Sunday’s story of Jesus healing the Centurion’s slave is full of juicy preaching morsels. As I pointed out yesterday, it is one of two instances when Jesus is said to be amazed. There’s the fact that the Centurion never actually sees or talks to Jesus directly, but always through intermediaries. It is also worth noting that unlike every other healing story I can think of, Jesus never declares the slave healed; he simply commends the faith of the unseen Centurion. Reading the story some 2,000 years after the fact, it is always hard to tell what exegetical tidbits were intentional choices by the author, and which are just happenstances of language.
Take, for example, the final word in Sunday’s lesson. In the NRSV, when the friends of the Centurion return to his house, they find the slave “in good health.” Other translations say he is “well” (NIV), “completely healed” (NLT), and “whole” (KJV). The Greek word that Luke uses is hugiaino, the standard Greek medical term for healing, but according to my Bibleworks lexicon, it carries another, deeper, theological meaning: “to be sound, correct or well-grounded (of Christian teachings and teachers)”
Luke 7:10 is the second time hugiaino is used in the Gospel. It occurs first in the story of the calling of Levi the Tax Collector. The Pharisees and scribes are upset with Jesus for hanging out with sinners and tax collectors and in Luke 5:31, Jesus responds, “Those who are well (hugiaino) have no need of a physician, but those who are sick…” Here too, the word seems to be doing double duty. Jesus’ mission on earth wasn’t to perform miracles and make people hugiaino physically, but rather, his primary mission was to make people hugiaino spiritually by restoring them to right relationship with God through a well-grounded teaching of the will of God.
I can’t be certain that Luke meant both meanings when he first put this Gospel to parchment, but I can’t help but read it that way. Given the fact that Jesus commends the faith of the Centurion and never actually speaks a word of healing, I can’t help but think that when the Centurion’s friends arrive back at his house, they bring with them the good word from Jesus and, perhaps, a pretty solid understanding of the Gospel. The faith of the Centurion surely would have been infections upon his household, and so it only seems reasonable that ailing slave would have been made hugiaino in both body and spirit by his in absentia encounter with Jesus.