During the time of Jesus, the Jews were under the Roman rule. Their military presence was all over the nation. Centurions were military officers who oversaw one hundred soldiers each. Centurion in Latin means one hundred.
The Bible mentions several centurions as admirable characters:
1. The centurion who requested Jesus to heal his paralyzed servant (Mt 8:5-13; Lk 7:1-10). According to the Jewish elders, he deserved Jesus’ favor because he loved the Jewish nation and had built a synagogue for them (Lk 7:3-5). Besides a man of charity, he became an icon of humility and faith in Jesus.
2. Another centurion, whose name is unavailable, supervised Jesus’ crucifixion. Pilate assigned him to do so because the Jews had no authority to execute anybody. The centurion noticed the extraordinary signs that happened at Jesus’ death. “When the centurion who stood facing him saw how he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’” (Mk 15:39). Thus, he, like many others, proclaimed the divinity of Jesus.
3. While Jesus hung dead on the cross, “one of the soldiers thrust a lance into his side and immediately there flowed out blood and water” (Jn 19:34). According to legends, this soldier was Longinus, a blind centurion. When he pierced Jesus’ heart, blood fell upon his eyes, and he regained sight. Because of this miracle, he became a Christian, and the church venerates him as a saint.
4. Acts chapter 10 presents an exemplary centurion. “There was in Caesarea a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was called the Italian Cohort. He and his whole household were religious and God-fearing. He gave generously to the people and constantly prayed to God” (Acts 10:1-2). Cornelius had a divine vision in which an angel of God told him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial offering before God” (Acts 10:4). He and his family were the early gentile converts to Christianity who received baptism from Saint Peter.
5. A centurion interceded with his commander to avoid scourging Paul because he was a Roman citizen by birth (Acts 22:25-30).
6. Another centurion helped Paul to send his nephew to the Roman commander to communicate the conspiracy of the Jews to kill Paul (Acts 23:17-18).
7. When a Roman commander sent Paul to Felix, the governor of Caesarea, two centurions escorted Paul to protect him from the hostile Jews (Acts 23:23).
8. Another centurion was Julius of the Cohort Augusta, who oversaw Paul and other prisoners’ transportation to Rome. During the shipwreck, this man trusted Paul and prevented his fellow soldiers from killing Paul and other prisoners (Acts 27:43).
The Jews hated the Roman military officers because they represented the Roman government, because of their pagan origin, and their brutality. However, there were centurions who kept good relations with Jesus and his disciples. We should realize there can be good people among the outsiders and bad people among the self-righteous. Our prejudice toward others might lead us to wrong judgement.