“I also am a man set under authority.”
A lot is hiding in that little word ‘also’.
The centurion is a man under authority, but this does not simply mean he is a soldier in a chain of command; he is a link in the chain of patronage that starts with the emperor and ends with the village. He is able to bring the resources of the emperor to bear for the community. They look to him for help. They offer their obedience and obeisance to Rome and he brings the emperor’s gifts to build the synagogue.
The centurion sees that Jesus, also, is a man under authority. Jesus is a link in the chain that starts with God and ends with God’s people Israel. He brings God’s gifts. They show respect and honor to God.
The centurion has not come himself because he has no right to expect anything of Jesus. He is not part of this particular chain of patronage. He is not part of Israel. But the synagogue leaders are part of Israel; they can ask. So the centurion sends them on his behalf hoping that Jesus will grant this favor to the leaders resulting in the healing of his servant.
If Jesus were a mere healer, a wonder worker, there would be no question of authority, only the techniques of a folk healer manipulating the spiritual realities by means of prayer and incantation. Such a man the centurion could easily hire or command. But the centurion doesn’t see a faith healer; he sees a man who, like himself, is under authority. He sees God’s agent authorized to dispense the gifts of God.
This is why no ritual is needed. No laying on of hands. No incantations. No incense or sacred objects of numinous power. Jesus doesn’t even need to show up in person. Jesus need only say the word. He need only give the nod of the head that opens heaven’s treasury.
This is the faith – the trust and allegiance – that Jesus commends. The centurion sees truly: the crowd sees a healer, but he sees the agent of God.
So what do we see in Jesus when we come to be met by him on Sunday? A healer? A helper? A wonder worker? A spiritual guide? Or the authorized agent of God?