A SERIES OF MIRACLES PREPARING THE FIRST ELEMENTS OF THE CHURCH
THE GENTILES THEMSELVES BEGIN TO BELIEVE IN THE POWER OF JESUS - THE CENTURION WHOSE SERVANT IS ILL - THE EMBASSY OF THE ANCIENTS - THE SOLDIER'S FAITH AND HUMILITY THE CHURCH IS OPENED TO THE PAGANS - CURE OF THE TWO BLIND MEN - OF A DUMB DEMONIAC - JESUS IS PLACED BY THE PEOPLE ABOVE THE MEN OF THE OLD TESTAMENT.
(St. Luke vii, 110; St. Matt. viii, 513; ix, 2734.)
JESUS' position in Capharnaum was fully acknowledged, even by the most influential personages of the city. The hostility of the Pharisees and their murmurings were thus stifled in an outburst of general enthusiasm in which the pagans themselves took part. They had come to regard the youthful Prophet as an extraordinary man from whom they might expect the most astounding prodigies.
And so we find that a centurion or captain of the cohort garrisoned at Capharnaum1 publicly had recourse to Him, to obtain the cure of a sick servant.
It is a common thing for us to become as much attached to a servant as to a relative, when, by his fidelity and devotion, by his mild, affectionate, and prudent character, he has merited being admitted to a degree of family intimacy. By his care for our material needs, if his soul be sufficiently lofty and sympathetic, he ends by interesting himself naturally, as it were, with us in our moral welfare. Little by little he seems to take a certain position in our life, always proving, in the full consciousness of his inferiority, that no foolish vanity renders him unworthy of the affection we manifest for him. His death assumes the proportions of a family misfortune. With him we lose a help and an affection that may not be replaced. All this will explain the anguish of the centurion, who found his faithful servant2 attacked with paralysis3 and at the point of death. If the centurion had been a Jew, nothing would have been more natural for him than to hasten, to the great physician who had already cured the son of a royal officer, and who had been seen to resurrect the daughter of Jairus. But he was a pagan, or, at most, a proselyte of the gate, that is, one who had scarcely reached the household of that Jewish theocracy into which final entrance was to be gained only by circumcision and by the complete acceptance of the law of Moses.4
He had, however, given evidence of his full sympathy with the people of God, in causing to be constructed the great synagogue of the city,5 an act of generosity that bound the true Israelites to him, and which shortly they will not fail to exploit. For when the centurion had made known his purpose of repairing to Jesus and his fear of not being heard, the batlanim, the ancients of the people who held the control of the synagogue, presented themselves as mediators. They organized as a formal deputation, and came to ask the MiracleWorker to come to the centurion's house, and cure the unfortunate servant. They testified both to the foreigner's devotion to the nation and to his respect for Jehovah, since at his own expense he had built so beautiful a house of prayer. Thus they appealed at once to two uppermost sentiments in the heart of Jesus: His patriotism and His religion.
The Savior, without further request, followed them. Now the ambassadors, full of that obsequiousness toward the great which compromises the best sentiments, had probably gone farther than the honest centurion had desired. For the latter did not intend that Jesus should be put to any trouble. The recovery of the son of the royal officer had proved that a word from Him suffices to check the evil, and all that he sought was simply that word.
When he learned, therefore, from a messenger, that Jesus was coming in person, he was annoyed, and, sending other friends, he said to Him: "Lord, trouble not thyself." It was a strong lesson for the Jews. While the children of the synagogue, proud of their title to God's friendship, thought themselves free to treat His prophets with familiarity, the centurion, a humble representative of the nations, perceives at a glance how unbecoming it is to summon Jesus to a sick servant, and, moreover, to propose that He should enter into the house of a pagan. With all the frankness of a soldier, he declares that he deems himself unworthy to welcome so high a personage, and that if he had thought that he could without indiscretion have preferred his request in person, he never would have sent any to represent him. This man's humility was great, and his feeling of inferiority very touching, but greater still and yet more touching was his faith.
According to the idea he had formed of Jesus, a single word from His lips would suffice to cure his servant. We shall see on what grounds he rested his conviction. His reasoning, for its clearness, its originality, and its fullness, is worthy of a soldier. "For I also," he says, "am a man subject to authority, having under me soldiers; and I say to one, Go, and he goeth, and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doth it." Why should not Jesus have the same authority over the powers of nature? Has He not proven that He was Master of them when He so wished? Have they not obeyed His word whenever He has spoken? They are, therefore, as soldiers under the commands of their chief. He can, at any time, rightly be content with the simple saying of a word, to save Himself the taking of one step. The precision, the truth, the fullness of the notion this pagan had conceived of the supreme dominion Jesus has over nature cannot be admired too much. The way in which he clothed his thought, borrowing his expressions from the manners of military life, was particularly happy, and gave joy to Jesus Himself.
Under the influence of this joy He turned to the crowd that followed Him and said: "Amen, I say to you, I have not found so great faith in Israel." Thus, by the energy of its convictions, heathenism gave a sign of its future triumph over Judaism, and the just Judge hesitated not to give public honor to him who deserved it. Then, facing the proud Pharisees, whose activity was fomenting about Him a deep and dangerous opposition, He continued, "And I say to you that many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven; but the children of the Kingdom shall be cast out into the exterior darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." This great theme of the vocation of the Gentiles is merely touched upon here; Jesus will resume it with greater development when Israel's reprobation is near at hand. In the meantime, the sons of the Saints, the children of the Promise, who deem themselves born citizens of the eternal fatherland, must know that heaven belongs to him who purchases it, and that, for entrance there, the rights of birth, nationality, name, count for nothing, but that faith and works are everything.
Turning, then, to the ambassadors, or, perhaps, to the officer himself, who came at the last moment,6 for they were not far from his house: "Go," He said, "and as thou hast believed, so be it done to thee." At that very moment the servant was cured. The centurion found him so7 when he entered his house.
Such a demonstration of faith on the part of a pagan and the Savior's response had a broad signification. The Church, therefore, was not only for publicans, but even for the Gentiles themselves. What Jesus had preached was henceforth an accomplished fact. Every man, penetrated by a ray of evangelical truth, has only to knock resolutely at the door and divine mercy has already begun to open.
As He made His way back to His dwellingplace, the Master became aware that two blind men were following Him and crying to Him: "Have mercy on us, O Son of David." The better to try their faith or perhaps from prudence, He halted not. For the title with which they hailed Him, if taken up and repeated by the crowd, might prove dangerous and become for the patriotic and enthusiastic Galileans a signal for a political revolution. Undaunted, as if their steps were guided by a trail of light, the two suppliants followed Jesus into His house. Within He turned to them and said, "Do you believe that I can do this unto you?" And they replied, "Yes, Lord." Then, touching their eyes, He added: "According to your faith, be it done unto you." Their eyes were opened and they gazed with delight upon Him Whom they, though they were quite blind, had with so much faith proclaimed the Son of David.
More strictly than ever, He enjoined silence upon these two thus miraculously cured, for the expressions they used out of their gratitude still threatened to compromise the regular development of the Messianic plan. But, as before, no precaution could withhold their enthusiasm from selfbetrayal, and every one soon knew what had occurred.
So the sick came, one after another, without cessation, to implore the help of Jesus. The two blind men had scarcely departed when a demoniac was brought in, whom the demon's power had rendered dumb. Whether it was that the dumbness of this poor man was a monomania, or that the evil spirit had really deprived him of the power of speech, the unfortunate man spoke not. Jesus had but to make a sign; Satan was driven out, and, at once, the demoniac spoke.
Informed of all these prodigies, the astonished multitudes cried out: "Never was the like seen in Israel."
Thus it was acknowledged by all that the great figures of Elias, of the Prophets, of Moses himself, paled by the side of Jesus. The faith of the multitude became now more and more explicit, and the time was coming when the Son of Man would make His selection from these ripening fruits, and seek the twelve chiefs of the new tribes of Israel, in other words, the pillars of His Church, the princes of His spiritual kingdom.
1 It is difficult to say whether he was in the service of Herod or of the Roman Emperors. The great provinces of the Empire were defended by legions that formed a permanent army of occupation. The less important provinces were guarded by simple cohorts. As one of the latter, Judea held Roman troops commanded by tribunes, under whom were centurions. But there is nothing to prove that Galilee was not left entirely to the care of Antipas. As it is known that there were Gentiles among the troops of the latter (St. Mark vi, 21), we may suppose that the centurion was one of his officers.
2 St. Matt. viii, 6, and St. Luke vii, 7, call the servant pais, as if he were a child of the house, and St. Luke, v. 2, declares, in fact, that he was much beloved by his master.
3 It was, doubtless, either an attack of acute rheumatism, which becomes mortal directly it approaches the heart, or tetanus, a kind of neurosis of the vertebral nerves quite common in warm countries. By impeding the movements of respiration and of swallowing this affection ordinarily causes death in a short time. The ancients confounded all such diseases with paralysis, though they greatly differ both in cause and in effects. St. Matt. viii, 6, says paralutikos deinws basanizomenos.
4 Josephus, Ant., xiv, 7, 2, calls them oi sebomenoi ton qeon. (Cf. Acts of the Apostles xiii, 4350; xiv, 14; xvii, 4, etc.) Cornelius, the Ethiopian eunuch, and Lydia were of this class.
5 As it is probable that there were more synagogues than one in Capharnaum, it is supposed from the expression thn sunagwghn that the centurion had built, not merely a synagogue, but the most beautiful of all.
6 The two accounts, St. Matthew's and St. Luke's, are developed with such apparent divergence as to cause embarrassment to the interpreters of every age. According to St. Matthew one would believe the centurion himself had done all that was accomplished in the presence of Jesus, while the details in St. Luke clearly indicate that the captain acts only through those who represent him. The ordinary solution of the difficulty is that the two Evangelists do not contradict each other inasmuch as a man is said to do himself what he causes to be done by others. But is it not more simple to admit that the centurion, after sending his emissaries, came in person to receive the word which he had requested of Jesus for the recovery of his servant?
7 There is no reason for identifying this cure with the one related in St. John iv. There is almost nothing in common between them. In St. John it is a civil officer of Jewish origin who seeks the recovery of his son. Here it is a soldier of pagan origin who seeks the recovery of his servant. The one asks that Jesus should come to his house, notwithstanding the distance from Cana to Capharnaum; the other begs Him not to trouble Himself to come to his house, though He is already in Capharnaum. And, finally, from the demand of the first Jesus takes occasion to blame all the Galileans; while from the request of the second He is induced to hold a pagan up as an example to all Israel.
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