39 - Enslaved to Faith

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Romans 6:18-23

Hebrews 13:7-16 (fathers)

Matthew 8:5-13

John 17:1-13 (fathers)

The LORD says of the centurion’s faith, “I have not found such faith in Israel.” So, what is this faith the LORD found in the centurion? I don’t see love for the LORD in the centurion’s attitude. Perhaps he had love for his servant; but, I think it may be more likely that he was irked that his servant was “a paralytic in his house. As he will say: “I am a man of authority myself; I say to my servant, do this, and he does it.” But, this servant was a paralytic. He could not do what the centurion ordered him to do. He was therefore useless to the centurion as a servant. What, then, might be the lesson of faith we might draw from our Scripture lessons this morning?

What I see in the centurion is awe, fear and respect for Jesus. The centurion’s words give us the reason for the awe and fear he had towards Jesus. It is the power of the LORD’s WORD. The centurion likens the LORD’s WORD of authority to his own word of authority, as he says, “I myself am a man under authority and I have soldiers under me. I say to one, Go, and he goes; and to another, Come, and he comes. I say to my servant, Do this, and he does it.” But, between the centurion’s word and the LORD’s WORD there is a big difference. The centurion’s word cannot heal anyone.

The centurion’s word is the world’s word of military might. It can destroy kingdoms and set up new kingdoms. It can subdue nations and make them slaves. It can build cities and establish great empires. But, it cannot heal the centurion’s paralytic servant.

Jesus’ WORD, however, can. It even raises the dead to life. This is what caused the centurion to fear Jesus, to look on Him with awe and wonder, respect and fear. Perhaps it was because he was afraid of the power of Jesus’ WORD that he shows a certain anxiousness to keep the LORD at a distance. “Just say the WORD and my servant will be healed!” Don’t come any closer!

The centurion’s faith, then, wasn’t his love for Jesus but his fear of Jesus. But, the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. Fear of the LORD puts one on the Path of Faith, which, as St John the Evangelist teaches us, leads to love of God, which casts out fear. For, in fear of the LORD, one begins to listen attentively to the WORD of His teaching. One begins to align one’s mind, soul and body with the LORD’s commandments. One begins to guard against the heart’s inclination to drift back into heedlessness, laziness, easiness. One begins to work out one’s salvation in fear and trembling and to bring one’s soul into subjection to the WORD of the LORD.

Let us note that we subject ourselves to the LORD to become His “slave” not under coercion but because we want to. And, why would one want to become the LORD’s slave? Is it not because the LORD’s WORD heals us? When we turn to the LORD in our heart, sincerely, in repentance, in the resolve to become His slave, do we not in that “very hour”—as it says of the servant in this morning’s Gospel, that he was healed in that very hour—begin to feel the healing power of the LORD’s WORD deep within? “The WORD of the LORD,” says St Paul, “is living and full of energy (powerful), sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing (from dia which means through, and ikanos, which can mean strong) to the division of soul and spirit, joints and marrow, discerning even the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb 4:12) The LORD’s WORD heals us all the way down to our conscience, all the way into our heart.

There is a detail in this morning’s Gospel that we perhaps should not overlook. It reveals the kind of sickness the LORD is healing this morning. It says that the centurion’s servant was a paralytic. Paralysis was the spiritual sickness that afflicted Israel because of her idolatry. It rendered her, like the idols she worshiped, a spiritual corpse: “Having eyes, they do not see, having ears, they do not hear. They have hands that cannot feel, feet that cannot walk, mouths that cannot speak, throats that make no sound.”

This is what it is to be a servant of the centurions of the world, a slave to the power of the world’s words. It is to be an idolater, a spiritual paralytic who has ears that do not hear the WORD of God, eyes that do not see God as the Source of all Beauty, hands that do not work the works of God, feet that do not walk in the way of the LORD. The power of the world’s words cannot cleanse us of our shame and guilt. It cannot heal us deep within. And so the world devises all kinds of strategies to numb us—to paralyze our conscience—from the guilt and shame that make us feel sick in our soul.

The faith shown by the centurion, then, was but the beginning of faith, fear. The LORD’s indictment of Israel, then, is even more stinging. Israel doesn’t even show the beginning of faith. But, do we? It was precisely through faith—in the fear of God, with faith and love—that we drew near the Font and were grafted into the New Israel, to become true Jews, inwardly, established as living stones in the Temple of the LORD’s crucified and risen Body on the foundation of the prophets and the apostles, whose chief cornerstone is the Body of God Himself.

We were given a “talent.” That talent is the power of the LORD’s WORD that delivered us from our bondage to death and corruption, that raised us from the bed of our spiritual paralysis. What have we done with that talent? How have we worked it? Have we worked it at all, or have we buried it in the ground and gone back to the idols of the world? Under whose word do we live our daily lives? Whose word do we listen to in our mind? Whose word do we turn to in our heart? Whose word do we chase down? Are we pursuing the WORD that gives life, that liberates and heals, that WORD that is filled with joy, that fills our deepest desire with good things? Or, are we becoming slaves to words that paralyze our soul with guilt and shame? When the WORD of the Gospel goes in one ear and out the other, when it finds no place in our soul to germinate and grow, are we not showing ourselves to be paralytics who have ears that do not hear, eyes that do not see?

“Wisdom will not enter into a soul that is shaped by evil [or by idolatry - kakotechnon], nor will she dwell in a body that is under the power of sin. The Holy Spirit flees deceit and will not abide when unrighteousness comes in.” So we read in the Wisdom of Solomon (1:4-5). With this, we learn why God became flesh and suffered on the Cross. It was to cleanse us from every impurity and sin, so that, washed clean of our sins by the WORD of His Power, purified from our defilement, from the stench of our spiritual death, His Holy Spirit could come and abide in us and raise us from our spiritual paralysis to make us fragrant, living and whole, so that we would have eyes that see, ears that hear, hands that do His will, feet that walk in His Way; and, having thus been restored to our original beauty in the Holy Spirit, we would not just become His servants, but we would be made ready to become one with Him: one flesh, one Spirit with Him and His Father and the Holy Spirit, God in us and we in God, filled with His joy (Jn 17:11&13).

Dear faithful, let us ponder the beauty of this Gospel this morning. The centurion was afraid of Jesus and would not have Him draw near. But, if we, in the fear of God, with faith and love, draw near, we receive Him as our Food, the medicine of immortality. We drink His Holy Spirit, the Fountain of immortality. This, then, is the purpose of our life, our hope: to become slaves of God and so acquire His Holy Spirit and so become one with Him, alive in the fullness of His joy. Amen!