43 - THE FAITH OF THE CENTURION, July 18, 2021

Romans 6.18-23

Matthew 8.5-13

The LORD says through His prophet, Isaiah: ‘Seek the LORD, and when you find Him, call upon Him. And when He draws near to you, let the impious man leave his [impious] ways, and the transgressor [the wisdom of his own opinions]. Let him return to the LORD and he shall find mercy, for the LORD shall abundantly forgive your sins.’ [Isa 55.6-7] And, the Psalmist says: ‘The LORD [is] near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth.’ [Psa 145:18]

The centurion in our Gospel this morning calls upon the LORD when the LORD draws near, and even from afar, the centurion’s servant is healed ‘at that very hour!’ The healing of the centurion’s servant is an image of the LORD’s Holy Pascha. The only-begotten WORD of the Father issues forth as a mighty River from the Gate of the Temple of the Last Day (Eze 47.1-12), the prophetic image of His Holy Mother, all the way to the ‘outlet of the sea’, an image of His death on the Cross. From afar, from His Cross, He sends forth His Spirit [Mt 27.50] and we are created; the face of our earth, our whole being, body and soul, is renewed [Ps 103/104.30]. He is placed in a new Tomb; this is His Sabbath Rest that Moses spoke of. In His Tomb, His body is sown like a seed in the tomb of our heart. His life-giving blood is knit with our blood and He becomes one with us so that if we unite ourselves to Him in the likeness of His death, we become one with Him in the likeness of His resurrection (‘in the likeness’ means, biblically, to participate with Him in His death and resurrection). In the tomb of our heart, He heals us as He healed the centurion’s servant. He creates in us a new heart not from the dust of the ground but from His own body and blood. He puts a new and right Spirit within us, His own Heavenly Spirit. The LORD Jesus Christ Himself, the True Light, in His death in the tomb of the human heart, descends deep into our soul and body like the fisherman’s net to draw out from our unseen depths the light that we are and to raise us up into Himself, the True Light, as children of Light, born of His Heavenly Spirit from above.

In the healing of the centurion’s servant, we see the mystery of God that was seen in visions by Moses, the Psalmist and the prophets. In Isaiah, for example: ‘As rain or snow shall come down from heaven [the Snow-Melt river of Ezekiel 47.1-12!] and shall not return until it has saturated the earth [Ps 19!] and the earth shall bring forth and bud and give seed to the sower and bread for food, so shall my WORD be that proceeds out of my mouth. It shall by no means turn back until all the things which I willed shall have been accomplished; and I will make my ways prosperous and my commandments effective!’ (Isa 55.8-11)

The word that Christ, the WORD of God, sends forth from His lips is the Living Waters of His Holy Spirit, issuing from the LORD’s mouth as the rain and snow that come down from heaven to water the earth. He sends it forth and it descends on the centurion’s servant like the Spirit brooding over the face of the waters at creation. The Living Waters, the Heavenly Spirit that His WORD carries, saturates the centurion’s servant like the rain or the melting snow saturating the earth, and the servant is healed in that very hour, rising from his illness like the light that came forth from the darkness at creation, like the newly baptized rising from the baptismal font and into the Light of Christ’s resurrection!

But, the LORD says of Israel through Isaiah: ‘I became manifest to those who did not ask for me. I was found by those who did not seek me. I said, ‘Behold, I am here to a nation who did not call on my name. I have stretched forth my hands to a disobedient and contrary people, who walked in a way that was not good, but after their sins, who say, ‘Depart from me, do not draw near to me, for I am pure.’’ (Isa 65.1-5) And the LORD says of the centurion this morning, ‘Nowhere have I found such faith, not even in Israel!’ (Mt 8.10)

What is this faith of the centurion the LORD did not find in Israel? Would He find such faith in us? This faith of the centurion is what I want to find in this morning’s Gospel.

‘When the LORD draws near,’ Isaiah said, ‘let the impious man leave his [impious] ways. Let him return to the LORD and he shall find mercy, for the LORD shall abundantly pardon.’ And the Psalmist said: ‘The LORD [is] near to all who call upon Him in truth’

One seeks the LORD in truth not by honoring the LORD with one’s mouth while in one’s heart one remains far away from Him (Isa 28.13), but by leaving one’s impious ways behind—let’s say, by walking the talk. For, when I turn away from my sins and begin to practice the Law of God, where will I find myself if not near the LORD, for the Law of God carries Christ. And in the commandments of Christ, I will find that the LORD is near me. I will find myself, let’s say, under the LORD’s Holy Spirit moving over the face of my darkness as He was brooding over the face of the waters at creation. That is, I will find the Spirit moving over the depths of my soul that are darkness to me because they are too deep for me to see into. I will find Him brooding over me like a hen incubating her eggs (as the word means in the Hebrew).

Who is this LORD that I find is near me as soon as I draw near to Him when I turn away from my impious ways and as soon as I leave the wisdom of my own opinions behind me? He is the WORD of God who has come into the world, sent forth by the Father to accomplish the Father’s will. And what is the Father’s will? To bring each one of us under the wings of His Heavenly Spirit who is brooding over us like a hen incubating her eggs in order to hatch from the dark depths of my soul the light that I am. Yes, I am light; for I have been made in the image of God, who is Christ (Col 1.15), the True Light coming into the world, in whose Light is my Life (Jn 1.4), which is His Holy Spirit who desires to saturate me with His Living Waters, to fill me with His Glory as He filled the tabernacle of Moses and the temple of Solomon, as He filled the Living Temple of the Most Blessed Virgin Theotokos in order to raise me up as a child of the light into the uncreated Light of God and to make me to prosper in the uncreated and eternal Life of God that fills my desire [epithumia] to overflowing with every good thing, who renews my youth like the eagle’s [Ps 102/103.5], and who makes the desert of my soul to blossom like the rose [Isa 35.1].

And, this purpose for which the WORD of God was sent forth into the world and did not return until it was accomplished and made effective, was accomplished once and for all in the great mystery of His death on the Cross and His burial when He was sown as the Seed of Life in the tomb of our heart in His Sabbath Rest in the Tomb.

The LORD’s Holy Pascha is the supreme Theophany, revealing God’s extreme humility and compassion. This mystery of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world [Rev 13.8] is the beginning in which all things came to be; this is the end in which all things are made perfect, whole, and alive in God [Rev 21.6]. This means that the mystery of God, His humility and His compassion that was made incarnate on the Cross and in His Sabbath Rest in the Tomb ‘has gone out into the whole earth, the living reality [rhema] [of His humility and compassion] to the ends of the universe!’ [Ps 18/19.1-5]. But that means that the mystery of God in which the world is created and the face of the earth is renewed is not to be found except in the humility of the LORD’s Cross!

It is this, humility, that I believe was the essential element of the centurion’s faith that drew the LORD near to him even though He was afar. This is the essential element the LORD did not find anywhere in Israel. Could he find it in us? Why should we think that we in our heart are any different from Israel?

So, what doubt, what sin has you bound? What sickness of soul is crippling you? Where are you looking to find healing? Only the LORD can heal the sickness of our soul and mind that is unto death. The healing of our soul begins when we seek the LORD while He is near and to call upon Him in truth. And we seek the LORD and call upon Him in truth when we begin to pursue humility and, in humility, leave our impiety and the wisdom of our own opinions behind. It is in that instant, at that very hour, that the WORD of the LORD, His Heavenly Spirit, begins to saturate us as the rain or snow from heaven saturating the earth, and to raise us up as flowers budding in the desert into the Light of Christ in whom we begin to live the uncreated and eternal Life of God. Amen!