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 believe and come to know the revelation of God’s power, wisdom, and love in the life of Jesus Christ. We have followed the Star that drew the Wise Men to the origin and meaning of all truth in the Infant Babe of Bethlehem. We have seen his star in the east, and art come to worship him…(St. Matthew ii. 2) We have discovered, also, God’s life in the young Jesus, listening and responding to the Doctors of Theology in the temple. Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? (St. Luke ii. 49) We have gleaned that God’s Word was made flesh to redeem us all in the potent new wine of His blood. 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 Jesus’ intention to do even greater things than these. (St. John xiv. 12) 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 is not only about vision but is also, and more importantly, about the redemptive power of God’s Grace in your life and in mine.
Today, having traveled from the manger to the temple, we move from the Wedding in Cana of Galilee to another Epiphany 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 him, would have been a celibate – Roman soldiers were not permitted to marry until active duty was completed. For the Roman Centurion in this morning’s Gospel, his family was the Roman Legion –soldiers and servants committed to his paternal 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 was the home of Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Matthew, the tax collector. It also housed a Roman garrison. Oddly enough, the pagan Centurion approached Jesus and addressed 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) The Centurion trusts that Jesus’ word will be enough to save his suffering servant.
Prior to his appeal, the Centurion would, no doubt, have known of Jesus’ reputation. He must have had a deep sense of the holiness attached to Jesus’ person. Thus, he ranked himself unworthy for the Lord to come down to his house and heal his servant. The Centurion believed that because Jesus was all-holy, he himself was unworthy of Jesus’ visitation. Thus, in humility, he begs Jesus to speak or send His Word only, that his servant might be healed. Only humility can win from Christ the transformative power of God’s Grace. Today, more than experiencing only the manifestation and revelation of God’s power, wisdom, and love in Jesus, the Centurion reveals to us something of the spiritual character that will secure Jesus’ healing power. Clear-headed about his own moral and spiritual weakness, emptied of any pretense to self-importance, and uncertain of his spiritual fate, the Centurion reveals to us what it looks like to become the space that will be filled with the Epiphany of Christ in His word. 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 Centurion knows the power of his own words. In the earthly domain of Caesar, his words bear authority, and they are obeyed. He speaks and it is done. Yet, notice how he says: I am a man under authority. He too must hear the commands of words of one higher than he and submit himself to their power. But like his own sick servant, he too is a servant, whose words are powerless to command a cure.
But he has heard of a Man whose words have power to transform and to heal. He has faith in the Man, Jesus Christ, and believes that His all-holiness manifests, reveals, and shows forth the power, the wisdom, and the love of God. He believes that Christ possesses such Divine power that His words alone are sufficient to help. So, with faith, he reaches out humbly to Jesus for the healing of his servant. The overwhelming otherness that the Centurion finds in Christ will bring a cure. He believes and seeks; he seeks and finds; he finds and knows. In powerlessness, he moves from self-knowledge to faith, through faith to knowledge, and with knowledge to healing love. His self-confessed weakness reaches out to touch the Word of redemption that Christ brings. The Epiphany manifestation that we find today, then, is twofold. First, we learn of the powerless state of sinful man. Second, if we claim it ourselves, in all humility, we discover God’s response to it in Jesus Christ.
But as Archbishop Trench reminds us, Jesus perceives another facet in the Centurion’s soul. Speak (or send) the Word only, and my servant shall be healed. (St. Matthew viii. 8) Indeed, every little trait of his character…points him out as one in whom the seed of God’s word would find the ready and prepared soil of a good and honest heart. (Trench: Miracles, Chapter XI) According to St. Luke’s version of today’s miracle, the Centurion was a righteous Gentile, who loved the nation of Israel, and had built the Jews a place of worship for the worship of the true God. In addition, he had earnest care and anxiety, not to mention love, for his servant. (Idem) Epiphany Tide reveals to us that character of soul that is needed for Christ’s healing visitation. The Centurion’s soul is ripe for the planting of Jesus Christ’s Word in the soul. And this is all the Centurion asks: speak and send the Word only and my servant shall be healed. (Idem) The Centurion reveals his humble assurance and confidence in Jesus the Word. Jesus reveals and shows forth His amazement. 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. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (St. Matthew viii. 10, 11) What is revealed to Jesus is Gentile faith in the power of Jesus’ Word. What Jesus finds is the character, state, and condition of soul in which the healing Word of God, Jesus Christ, can be planted to bear fruit!
This is the message of our Epiphany-tide. But it comes also with a real warning. Jesus says that the Centurion’s gentile faith in God’s Grace will lead to His Kingdom. He tells us too 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 there were too many Jews then and too many Christians now who never experience their own Epiphany – one that manifests to them their need and another that reveals the cure. Their faith is not rewarded because they have not had an epiphany of their own sinful powerlessness. And their faith finds no healing because they have not had an epiphany that reveals their own state of being under authority. Christ tells us that those who consider themselves to be the children of the kingdom, are not. They think that they are good enough, and thus Epiphany’s light has not shed its light on their sorry state. Furthermore, these religious people do not love others enough to seek out a cure because in others they see only men sorrier than themselves. They who have nothing of the Centurion’s humility, faith, and love.
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) Epiphany teaches us that salvation is for the humble. Salvation is for the needy. Salvation is for those who know that they are weak and who know that God in Jesus Christ alone can save all men. Our Centurion saw God’s Epiphany in Jesus Christ, and with humility, believed that Christ need speak the word only and his servant would be healed. (Idem) From the ground of humble self-emptying, he reached out with every fiber of his being to procure healing from Christ the Word. Touched by that Word in the poverty of his soul, his faith found healing, not only in the life of his servant but within himself. His servant was healed. But he too was healed because his faith was enlarged as he made room for Jesus in his soul. He was healed because his hope was strengthened, and his love was not disappointed. In the Centurion we find a miracle even more significant than that of his servant.
Be not wise in your own conceits, but… condescend to men of low estate. (Romans xii. 16), St. Paul says this morning. He means that we should, with the Centurion, bow down, and realistically discover in the suffering of others, those less fortunate than ourselves, servants -men of low estate and our absolute need for Christ’s Word to heal them and us! He means that from this low and humble seat we ought to seek out God’s mercy with all faith, hope, and love. Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof but speak the Word only and my servant shall be healed. (Idem)
Today we must ask ourselves, Do we find and discover ourselves truly in the Epiphany illumination that reveals our own deepest need for Christ the Word? Are we pouring out our complaint to Christ? What we need is the humble faith of today’s Centurion. What we need is that humility that rests not in paranormal miracles but, rather, on faith in Christ the Word. Then humble faith with love for all others will seek a cure for the sin sick soul in Christ. Then, with the Centurion, we shall experience the Epiphany of God’s Word in Christ, 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: