43 - The Centurion and His Servant, July 5, 2009

Romans 6:18-23

Matthew 8:5-13

Obviously, the word of Jesus that heals the centurion’s servant in this morning’s Gospel is more than just speech conveying what’s on Jesus’ mind. It is the word of Jesus who Himself is the Word the Father spoke in the beginning to bring all things from non-existence into being. Jesus’ words, then, convey His creative and healing power as the very Word of God. They are “words of eternal life,”[1] as St Peter called them. We call Jesus the Sun of Righteousness. And so, we can say that His words emanate from Him like sunbeams from the sun. Just as the rays of the sun are the sun and bring warmth and life wherever they fall, so also the words of Jesus are Jesus Himself and they bring the warmth and life of God’s divine life wherever they fall. Jesus Himself is the Resurrection and the Life. The divine life His words bring is Jesus Himself.

The words we receive in Christ’s Holy Church are these very same living words of Jesus that are more than just speech. The words of the Church are Jesus Himself coming to raise us up into His eternal life. We receive the words of Jesus in the words of the Church’s prayers, in her Scriptures, her dogmatic teachings, her commandments, and finally in her mysteries, her sacraments culminating in Holy Eucharist. In the Church, the words of Christ fall all around us like rays from the Sun of Righteousness. We stand in these words as in divine sunlight as though we were in a warm, sunlit meadow; or let’s say, in the Garden of Eden. We are receiving these living words of Christ the Word of God incarnate like the servant of the centurion in this morning’s Gospel; which makes the centurion like the saints through whose intercessions the Word of God comes to us for the purpose of healing us in soul and body.

So why do we come away from the Church, having been washed by the Word of God in our baptism and having received the Word of God as our food and drink, and find that we are still inclined toward lust, greed, anger, vanity and pride as much as ever, as though we had not been healed? Is the preaching of the healing power of Christ’s Word just so much religious folderol? We need to understand how the healing of Christ’s words works in us, so we will do as Christ tells us to do: take up our bed and walk.

There is a certain quality that distinguishes the life of Jesus’ Word from the life of the sun. The life of the sun is biological, instinctive, unconscious. A seed falls in the ground and it sprouts and grows “automatically” as the sun warms it and the rains moisten it. The life of God, on the other hand, is not biological but Spiritual; and as Spiritual, it is conscious, intelligent and intentional; Above all, it is divine love. Divine love is freely given and freely received; it cannot be forced on anyone for then it would cease to be love. Therefore, while Christ’s Word given to us in the mysteries of the Church heals us of spiritual deadness to make us alive in the Spirit, it cannot take root and “sprout” in us until it is freely received and kept – that is to say, until we freely take up our cross and begin to do the Word of God that has been sown in our souls and bodies through the hearing of faith and in the mysteries of the Church. But, in whatever soul the Word of God is received and kept, there it can take root and spring up unto eternal life to become in that person like a Tree of Life. Then, it “naturally” brings forth “fruits worthy of repentance” in the love, joy and peace that are “natural” to the Holy Spirit.

St Paul says to us this morning: “Present your members,” i.e. the faculties of your mind and your soul, your intellect and your desire, “as slaves to righteousness that leads to holiness and whose fruit is eternal life just as before you were presenting your members as slaves to uncleanness and to lawlessness, which leads to lawlessness and whose fruit is death.”

I believe that here St Paul is referring to the two trees in the Garden. Before our baptism, we lived willy-nilly in the serpent’s tree, reaching out the hand of our desire, presenting ourselves to partake of its fruit of good and evil that was all around us and living its life of good and evil. In the boughs of the serpent’s tree, the words that shaped our understanding of life and death and meaning were the words of the prince of the power of the air who is now at work in the children of disobedience, whom the Lord says is a liar and a murderer from the beginning.

But from the altar of the Church, the Word of the Lord has gone out to the ends of the world and it has pierced the shadowy darkness of the serpent’s tree and it fell on us as it fell on the centurion’s servant. It came to our ears on the winds of the Holy Spirit in the words of the apostles’ preaching; it drew us into the net of God the Word and brought us to the shore of the Red Sea. And, in our baptism and chrismation, it shook us down from the serpent’s tree and placed us back in the Garden of Eden. The fig leaves of shame that we had been wearing were taken away and we were clothed in the Robe of Light, in the living garments of God the Word incarnate; and clothed in the love, joy and peace of Christ we were raised up from the font and made to stand before the altar of Christ’s Holy Church as before the Tree of Life. Again, the Word of God came to us, calling out: “In the fear of God, with faith and love draw near!” and though we were keenly aware of our unworthiness, we were graciously allowed to present our members to Christ the Word of God incarnate and to partake of the fruit of the Tree of Life, His Cross, to become partakers of the divine nature, communicants of Life Eternal. We ate and drank the Living Word of God unto eternal life, like the prophet Ezekiel eating the scroll so that, like Ezekiel, the words of God became our new life.

Now that we have been brought down from the serpent’s tree and have been granted to eat and drink Christ the Word of God Himself in Holy Eucharist, we can hear the word of His voice and it will heal us in soul and body if we will listen to it, if we will present ourselves to it, if we will reach out the hand of our desire to take and eat the Fruit of the Tree of Life and no more the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. So long as we present ourselves to the Word of God freely, in the fear of God, with faith and love, so long as we continue to reach out and take it into our mind and heart, that Word of God will enter into us and work in us to the healing of our soul and body.

So, how do we reach out the hand of our desire to take and keep this Word of God that we have received in the Church? Let me offer some ideas to illustrate this spiritual principle. In the Church, we hear, “Let us attend!” Or, “Let us be attentive!” In other words, “let us be vigilant in our mind!” “Let us be mindful!” The Church is directing us to keep our mind in the remembrance of Christ God. We cannot do this if we are not cultivating inner quiet – if the TV or radio are always on, for example, or if every empty moment is filled playing video games – and if we are not reading the Scriptures regularly, if we are not working to train ourselves in ceaseless prayer, calling our mind again and again back into the remembrance and the presence of God. In this mindfulness, when we find ourselves, for example, wanting to present ourselves to images that excite our carnal desire, or when we find ourselves wanting to feel sorry for ourselves because of shame or self-pity, we need to attend – we need to remember that this is the voice of the serpent speaking to us from the branches of its tree, offering its fruit of good and evil to us hoping to entice us back into its branches. In these moments, we need to attend to the Word of God. We need to turn our inner ear to attend closely to the voice of God who speaks to us in many ways: in the beauty of creation, in our conscience and in the deep stillness of our heart, in the lives of His saints, in the worship of His Holy Church, in His Holy Scriptures, and in the love of others. In those moments of temptation, we can pick up the bible, for example, and read from the Psalms, praying them in our heart while we place ourselves consciously in the presence of God, and do like the centurion: present ourselves to God in prayer for others who may be struggling like us. We can stand up and look around us for things we can do to help those in need, which may be our own parents, our spouse, our children, a co-worker, a friend, even a stranger. In ways like these, we are doing the healing words of Christ’s commandments that we have received in His Holy Church. We are turning our inner ear away from the serpent’s tree and towards the Tree of Life to present ourselves to the healing words of divine life that those words would give to us if we would but receive them and keep them. Surely, we can see how keeping the words of Christ in ways like these makes us come out of ourselves so that we rise from our bed of illness like the centurion’s servant. As we continue to abide in these healing words of Christ that we have received, as we constantly and without ceasing present ourselves to them so that we are constantly and without ceasing doing them, I believe we will find that they truly are healing of both soul and body. In doing these words of Christ, we live His divine life and they make us to become like the centurion, like the saints, who in the boughs of the Tree of Life, in the communion of Christ’s Holy Church, are interceding on behalf of all and for all in the love, the joy and the peace of God. Amen. 

[1] Jn 6:68