers who had heard John the Baptist and had been baptised by him in the River Jordan? We will never know.

There was no doctor and no medicine to cure his servant and he stood by, helplessly watching as his servant began to slip away from him. Then he heard that Jesus was on His way to Capernaum. So desperate was he to get help that he sent some of the Jewish leaders to Jesus, hoping against hope that Jesus would not spurn a Roman’s cry for help.

He could not go himself because he was not sure of the reception he would receive. Surely Jesus would respond if the most respected Jews in his community would speak for him? He hoped against hope that this Jew would look past his people’s treatment of His fellow Jews and have mercy on him. He had no doubt about His ability to heal. That was not the issue. But would He help a Roman?

The Jewish leaders, whoever they were, Pharisees, elders of the town, men in charge of the synagogue…who knows?…were ready to plead his case with Jesus. Evidently they held the captain in high esteem because he wasn’t like the other Romans. He had a heart for them. He used his money to build a meeting place for them. He may have even stood outside on a Sabbath, listening to the reading of the Torah and feeling a tug of response in his heart to the God of whom they read.

The Jews were quite willing to act as messengers. They were keen to help the man who had helped them. They went to Jesus with the story of a warm-hearted man who needed help and was worthy of Jesus’ intervention because of all his good deeds.

How did that affect Jesus? Had we been in His place, we might have been impressed by the man’s credentials. The very fact that these Jewish leaders were willing to act as messengers was quite unusual. They came because they were friends, not because they were obeying orders. They were with him in his trouble.

Would Jesus respond to their plea because of who the man was or because of who He was? Would the fact that he was a Roman influence Him? Would He, a Jew, go into the home of a Gentile? Would He help him because it was a group of Jews who acted as mediators?

Luke does not comment on the reason for Jesus’ response. However, if we fast-forward the story, when Jesus was hanging on the cross, suspended on nails that Roman soldiers had driven into His wrists and feet, we hear words from His cracked lips that encompass not only the ones who were responsible for His being there, but also the ones who had carried out the orders. ‘Father, forgive them…!’

Now we understand that the commendation of the Jews was quite unnecessary. Had this Roman captain been a typical soldier, cruel and uncaring, Jesus would have still responded to his request. Why? Because Jesus is Jesus!

You can also have absolute confidence in His mercy!

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Luella Campbell

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