Scripture Reading, July 24, 2011

Text Matthew 8:5-13

5 When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him 6and saying, ‘Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.’ 7And he said to him, ‘I
will come and cure him.’ 8The centurion answered, ‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. 9For I also 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 the slave
does it.’ 10When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who
followed him, ‘Truly I tell you, in no one* in Israel have I found
such faith. 11I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with
Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12while the heirs of the
kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and
gnashing of teeth.’ 13And to the centurion Jesus said, ‘Go; let it be done for you
according to your faith.’ And the servant was healed in that hour.



The text is a familiar story of Jesus healing the centurion’s
servant. A centurion is a Roman soldier who is often in charge of 50-100
soldiers. It was common knowledge that centurion’s often had male companions
who helped them in a variety of ways.  The Greek word used in
Matthew’s account to refer to the servant of the centurion is pais.
In the language of the time, pais had three possible meanings depending
upon the context in which it was used. It could mean “son or boy;” it could
mean “servant,” or it could mean a particular type of servant — one who was
“his master’s male lover.”

What do you think is remarkable about this text?

How does the story change for you if the soldier is asking
Jesus to heal his male lover?

Paula Northwood/Minister of Education
Plymouth Congregational Church


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One Response to Scripture Reading, July 24, 2011

  1. Paul Price says:

    This chapter of Matthew has a panoply of despised people-not an original observation. I wonder how under a strict, ecclesiastical, conservative, authoritarian based reading of Leviticus, how many of the cured in this chapter would have been thought beyond being cured. I think older women (e.g., Peter’s mother-in-law) were often not well-considered in contemporary Mediterranean cultures, though this may be too superficial of an understanding on my part. My bible has Jesus going to Peter’s house and finding Peter’s sick mother-in-law, not that Peter asked Jesus to come and heal her, unlike the centurion and others who variously requested or sought the healing. Hmmm . . .

    At the Minneapolis Institute of Art, there is a marble Roman sculpture of an old woman. The statue is probably four or more feet high, skillfully carved, and probably done for a well-off patron. She is standing, yet stooped; her clothing is tattered; and her face is haggard. The descriptive placard used to say that the statue was intended as a satire of an old woman, undoubtedly of a lower class. Not charming.

    The Roman centurion, though powerful, would have been, I presume, treated obsequiously to his face and despised behind his back. I doubt he would have been considered under the “law,” yet he is thought worthy and, in fact, praised, for his “faith.” From my reading, we don’t know whether he thought Jesus was the “son of god,” and it seems safer to presume that the centurion simply thought that Jesus was a truly remarkable person, imbued with some form of other-worldly power and control beyond his own. I doubt that the non-Roman population would have cared much for any centurion’s servant/slave, unless he or she was one of the local population.

    If we add another layer of the “despised” to the story by perhaps considering the servant to be the centurion’s male lover, then the story becomes even more inclusive in its healing reach. “Christian (big “C”)”, “reparatively curing” of his (their) sexuality, is nowhere to be seen. It would have been just as simple and of even more pre-eminent “theological,” and “moral” importance for certain, current homophobic Christians, to have “cured” them of their sexuality than to have cured the partner’s wracking pain and paralysis. I recall from broad reading in gay history that in older, western societies, male to male intimacy was variously tolerated for the upper class male if the other was of a lower class.

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