Romans 6.18-23

Matthew 8.5-13

From what St Paul says about slaves and masters in our epistle reading from Romans this morning (and all this last week), we can see that the centurion in this morning’s Gospel is an image of Christ. This is confirmed in the centurion’s own words: ‘I, too,’ he says, ‘am a man of authority. I say to my servant, do this and do that, and he does it.’ But, this means he is also an image of mankind, for we are each one an image of God.

A centurion commands a battalion of 100 soldiers. The number, 100, designates completeness. The centurion, then, is an image of Christ who is the commander over the whole of creation (and He has given this authority to us as an essential property of our having been made in the image of God; it is another way He grants us to become partakers of His divine nature).

A centurion fights battles to destroy the enemy. A ‘Gospel’ is news of a military victory of worldwide scope, the overthrow of the old order and the establishment of a new world order of justice and peace and salvation. Christ Jesus is the Cosmic Centurion who destroys the devil. He delivers the world from its bondage to the devil in death and corruption and establishes a New Creation under His authority as King of all.

The centurion would carry at his side a dagger or some kind of sword. Through His Holy Mother – Herself the ‘Supreme Commander of the Heavenly Hosts’ – the LORD Jesus Christ came into the world and took on the very power of death with which the devil had enslaved mankind. He wrested the Cross from the devil’s hands, and the instrument of torture and death became the LORD’s own sword, His own weapon of victory with which He conquered the devil and destroyed sin and death to deliver us from the devil and all his angels and all his pride. He purchased us with His own blood to make us His slaves, servants of His own Heavenly Father. He made us slaves of all that is good and beautiful so that we can become who and what we really are: children of God, children of beauty, children of goodness, children of eternal life.

The centurion’s servant (or child) is therefore an image of those who have presented themselves to God and have become slaves of His righteousness, His holiness, and everlasting life. When do we present ourselves to God to become His servant so that when He says do this, we do it? We do so at Holy Baptism.

By the authority of our own free self-determination, an essential property of our having been made in the image and likeness of God, we directed our soul, our mind and our body to the Font and we ‘centurions’ became servants of God. Now the military battles we fight are spiritual battles so that we do what our LORD says and not what the ruler of this world says, as St Paul says: ‘We are not fighting against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.’ (Eph 6:12)

‘In the heavenly places.’ This would be in our soul, our heart, our mind; for ‘Christ is in you’ (Col 1.27) and the ‘Kingdom of Heaven is within you’ (Lk 17.21). We do not fight the devil to destroy him, for the LORD Jesus Christ has already destroyed him; the devil with all his hosts and all his pride are falling from the heavenly places in the cosmic mystery of the LORD’s Gospel, His Holy Passion in which He destroyed death by His death and delivered us from the power of the devil and the fear of death. As the LORD Himself said to His disciples when He was on His way up to Jerusalem to ascend the Cross: ‘I saw Satan falling like lightning from heaven’ (Lk 10.18).

So, we are not fighting to destroy the devil; we are fighting to put to death all that is earthly in us. And what is earthly in us? St Paul tells us: ‘Fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk.’ St Paul goes on to say: ‘You have put off the old nature with its practices, and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. [Col 3:5, 8-10]

Careful reflection on what St Paul is teaching us may surprise to some, for it reveals the inclination of our heart beyond what we may see, because we live so much on the surface of appearances and not in the deep of our soul where our real love is. We may discover that in our ‘secret heart,’ we still love idols. We love the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life. Here is the manifestation of the ‘law of sin’ that is at work in me, seeking to enslave me through the perversion of my erotic desire to pursue all kinds of uncleanness and impurity if not in deed, certainly in our secret thoughts. And if we are not diligent to keep ourselves in the presence of God through prayer without ceasing, we continue to present ourselves willy-nilly not to God and His righteousness, but to the devil and his uncleanness. The picture drawn in our mind is of the devil, as he is falling with all his angels from heaven to perdition in the depths of Tartarus, trying to ensnare us and drag us down with him by whispering into our ears, as he did Eve’s, seductive thoughts and images of impure pleasures and fantasies in order to draw our love away from God toward the ‘dust of death.’ If we are not mindfully and with diligence living in the presence of God, confessing to Him our sins as they manifest themselves to us in our words, our actions, our thoughts, we become easy prey for the devil; for he goes around like a hungry lion seeking whom he might devour and take with him to perdition as he falls like lightning from heaven.

When we give ourselves to impure thoughts and actions – this is when we find ourselves to be ‘sick’ servants of the ‘centurion.’ We have allowed ourselves to be persuaded to lay down our cross and to fight no more the battle of the soul, which is to keep our baptismal oath to renounce the devil and to unite ourselves to Christ, and to keep ourselves ‘nailed’ to His Cross, so that by the death-destroying power of His death working in us, we can put off the old nature and keep the new nature that we put on when we were clothed in the Robe of Light, the Garment of Christ at our baptism.

But our Gospel this morning reveals what it means to be servants, slaves, of Christ the Cosmic Centurion. It means we are slaves of the God who cares for us; who, when we had fallen into sickness and death, did not cease to do all things for us until He had raised us up to heaven by the sword of His Cross, His mighty weapon of victory, in the mystery of His Holy Incarnation and Holy Pascha. He cares for us, and He is watching over us as the centurion in this morning’s Gospel cared for his servant and watched over him. And as the centurion in this morning’s Gospel prayed to the LORD for his servant, so also the Spirit of the Cosmic Centurion, the Spirit of the LORD Jesus Christ, intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words for we do not know how to pray as we ought according to the will of God. [Rom 8.26-27].

Finally, since God has made each one of us to be the centurion over our whole soul, mind body, then we must assert our God-given authority and rule over our soul, mind and body according to the will of God, whose servants we are. As centurions who are images of the Cosmic Centurion, Jesus Christ, we must not allow our feelings, our thoughts, our desires to rule over us. We must rule over our thoughts, our feelings, our desires, our deeds and require obedience of them to the will of God, and subject all of our faculties in obedience to the Centurion Christ, whose servants we are. We must present ourselves, both inside and outside, and all of our members – our thoughts, our desires, our feelings, our deeds – to Christ to be slaves to His righteousness, and not present ourselves as slaves to uncleanness and impurity. For the end of enslaving ourselves to God, as St Paul says, is the complete healing of our soul and body in holiness and eternal life. It is to be renewed in knowledge after the image of our Creator who created us for immortality, in the image of the LORD’s own eternity (Wisd 2.23), to become a partaker of His own divine nature, to become bone of His bones, flesh of His flesh, to become one Spirit with Him as He became one flesh with us. Glory to Jesus Christ! Amen!