Mat 8:5 And when he had entered into Capharnaum, there came to him a centurion, beseeching him,
The probability is, that the preceding miracle was performed near, or in the suburbs of, Capharnaum, or in some town on His way from the Mount. The narrative of St. Luke and St. Matthew may be very easily reconciled, if we suppose the cure of the leper to be performed on His entrance into Capharnaum. The narrative of St. Matthew, referring in this verse to “when He had entered Capharnaum,” admits of this interpretation and mode of solution.
“There came to Him a centurion.” The time, place, and other circumstances would seem to render it clear, that the miracle here recorded is the same as that mentioned by St. Luke (c. 7) The trifling diversity in the narrative of both Evangelists is easily explained, and both are easily reconciled. When St. Luke says (c. 7:3, &c.), he sent some influential friends, “the ancients of the Jews,” to our Redeemer; that He went with them, and when near the house the centurion sent his friends to meet Him, and through them addressed Him, all this presents no discrepancy whatever in regard to what St. Matthew records here, as it may be said, with truth, that a man himself says, what he says through others, or employed others to say for him. The Greek commentators (St. Chrysostom, Theophylact, &c.) say, the words of St. Matthew ought to be understood literally, that the elders of the Jews, on behalf of the centurion, first accosted our Lord (as St. Luke says); that when the centurion found that our Lord Himself meant to come, he sent his friends, who addressed Him, as is recorded by St. Luke (7); and that then the centurion himself finally met Him quite close to his house, and addressed Him, as is mentioned here by St. Matthew.
Mat 8:6 And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, and is grievously tormented.
“Servant.” St. Luke has “my slave” (δουλος). But, the word here employed (παις) may mean, either a boy or a slave. Hence, it means, “a boy slave,” much prized by the centurion, as St. Luke informs us.
Mat 8:7 And Jesus saith to him: I will come and heal him.
“I will come,” &c. These words were addressed to “the ancients of the Jews” (Luke 7:3). It is deserving of remark, and has been frequently observed by interpreters, that when there is question of a poor slave, our Redeemer goes to visit him in person, although his master, the centurion, did not ask Him; but in the case of the Ruler’s son, He cures him only at a distance (John 4:50).
Mat 8:8 And the centurion, making answer, said: Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst enter under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant shall be healed.
“Lord, I am not worthy,” &c. These words the centurion commissioned his friends to express in his name as our Lord was approaching his house; and hence, he expressed them through others. Or, if we adopt the interpretation of St. Chrysostom, they may have been personally uttered by the centurion himself, on seeing the Redeemer approaching his house.
“Only say the word,” a Hebrew phrase, signifying, only command it; only express a wish, and it shall be well with my afflicted servant. It would appear from St. Luke, that, in the first instance, when the centurion employed the mediation of the Jewish ancients, he wished Him to come. Now, his faith is increased and enlightened, as Jesus approaches his house; and he unhesitatingly proclaimed His omnipotence.
Mat 8:9 For I also am a man subject to authority, having under me soldiers; and I say to this, Go, and he goeth, and to another Come, and he cometh, and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.
“Under authority,” means, as St. Luke expresses it, “subject to authority,” a subordinate, subject to higher officers, captains or generals. “Having soldiers under me.” This he says not out of vain ostentation, but to show why his commands are obeyed. The conclusion, which may be regarded as, an argumentum a minori ad majus, so expressive of the great faith of the centurion, is: If I, a mere man, myself subject to others above me, can command my subordinates, and by my mere word, ensure a ready compliance and obedience from them, how much more canst Thou, who art Sovereign Lord of all things, subject to no one, having no one over or above Thee, command diseases and bodily infirmities, and by Thy mere word, insure the most perfect obedience and compliance with Thy wishes, “Mare et venti obediunt ei.”
Mat 8:10 And Jesus hearing this, marvelled; and said to them that followed him. Amen I say to you, I have not found so great faith in Israel.
“Marvelled,” i.e., expressed wonder at this external manifestation of faith, which may be explained, consistently with our Lord’s omniscience, as St. Thomas explains it (3 Part, q. 15, Art. 18), thus; although, in virtue of His Divine omniscience, our Lord knew the faith of the centurion already, and, moreover, could not be ignorant of it, as it was He Himself that inspired the centurion by His heavenly grace; still, He really and interiorly marvelled, owing to the experimental knowledge of the fact; just as the astronomer, who predicts an eclipse, expresses his admiration and astonishment on witnessing it actually taking place. Others, with St. Augustine, &c., understand the word to convey the mere external expression of His praise, and commendation of it; and of astonishment, as evidenced by His whole external appearance and countenance. It may, probably, also, denote the expression of commendation conveyed in the following words: “Amen I say to you,” &c.
“In Israel,” the Jewish people, the depositaries of God’s oracles, favoured with His special graces and revelations. In the Greek it is more expressive still (ουδε εν τω Ισραηλ), “neither in Israel.” From this, it would appear that the centurion was a Gentile, a Roman soldier. Our Redeemer says, He did not find such faith, as was shown by a Pagan soldier, among the carnal descendants of Abraham. In this, He did not surely refer to those who, from the very nature of things, and the well-known evidence of facts, were excepted, such as the Blessed Virgin, John the Baptist, the ancient Patriarchs and Prophets, the Apostles, as when speaking of the Baptist He says, “No greater arose among the born of women.” Nor, of course, did He include Himself. Or the words may be confined to the period of His public mission; since He began to preach publicly and work miracles, He found no such instance of faith in the mass of the Jewish people in general.
Mat 8:11 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:
“And I say to you,” &c. The centurion being a Gentile, as clearly appears from the contrast, “in Israel,” as also from the words of the ancients of the Jews, “He loveth our nation” (Luke 7:5), our Redeemer takes occasion, by way of digression, to refer to the vocation of the Gentiles and the rejection of the Jews—a subject referred to by the Prophets in many places, but especially by Isaias (43:5, 6, 10)—after which digression, He resumes the subject of the centurion’s appeal.
“That many,” attracted by God’s grace, like the centurion, “shall come from the East,” &c., from the four quarters of the globe, and the remotest regions of the Gentiles—the Gentiles may be called, “many,” compared with the Jews—“and shall sit down with Abraham,” &c., the Patriarchs, the three great Princes of Israel, and fathers of the spiritual sons of promise, to whom were first made the promises of eternal bliss.
“Shall sit down,” is allusive to the recumbent posture in which the ancients partook of their banquets—a fit emblem of the bliss they shall, one day, fully enjoy, in supreme security and rest. Our Redeemer, in accordance with a Scriptural usage, represents the eternal bliss of the saints, under the figure of an earthly banquet.
“The kingdom of heaven,” conveys an idea of the joys of that blessed country in which the saints shall enjoy God for ever and ever.
- Bishop MacEvilly’s Commentary on Matthew 8:5-11 (thedivinelamp.wordpress.com)
- Bishop MacEvily’s Commentary on Matthew 24:37-44 (stjoeofoblog.wordpress.com)
- Bishop MacEvilly’s Commentary on Luke 19:1-10 (stjoeofoblog.wordpress.com)
- Bishop MacEvilly’s Commentary on Matthew 9:27-31 (thedivinelamp.wordpress.com)