Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate.
Be not wise in your own conceits. (Romans xii. 16)
Thus far in the season of Epiphany, we have been invited to see and perceive the manifestation and revelation of Divine wisdom, love, and power in the life of Jesus Christ. We have followed the Star that realigns and adjusts human vision to the origin of all truth and meaning in human life. We have seen His star in the east, and art come to worship Him…(St. Matthew ii. 2) We have learned that out of the centrifugal point of eternity’s re-appropriation of time in the life of the young Jesus, Divine Wisdom informs and arrests the attention of the One who will save all men. Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business…(St. Luke ii. 49) We have gleaned also that this life is the redemption that makes new and potent spiritual wine that longs to be poured into the hearts and souls of them that seek God. But thou hast kept the best wine until now. (St. John ii. 10) Love, wisdom, and power reveal themselves to us in Epiphany as marks of the Saviour’s intention to do even greater things than these. (St. John xiv. 12) And the greater things than these will involve not only what God does in Jesus Christ then and there, but what Jesus will do in us here and now. Epiphany’s patterns extend into the present to ensure our pilgrimage to the Kingdom of God.
The image of the transformation that Epiphany brings to us is pictured this morning in Jesus’ encounter with a Roman Centurion. A centurion was a professional officer in the Roman Legion who commanded roughly one hundred men. He, like the soldiers under his rule, would have been a celibate –Roman soldiers were not permitted to marry until active duty was completed. So, perhaps for the Roman Centurion in this morning’s Gospel, his military battalion was his family for a season, comprised of soldiers who were the subjects of his constant care. And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto Him a centurion, beseeching Him, And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented. (St. Matthew viii. 5) Capernaum is the home of Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Matthew the tax collector. In addition, it was the home of a Roman garrison, and thus of our Centurion. Oddly enough the pagan Centurion supplicates Jesus and addresses Him as Lord. Jesus responds and says, I will come and heal him. (St. Matthew viii. 7) But the Centurion protests, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. (St. Matthew viii. 8) No doubt, he had heard of Jesus’ power from others, has witnessed His miracles, and is taking his proper position under a commander of another kind.
In any case, the presence of Divine wisdom, love, and power in Jesus Christ had arrested the Centurion. He sensed that he was in the presence of a holy being. So holy was this being that the Centurion thought himself unworthy to merit Jesus’ visitation to his earthly abode. So holy was this being that the Centurion felt that Christ might be soiled and sullied through contact with him or his family. Yet in his confession, through the keen perception of his own nature in the presence of the all-holy, the Centurion’s humility is what proves to be instrumental in the healing of his servant and himself. Only a humility, like that found in the Centurion, can elicit from Christ the transformation of God’s Grace. Conscious of his own moral and spiritual corruption, disabused of his own self-importance, conscious of the faulty towers made by men, the Centurion’s soul becomes the space that lives on faith, anticipates with hope, and rests in the love that he does not yet possess. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. (St. Matthew viii. 9) This man has experience with authority and obedience. In the earthly domain of Caesar, he has the power to command and exact obedience. He speaks the word and it is done. Notice, also, tht he says, I am a man under authority. I too must obey, I too must enact the wishes of my superiors, and I too must follow. I am subject and accountable to one much greater than myself, and yet this ruler of mine is nothing in comparison with thee, O Lord! Thus, he knows that he must secure help from one far greater than any earthly ruler. His perception of the all-holiness emanating and manifesting itself from the being of Jesus commands him to seek out and follow Him in faith and hope. He knows that the power of God in Jesus is alone sufficient to heal his servant. With his own feeble desire, he reaches out to secure the merciful power of Christ. With a sincere and simple longing for the healing of his servant, he seeks out Jesus. He seeks out Jesus in faith. He is moved by what he longs to secure on behalf of his servant whom he loves as neighbor to himself.
The faith that Jesus finds in this Centurion’s soul is what He came down from heaven to redeem and perfect. St. Augustine reminds us, this faith is of such a nature that it says, if then I a man under authority have the power of commanding, what power must Thou have, whom all powers serve? The Centurion knows all about earthly power. He knows that it is limited, fickle, unreliable, and usually self-serving. The power he perceives in Jesus seems naturally inclined to spread healing, goodness, and truth. It seems also to come from a source that is impeded by no boundaries and knows no bounds. The Centurion surmises too that it must come from God since it acts in a way that is free of all prejudice and seeks not His own. Speak (or send) the Word only, and my servant shall be healed. (St. Matthew viii. 8) The Centurion believes that the Word of God in Jesus is capable of remaining in place and yet travelling great distances to heal all manner of sicknesses. God spake the word and they were made; he commanded, and it stood fast. (Psalm xxxiii. 9) The Centurion Roman believes that the redeeming Word of God in Jesus is the Power that made the world.
When Jesus heard this Centurion’s confession of faith, He marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. (St. Matthew viii. 10, 11) What He finds is a faith that does not need for Jesus to be present physically to heal his servant. The Centurion earnestly seeks out only the assurance that Jesus will send God’s healing Word. What Jesus finds is the prayer that every man must make if he believes truly that Christ will bear our sorrows and our cares and supply all our manifold needs and help us to put our whole trust and confidence in Him. (Prayer for Sick: BCP Canada 1962)
This is the message of our Epiphany-tide. But it comes also with a real warning. Jesus says that the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (St. Matthew viii. 12) What He means is that Christians -like the religious Jews whom Jesus rebukes, who think that tradition and ritual alone will save them are mistaken. Many religious people think that mere church attendance and ritual observance will carry them to God’s Kingdom. Other religious people think being Anglican or being a member of some other denomination will save them. Jesus says, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. (St. Matthew vii. 7) Salvation is not awarded to those who show up and go through the motions. Nor is salvation just for other people. Salvation comes to those who believe truly that they are in dire need of God’s power and cure. Jesus Christ does not wish to be adored as a concept, idea, or notion. Jesus Christ does not come only to remembered later as one of the world’s great, dead heroes. Jesus Christ intends to be embraced and held in the human heart, in which He can work all manner of healing and salvation.
Our Centurion had a vision of God in Jesus, and with humility, he longed for Christ’s love to heal his servant. From the ground of his own humble self-emptying, he reached out with every fiber of his being to procure the healing power of God in Jesus Christ. We must ask ourselves: Do we need this healing power in our lives? Are we sinners in need of salvation? We hear so much sighing, moaning, and groaning in our world. What, exactly, is the problem? We fear earthly illness? What about our souls? How are they? Sick, by all accounts. Our souls should be aching because of the sin needs to be worked out so that the righteous healing power of Jesus Christ can be worked in. This is what the vision of God’s shining forth, his showing forth, is meant to accomplish in Epiphany-tide. Be not wise in your own conceits, but… condescend to men of low estate. (Romans xii. 16) St. Paul means that we should, with the Centurion, bow down, realistically acknowledge our lowliness, and identify with the mean condition of our fallen humanity. He means that, with the Centurion, we should seek out the benefits of Christ’s healing not only for ourselves but for others also.
Today we must ask ourselves, Do we see ourselves truly in the Epiphany illumination that reveals our own deepest need for Christ the Light? Are we pouring out our complaint to Christ? The prayer of faith is the prevailing supplication that must consume our lives. Speak and send thy Word and my servant shall be healed. Speak and send thy Word and I shall be healed. If we are true Christians, we must pray for ongoing healing. The good prayer that we make for others will heal them in God’s time. The good prayer will heal us too because our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus and His righteousness. Then with the Centurion, we shall feel the operative energy of our loving Saviour, who says, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant, [and his own soul], were healed in the selfsame hour. (St. Matthew viii. 13)
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: