Cornelius the Centurion

ImageIn Acts 10:34-43, Peter announces that God’s amazing grace is on the move, breaking down traditional boundaries (and barriers) between the Jews and the nations (gentiles).

Through his encounter with Cornelius, Peter comes to realize that “God shows no partiality” … but in every nation (be that geographical, cultural, or social), anyone who fears God and does what is right is accepted by God.

WOW!  God shows no partiality.

Think about how that statement challenges and undermines our tendency to confine God to the comfortable categories of our own “religion” or religious beliefs.

Consider Cornelius: Why might God have chosen him and his household to be the first gentile converts to Christianity?

From Scriptural accounts, we know that he’s a centurion, a notable leader of Roman soldiers.  He’s described as “God-fearing,” someone who loves the Lord, prays regularly, and one who helps the poor.  We’re told that he even built a synagogue for the Jews.  We’re also told that he lives in Caesaria, was part of the Italian regiment, and that his entire “household” – kinfolk, friends, and servants – worshiped God.

Given the time, place, and Cornelius’s position, this was truly radical!

Even more radical, though, is that I believe Cornelius is the same man referred to either as “a centurion” or “the centurion” whom we’ve met elsewhere in the Gospels.

In Matthew and Luke, we’re told that, at the crucifixion of Jesus, “When the centurion and others keeping watch over Jesus saw … what took place, they were filled with awe and said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’” (Matthew 27:54).  Luke (23:47) adds, “When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, ‘Certainly this man was innocent!’”

I suspect this centurion was Cornelius, paying his last respects to the extraordinary man and teacher who earlier had healed his servant.

In my humble opinion, “the centurion” we’re introduced to in Matthew and Luke was Cornelius.  Remember the story about the centurion who sought Jesus to heal his servant “who was dear to him”?

Let’s take a look:

<< Luke 7 >>
World English Bible

1 After he had finished speaking in the hearing of the people, he entered into Capernaum. 2 A certain centurion’s servant, who was dear to him, was sick and at the point of death. 3 When he heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and save his servant. 4 When they came to Jesus, they begged him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy for you to do this for him, 5 for he loves our nation, and he built our synagogue for us.” 6 Jesus went with them. When he was now not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying to him, “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I am not worthy for you to come under my roof. 7 Therefore I didn’t even think myself worthy to come to you; but say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8 For I also am a man placed under authority, having under myself soldiers. I tell this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 9 When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turned and said to the multitude who followed him, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith, no, not in Israel.” 10 Those who were sent, returning to the house, found that the servant who had been sick was well.

The story as told in Matthew’s Gospel is pretty much the same … except that the centurion, himself, approaches Jesus rather than sending the elders of the Jews on his behalf.

In either case, many people – including Bible scholars who have analyzed the words “dear to him” in this passage – believe there was a very special relationship, a deep, loving relationship, between the centurion and his servant.  And I believe it was this special, same-sex love that touched Jesus’ heart and motivated him to reach out and heal the man’s servant.  Not to mention, accept the relationship between the centurion and his servant!

If you were an exalted soldier of rank and power, respected by your own people, would you beseech help from a wandering rabbi of a foreign religion for a mere servant of yours?  Would you forsake your own god or gods and humble yourself in front of the supposedly ignorant natives who were your subjects, just to cure someone who worked for you?

Not likely!  Not if you were a Roman Centurion.  You would not, could not, risk the ridicule … even if you were in love with another man, as was often the custom among Roman men such as this at the time.

As the centurion made his way toward Jesus, I’m sure he was concerned that Jesus, like other Jewish rabbis, would condemn his “dear” relationship.  But he probably decided that if Jesus was able to heal his lover, he was also able to see through any lies or deception.

In response to the centurion’s love and his honesty, Jesus said without reservation: “Then I will come and heal him.” 

The centurion replied there is no need, that Jesus’ word was sufficient.

Instead of Jesus saying, “he is healed … go and sin no more,” as he did to the adulterous woman, he said, “I have not found faith this great anywhere in Israel,” and held Cornelius up as a man of real faith.

It’s apparent to me that the Lord was already working in Cornelius’ life, preparing him for the events which would occur to him and his household in Acts chapter ten.

Rather than debate and explain those “clobber verses” we so often hear, I claim this Scriptural account as an affirming one.

For centuries, the church has insisted that loving, homosexual people are nowhere to be found in the Bible and, certainly, never presented in a positive light.  Many Christians refuse to believe that God would include a positive story about a manly centurion who loves another person of the same sex.

I believe that our Creator is doing a new thing today … revealing another dimension to what it means to be loved and accepted by God.

A wild and winsome force, God’s love still can win over the hearts of centurions like Cornelius.  It says, “Bah-humbug” to the conventional categories of who’s deemed “in” and who’s cast “out.”  It eats with sinners, washes the feet of ordinary men, associates with prostitutes and other people of ill repute, and upholds loving one’s enemies as a commanding new norm.

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6 thoughts on “Cornelius the Centurion

  1. My goodness
    This story of Cornelius intrigues me and I’ve always had lingering questions. I never connected him with Mathew & Luke but more importantly your take on same sex love and the compassion of Jesus makes so much sense. I have answers !
    Thank you 🙂

    Thank you

  2. You know in your heart this is absolute heresy. Twisting God’s word. Shame on you. Assigning a proclivity thru a whimsical platform to allow yourself such distasteful postulating. The Word does not deserve your abuse. Please, go to God in prayer and ask forgiveness thru Christ who gave His life for us.

  3. This is how a little leaven leavens the whole lump. To what intent are you explaining same sex between cornelius and his servant. Even if there was such relationship. Be not decieve God csn heal anybody include homosexual. But you heresy did make blinded your eyes so much that in Act 10( if at the cemtuion was cornelius) that cornelius later receives the holyghost and was baptised. You think jesus would have brrn a party to an homosexual getting filled with the holyghost.? Repent and ask God for forgiveness for this erroneous interpretation of the bible.

  4. Honestly, the sexual preference of Cornelius should not matter. You saying Jesus agreeing to heal his servant despite his homosexuality is unfortunately wrong my dear brother. You see Jesus loved it when a man accepted his fault. He says to the hypocritical Pharisees that He came for those who knew they were sick and hence came to Him the physician (Mark 2:17) and does not our Old Testament tell us beautifully that God indeed loves a man who is broken in the heart by his sin (Psalm 51:17). My brother, these are the same broken-hearted people that God in the flesh came for (Luke 4:18). His decision to visit the house of Cornelius has nothing to do with affirmation and if indeed he was affirming anything, it was his love for all who were infirmed. I also believe this Cornelius was the same centurion in the Gospels and I truly admire his courage to pursue a foreign God against the believes of his people. If he was a homosexual he was because that is what he had come to know. Just like I was once a womanizer who knew nothing better than jumping from one woman to another. When I received Christ I initially tried to beat womanizing out of my soul and needless to say it did not work. But when I realised that He did not save me from womanizing or Hell but He saved me for Himself I began to focus on Him in word and prayer and now I am free from what I thought held me bondage. Cornelius if he was homosexual it was because he did not have the life force of Christ in Him telling him what was acceptable in Christ and what was not. It is this life that causes a man like me who went from always affirming womaniizing as African culture (I’m West African) to the next day after receiving Him in my heart feeling gulity fro even loooking at another woman. Guilt isn’t the aiim of his Spirit’s indwelling though, however the infirmity of man makes him see all what he cannnot do as guilt-worthy. In comes the Holy Spirit, the quickener of our mortal bodies (Romans 8:11) to keep us on the path of the righteousness we have inherited. Cornelius if he was homosexual would not be a homosexual at his deathbed. He would have been transformed from glory to glory as he daily beheld the face of Christ in the word (The KEY is the WORD of God n oure hearts DAILY).
    I fear that you have fallen prey to the same consciusness that you are attempting to speak against in that you have gone the way of a society which sees homosexuality as different other sinful manifestations. Womanizing as a heterosexual and homosexuality are no different in the sight of our God. In having this mindset you have gone the opposite way from societies conclusion in affirming it. God condemns the sin not the sinner. The wrath is because of the sin and all sinners receives their share of it because they are found in the sin. if you stay in a burning house you are likely to burn irrespective of the reason you entered. Homosexuality as a lifestyle is not of heaven above but of earth beneath. Thank you for your platform.

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