Today I wanted to cover the same passage from two different perspectives- that of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Here is Matthew’s perspective:
5 As he entered Caper′na-um, a centurion came forward to him, beseeching him 6 and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress.” 7 And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” 8 But the centurion answered him, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I 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 he does it.” 10 When Jesus heard him, he marveled, and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I say to you, not even[c] in Israel have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.” 13 And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; be it done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.
Then we have Luke’s version:
After he had ended all his sayings in the hearing of the people he entered Caper′na-um. 2 Now a centurion had a slave who was dear[a] to him, who was sick and at the point of death. 3 When he heard of Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his slave. 4 And when they came to Jesus, they besought him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, 5 for he loves our nation, and he built us our synagogue.” 6 And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; 7 therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. 8 For I am a man set 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 he does it.” 9 When Jesus heard this he marveled at him, and turned and said to the multitude that followed him, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10 And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave well.
There are two significant differences between them, which I will mention below in bold.
Matthew: “I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.”
Matthew includes an admonition by Jesus against the Jews, informing them that many Gentiles will make it to the Kingdom and many Jews will not. This fits in with the character of Matthew’s gospel, which was clearly written with a Jewish audience in mind. It would make sense to use a passage which contains a righteous Gentile to give this message. I would not at all be surprised if Jesus said this at another time, but Matthew thought that this was the best passage to put that particular saying of Jesus. Or maybe he did say it here, and Luke omitted it because his primarily Gentile audience wouldn’t need it.
Luke: When he heard of Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his slave. And when they came to Jesus, they besought him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he built us our synagogue.”
Here we have other individuals, Jews in fact, speaking on behalf of the centurion (who was probably a Gentile or maybe a monotheist “God-fearer”). What I find interesting is that these Jews speak highly of this non-Jew. They give him high praise indeed, which I cannot say I can recall seeing elsewhere regarding a Gentile in the gospels (readers feel free to correct me in the comments below). I think there are a couple of meanings to be drawn here. The first is the role of the Jews as the early messengers of the gospel. They helped bring Jesus towards the Centurion. The second is that intercessors can have a powerful effect, and should be used when one wants to petition God. Here the Centurion didn’t come himself, but used others to reach out to Jesus. This ties in with Church teaching regards the saints, that they too can help intercede with God on our behalf. Jesus of course knew the centurion’s need, just as He always knows our needs. But it never hurts to have others speak on our behalf. Especially if those individuals are highly favored in God’s eyes.