40 - The Centurion, July 1, 2012

Romans 6:18-23

Matthew 8:5-13

To forestall health issues from my family history, I work out at a local health club. There, of course, all of us are basically walking around in our underwear, with tennis shoes; so, one sees more of human society there in the health club than one does on the streets. One sees also the lengths to which an increasing number of people are going to make a statement by means of their bodily appearance: the amount of skin covered with tattoos, for example, extra-terrestrial hair-cuts, shocking hair colors like fantastic fuchsia, lilting lavender and lyrical lemon-lime and electric orange, body parts pierced with rings, doo-hickies and other gadgets. There used to be no TV in the showers. There still isn’t, but what’s just as interesting as any TV show, especially the ones nowadays is the show on the fellows’ backs and fronts as they lather and spin in the showers next to yours. No TV in the showers, but my health club could be called a luxury health spa and demand higher rates all the same because of the tattoo shows its patrons put on, accented by sparkling auras flashing from the rocks and stones stuffed in the most amazing spots in their bodies.

What I’m lampooning illustrates, in dramatic fashion, to be sure, what I think is true for all of us: we love external adornments because we want to be beautiful. I also strongly sense a hope that the adorning of one’s body with trendy gadgets and fashions will chase away some inner pain; and the more outrageous the external adornments, the deeper the inner pain.

The biblical vision of man shows that the desire to be beautiful is in itself not sick at all but natural and good; for, we were created in the image and likeness of God. God is beautiful and the source of beauty. Created in His image and likeness, we were made beautiful from the beginning. To be in the image of God is to be beautiful. The desire to be beautiful is the desire to be like God. But, in the beginning, God did not cover us with tattoos or color our hair with electricity, nor did He poke holes in our ears, noses, eyebrows or anywhere else to insert rocks and stones hoping to make us beautiful, because He clothed us in a beautiful Garment of Immortality that radiated with the light of God’s own uncreated life. He crowned us, not with perishable silver and gold, but with His own imperishable glory and honor that is infinitely more precious than the most precious metals on earth. 

Our preoccupation with bodily beauty is, I think, our soul giving voice to a long-forgotten yearning for the original beauty and divine character she once had. I think it is the anguished cry of the soul’s inner shame over the ugliness that has deformed her original godlikeness and made her not in the likeness of God but more in the likeness of irrational beasts, because she has gotten separated from the Heavenly Bridegroom who is full of grace and truth, and she has gotten lost in a herd of false gods that are beautiful only like a white-washed tomb filled with the stench of rotting flesh and death is beautiful.

Obviously, the soul’s inner ugliness cannot be made beautiful by tattoos and pierced body parts or shocking hair colors. Provocative and revealing clothes cannot hide it. It cannot be cut or suctioned out by the reduction or augmentation of key body parts through plastic surgery. An ugly soul cannot be hidden even by a beautiful body because the soul’s ugliness is visible for all to see in her pettiness, her meanness and smallness, her narcissism and selfishness, the scorn of her conceit, the contempt of her pride, her calloused insensitivity, her thoughtlessness, her prejudice and hatred. External adornments will not make the hissy fits or temper tantrums go away; they will not make the soul patient when she doesn’t get her way. The ugliness of the soul doesn’t come from wrinkles and sagging skin. It comes from inner sores that ooze out of the pores of our skin and into our facial expressions, our words and gestures from a darkened soul buried underneath in the tomb of our heart.

I think that the tattoos, the small rocks and stones stuffing our ears and noses, our lips, tongues and eyebrows, the effort to make ourselves young again through plastic surgery, covering our bodies with revealing and provocative clothes are the voiceless cry of a lonely soul mourning in anguish for a love, a joy, an intimacy that she’s missing, and a beauty she’s lost. And, I think a big part of her misery is the dark confusion that has settled on her from her forgetfulness of the God who made her in the beauty of His own image and likeness.

Yet, this God has revealed Himself to the world. Born of the Virgin, He became flesh and dwelt among us; and the apostles have borne witness to Him who they saw with their own eyes, heard with their own ears, handled with their own hands. He is the Word of Life that was from the beginning, full of grace and truth, the only-begotten of the Father who has made the Father known.

So, what is it about Jesus that is so unattractive that we turn away from Him and continue hunting for tattoos, rocks and stones, spiffy hairstyles, and fancy clothes to make our bodies beautiful even as they grow older and uglier, as though they are mocking us as they wither away into smelly old stumps adorned with all the adornments we adorn them with? What is so ugly about Jesus that we dismiss Him so? Is it His humility? His graciousness? His tenderness and compassion? His moral goodness? The healing power of His compassion that healed everyone who came to Him of all their diseases? Is it His teaching to love God with all one’s heart, soul, strength and mind and one’s neighbor as oneself? Is it His love in which He voluntarily endured the agony of the Cross so that we could have not just life but His own divine life?

He, the only Lover of mankind, the all-compassionate One, by His death on the Cross liberated us from the power and the fear of death. United to us in death, He was buried and made the tomb of our heart to be a bridal chamber radiant with life, the opening onto the Garden of Eden, from which we are born again as children of God, clothed with the robe of light, crowned with glory and honor, restored to our original beauty as partakers of His divine nature in His own glory and virtue.

What about this Gospel proclamation is so unattractive that we ignore the Source of the healing of our soul’s anguish who is “in our midst” and who could restore us to our original beauty, if we would but receive Him? What kind of madness has seized us? Not to seek Christ with our whole heart, soul, strength and mind is nothing short of suicide.

Last Sunday’s Gospel gave us the word of Jesus: “The lamp of the body is the eye. If your eye is single, your whole body will be light….You cannot serve two masters. ”

Brothers and sisters, the eye that is the lamp of the body is the heart that Christ made into a bridal chamber, radiant with life, in the baptismal font of His Holy Pascha, so that He could unite with us and we with Him and be born again, from above, as children of God. If Christ dwells in our hearts, then our heart becomes light, for Christ is the Light of the world, and our whole body becomes light, because we have put on Christ as our Robe of Light. The ugly old Adam is buried with Christ in His death, and we are raised in His Resurrection in the New Adam. We are clothed once more in the Robe of Light that was ours in the beginning. We are clothed within, in our heart, in the beauty of God, and our whole body becomes beautiful not from tattoos and exotic clothes, but from the light of Christ that radiates from our heart and “tattoos” our body in the light of God’s own glory and honor.

In this morning’s Gospel, the centurion is an icon of the eye of the body that serves one ruler, the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the ego that governs the soul and body, but denies itself and submits in obedience to the authority of Christ, and receives in return the healing of the soul and body, represented by the centurion’s servant. The world was brought out of the abyss into being when it obeyed the Lord’s creative command, and it came to exist in the beauty of Paradise. So also, we are raised from death to life when we deny ourselves and submit in obedience to Christ as our only Master. We come to exist in the glory and virtue of Christ’s own divine nature, raised from the baptismal font as children of God clothed in a Robe of Light, which is Christ.

The Gospel proclaimed by the Church is the healing power of divine life that is breathed into us by Christ when we receive Him and follow Him according to His commandment. If we are sick, if we do not live in the joy and peace of Christ that heals the soul and makes her beautiful in the glory and honor of Christ, it is because we are serving the wrong master.

Do you want to be beautiful? Do you want your whole body to be light? Like the centurion, deny yourself; give the eye of your body, your ego, your heart to Christ, the Light of the world and see if the Lord is not powerful to raise you up to life eternal, clothed in the beauty of your own Robe of Light in the goodness and beauty of Paradise. Amen.