The Sermon on the Mount was delivered at no great distance from Capernaum, and when our Lord had finished He proceeded to that city.
There was a centurion Note: The commander of a company or centurio of infantry, the number of which varied with times and circumstances from thirty to a hundred men. Their military rank, therefore, corresponded apparently to that of the captains in European armies; but, in fact, somewhat higher—their duties being in many respects different, and their responsibilities greater. at Capernaum, who, if on duty there, as appears to be the case, must have been in the service of king Herod. That he was a heathen, does not show the contrary, for Herod had foreign soldiers in his pay, and he, and others in the same position, liked to give military commands to foreign (and therefore heathen) officers, versed in the Roman arts of war. The case is in some respects parallel with that of the late Pasha of Egypt, who, notwithstanding the dislike of Moslems to Christians, had many officers (French, Italians, and Poles, chiefly) in his service—some of whom, by conforming to the religion of the country, attained to high commands.
This centurion, however, like many other heathens of that age, unsatisfied with the old and worn-out popular religion in which he had been brought up, and his situation having brought him into such approximation to Judaism as enabled him to observe the great superiority of its moral and religions spirit, and the refreshing contrast which the simple purity of belief in one God offered, to the perplexing crowd of divinities which idolatry presented, was lead to believe in Jehovah as the Almighty, and to render to Him his worship. Whether he had yet become a proselyte or not, is doubtful; but he had certainly evinced the reality of his faith by building a Jewish synagogue at his own expense.
The centurion had a faithful servant who had fallen sick, and whose life was despaired of. For this man the master evinced a degree of anxiety and solicitude, which is highly to the credit or his character—as, indeed, is all that transpires concerning him.
At this juncture he heard of the arrival of Jesus, with whose former miracles of healing in that place be must have been well acquainted. Indeed, a person of such consideration was likely to be personally acquainted with the “nobleman” whose son Jesus had formerly healed; and it is even probable that he had heard all the particulars from his own lips. All his hopes were now placed in Jesus; but remembering that he was a heathen, as was probably also the servant whose cure he sought, he feared that his request might be declined, unless supported by some influence which, as a Jew, Jesus might be supposed to respect. He therefore applied to the elders of the city, begging them to use their influence on his behalf. Considering the obligation he had laid them under, their readiness to do this for him is natural. They, therefore, repaired to Jesus, and supported the application they made on behalf of the centurion by urging, “He loveth our nation, and hath built us a synagogue.” Our Lord having signified his readiness to accompany them, they were proceeding to the house, when the centurion having heard of his approach, hastened forth, and with deep and earnest reverence, explained that he had sent to Him as not counting himself entitled to apply directly to Him: and now he craved pardon for having ventured to suppose it necessary that He should come to his house in order to cure his servant. He was not worthy that He should come under his roof—nor could it be needful—“Speak a word only, and my servant shall be healed.” This impressed Jesus greatly. The centurion’s faith came out strongly in every point where that of the nobleman had been deficient. He saw that the mind of this semi-Heathen—free from the cloud of notions respecting the nature of the Messiah’s kingdom which obscured the Jewish mind—had been enabled to realize a clear conception of his own lowliness and of the loftiness of the One to whom he spoke—a state of heart which has been in all ages essential for true access to Him. The distance is infinite; and it is done away—we become one with Him, not by his being brought down to us, but by our being enabled to mount up to Him.
Our Lord, therefore, turned round to those who watched the result of this extraordinary interview, and with marked emphasis declared—“I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.”
The centurion had asked Him only for a word. But not even a word was given. Probably Jesus made some sign or motion indicating that he should return to his house, and there be found his dying servant perfectly recovered.
Our Lord healed, probably, every kind of disease known in Palestine. He had raised the dying from the beds they had not hoped to leave again. But He had not yet raised the dead. This alone was wanting to complete the evidences of Divine power which his miracles offered. The very next day supplied this farther attestation. He walked over to a town called Nain, which still exists under the same name as a small village about three miles south-west of Mount Tabor. It is an average day’s journey from Capernaum, so we may suppose that our Lord intended to remain there for the rest of the day and the ensuing night. He was attended by some of his disciples, and by a considerable number of people. As they approached the town, a funeral procession passed out—all cemeteries being outside the towns, as they still are in the East. It was a youth who was borne to his grave. He was the son of a poor woman—her only son—and she was a widow. Alas for her! She had none but him—and he was gone from her, and left most desolate. The joy, if not the hope, of her life was gone; the staff of her age was broken. And as she followed the bier, tears, such as only mothers—mothers of only sons—can shed, flowed fast.
Such a case commanded great sympathy—especially among a people whose appreciation of male offspring was so intense; and as it was, and is still, in the East, considered a good deed and a mark of becoming sympathy and respect, for neighbors and passers-by to turn and follow a corpse to its long home, a large number of the people of Nain gave to that forlorn mother the comfort of their presence at the funeral of her son. But greater comfort awaited her—such comfort as only that Stranger who now drew nigh could give. He saw all; and his heart, which was the very dwelling place—the throne—of pity, was deeply moved. He said to the mother, in accents which were alone sufficient to give comfort and to inspire hope, “Weep not.” He then touched the bier, as if to arrest it; and the bearers, obedient to that intimation—though they knew not why—stood still. Then He said to the corpse: “Young man, I say unto thee—Arise!” And he did arise; and not only arose, but began to speak—as if impelled by the power which had raised him, to give instant comfort and full assurance to his poor bewildered mother. Oh, with what thrilling joy did she hear that voice, which from infant days had gladdened her heart so often, and which she had deemed hushed for ever among the ghastly silences of death!
There was only One whose joy could be comparable to hers—the joy of Him “who went about doing good,” and who felt a sacred pleasure in bringing back gladness to the forlorn and broken-hearted.
The impression made upon the numerous spectators by this amazing miracle, was strong and powerful. The first feeling was that of awe. Then they glorified God; some saying, “A great prophet has risen up among us;” and some declaring that God had at length “visited his people,” by sending the One so long expected, and to whom only such great deeds could be possible.
There were indeed examples of raising the dead by the prophets Elijah and Elisha; but with what remarkably contrasting circumstances of prayer, and effort, and delay; whereas Jesus arrests a corpse in the road to the grave, and at once bids it live. The apostles also raised the dead, but they confessedly derived their power from Jesus, and did nothing but in his name. It is always “in the name of Jesus of Nazareth” that they speak and work. Whereas He speaks in his own name as One possessing original and autocratic power—“I say unto thee, Arise.”