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Sermon by the Rev. Dr. George Hermanson, "."
Malina and Rohrbaugh offer interesting background on this unnamed centurion (Pages 252-253. See footnote below. And check this Wikipedia article for more details.):
The centurion was the backbone of the Roman army. Each legion was made up of sixty centuries, each commanded by a centurion. He was a veteran soldier and had a position of prestige - he was paid about fifteen times as much as an ordinary soldier - as well as authority. His cuirass (chest armor of tough molded leather), transverse-plumed helmet, and wooden baton identify him as a centurion.
Luke does not specify whether the centurion in question was an Israelite or non-Israelite. There were in fact Israelites who served in the Roman army in various ranks. ... The fact that he built a synagogue with no mention of a temple in the region would suggest an Israelite lineage.
As an officer representing Rome, the centurion would often broker imperial resources for the local population. In this case, he has done so by building a synagogue and thus is recognized as a patron by the village elders.
This story provides an interesting glimpse into the social dynamics of Jesus' time.
First, notice that the centurion - a man of high status and authority in Capernaum - can, and does, value a person of low status - his slave. This is not necessarily unusual as it would be highly honourable for a patron to publicly demonstrate that he has been well-served. Just as honour would require a patron to punish a slave who has ill-served him.
Second, notice how first the centurion sends "some Jewish elders," and then "some friends." The friends are of the same social rank as the centurion, whereas the elders are beholden to - and below - the centurion.
The elders are given the more onerous task of finding Jesus, begging a favour of him, and bringing him near the centurion's house. They do the work one would never ask friends to do.
The friends do the work that only friends can do: describe their friend's social status and authority, and then describe where their friend locates Jesus in rank and authority.