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The Centurion

The oddest thing about the story of the Roman centurion who asks Jesus to heal his servant is the mystery of his follow-up request: that Jesus not even come all the way to his house, but heal the man at a distance. If you don’t see at a glance how odd this twist in the story is, then you’ve come to the right place! 

We’ve been taught to read this story as a lesson about faith, and there’s nothing wrong with that – until it gets in the way of our truly seeing the details of the story, of our tasting all the subtle flavors in the stew. If you have a sick servant and call upon a miracle worker to heal him, that does show faith. If you had an even greater faith, you might schedule that servant for some work the very next day, or not bother to have a “real” doctor even come. If the centurion had done either of those things, this would still be a good story about faith, but it wouldn’t be odd.

Instead, the centurion makes a second request of Jesus: to not even come to the house, but to heal the servant from a distance.

Who does that? Why is this even a possible thing to have faith about? Frankly, it feels to me like an invented, over-the-top detail you might add to a story just to make it more amazing.

The explanation given in the story itself is that the man was so humble that he didn’t feel worthy to have Jesus even come into his home, but this explanation is itself odd. Which doesn’t mean it’s untrue, of course. Things can be true and odd, just as they can be untrue and completely unremarkable, or any other combination. Whether a detail is true or false will not be the province of The Wineskin Project. I will leave that to the differing beliefs and judgments of my readers. However, whether a thing is odd or not will be. My hope is that these plays will give people a way to see these stories freshly, unencumbered by any existing interpretive frameworks, as if reading them for the first time.

And you must admit: on a first reading, this is an odd story indeed!