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Chapter XX.—An Explanation of the Circumstance that Matthew Tells Us How the Centurion Came to Jesus on Behalf of His Servant, While Luke’s Statement is that the Centurion Despatched Friends to Him.

48. After these things, Matthew proceeds with his narrative in the following terms: “And when Jesus was entered into Capharnaum, there came unto Him a centurion, beseeching Him, and saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, and he is grievously tormented;” and so forth, on to the place where it is said, “And his servant was healed in the self-same hour.”862862     Matt. viii. 5–13. This case of the centurion’s servant is related also by Luke; only Luke does not bring it in, as Matthew does, after the cleansing of the leper, whose story he has recorded as something suggested to his recollection at a later stage, but introduces it after the conclusion of that lengthened sermon already discussed. For he connects the two sections in this way: “Now when He had ended all His sayings in the audience of the people, He entered into Capharnaum; and a certain centurion’s servant, who was dear unto him, was sick and ready to die;” and so forth, until we come to the verse where it is said that he was healed.863863     Luke vii. 1–10. Here, then, we notice that it was not till after He had ended all His words in the hearing of the people that Christ entered Capharnaum; by which we are to understand simply that He did not make that entrance before He had brought these sayings to their conclusion; and we are not to take it as intimating the length of that period of time which intervened between the delivery of these discourses and the entrance into Capharnaum. In this interval that leper was cleansed, whose case is recorded by Matthew in its own proper place, but is given by Luke only at a later point.864864     [But see note on § 44.—R.]

49. Accordingly, let us proceed to consider whether Matthew and Luke are at one in the account of this servant. Matthew’s words, then, are these: “There came unto Him a centurion, beseeching Him, and saying, My servant lieth at home sick of the palsy.”865865     Matt. viii. 5, 6. Now this seems to be inconsistent with the version presented by Luke, which runs thus: “And when he heard of Jesus, he sent unto Him the elders of the Jews, beseeching Him that He would come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they besought Him instantly, saying, That he was worthy for whom He should do this: for he loveth our nation, and he hath built us a synagogue. Then Jesus went with them. And when He was now not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to Him, saying unto Him, Lord, trouble not Thyself; for I am not worthy that Thou shouldest enter under my roof: wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto Thee: but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed.”866866     Luke vii. 3–7. For if this was the manner in which the incident took place, how can Matthew’s statement, that there “came to Him a certain centurion,” be correct, seeing that the man did not come in person, but sent his friends? The apparent discrepancy, however, will disappear if we look carefully into the matter, and observe that Matthew has simply held by a very familiar mode of expression. For not only are we accustomed to speak of one as coming867867     Accessisse, approaching. even before he actually reaches the place he is said to have approached,868868     Accessisse, come to. whence, too, we speak of one as making small approach or making great approach869869     Parum accessit vel multum accessit. to what he is desirous of reaching; but we also not unfrequently speak of that access,870870     Perventio, arrival. for the sake of getting at which the approach is made, as reached even although the person who is said to reach another may not himself see the individual whom he reaches, inasmuch as it may be through a friend that he reaches the person whose favour is necessary to him. This, indeed, is a custom which has so thoroughly established itself, that even in the language of every-day life now those men are called Perventores871871     Reachers, comers at. who, in the practice of canvassing,872872     Ambitionis arte. get at the inaccessible ears, as one may say, of any of the men of influence, by the intervention of suitable personages. If, therefore, access873873     Perventio. itself is thus familiarly said to be gained by the means of other parties, how much more may an approach874874     Coming at—accessus. be said to take place, although it be by means of others, which always remains something short of actual access! For it is surely the case, that a person may be able to do very much in the way of approach, but yet may have failed to succeed in actually reaching what he sought to get at. Consequently it is nothing out of the way for Matthew,—a fact, indeed, which may be understood by any intelligence,—when thus dealing 127with an approach on the part of the centurion to the Lord, which was effected in the person of others, to have chosen to express the matter in this compendious method, “There came a centurion to Him.”

50. At the same time, however, we must be careful enough to discern a certain mystical depth in the phraseology adopted by the evangelist, which is in accordance with these words of the Psalm, “Come ye to Him, and be ye lightened.”875875     Accedite ad eum et illuminamini. Ps. xxxiv. 5. For in this way, inasmuch as the Lord Himself commended the faith of the centurion, in which indeed his approach was really made to Jesus, in such terms that He declared, “I have not found so great faith in Israel,” the evangelist wisely chose to speak of the man himself as coming to Jesus, rather than to bring in the persons through whom he had conveyed his words. And furthermore, Luke has unfolded the whole incident to us just as it occurred, in a form constraining us to understand from his narrative in what manner another writer, who was also incapable of making any false statement, might have spoken of the man himself as coming. It is in this way, too, that the woman who suffered from the issue of blood, although she took hold merely of the hem of His garment, did yet touch the Lord more effectually than those multitudes did by whom He was thronged.876876     Luke vii. 42–48. For just as she touched the Lord the more effectually, in so far as she believed the more earnestly, so the centurion also came the more really to the Lord, inasmuch as he believed the more thoroughly. And now, as regards the rest of this paragraph, it would be a superfluous task to go over in detail the various matters which are recounted by the one and omitted by the other. For, according to the principle brought under notice at the outset, there is not to be found in these peculiarities any actual antagonism between the writers.

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