The gospel lesson from Matthew 8:5-13 begins when a Roman centurion beseeches Jesus to heal his beloved servant who is in a hopeless situation. Roman centurions were the military backbone of the Roman military and spoke with the emperor’s authority. While the centurion is a man of authority, he is powerless and finds himself at his wits end because he is out of viable options to restore his servant to health. The gospel passage shows us that this powerful military commander humbles himself before Jesus. The centurion knows Jesus’ authority and power is far greater than his own and is so confident in Jesus ability to heal; that he asks our Lord not to trouble Himself by going to the centurion’s home. Jesus commends the centurion for his faith and instantly heals the paralyzed servant.
Today’s Gospel lesson is an encounter of devout man who trusts God. The centurion’s faith and trust in Jesus to heal his servant is to be commended as our Lord states in the passage, “not even in Israel have I found such faith.”
Today I’ll use the word F-A-I-T-H an acronym describing the attributes of a faithful person.
The “F” in Faith stands for Fearlessness
The Christian faith is constantly being challenged from all segments of society. The media, court systems, educational systems are attacking our fundamental beliefs in an unprecedented manner. Consider this: college professors are five times more likely to be atheists than the general public and more than half of college professors have unfavorable feelings against Christians. Couple this with the deliberate indoctrination our youth are receiving under the guise of political correctness and sensitivity.
Christianity is also under physical attack by radical Islam (places such as Nigeria, Iran, Pakistan, Egypt, & Syria) and acknowledging one’s faith can be a high-risk activity. Take India for example, where a church was burnt down or a cleric beaten on average 10 times a week during 2016, a threefold increase on the previous year. Yet, despite outside pressures, faithful Christians are courageous in the face of these physical attacks and influences. Christians understand that they are accountable only to God and not to our world. Persecutions are not new to our faith, and God is with us during our struggles. Listen to God’s advice found in the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy 31:6-8: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you”… The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
The early Church was subject to persecutions and St. Paul encouraged Timothy with these words in 2 Timothy 1:7: “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. “
Many of our great saints were martyrs, that made the ultimate sacrifice to defend, promote, and bear witness to the faith. Faithful Christians are deliberate, courageous, and fearless.
One of the most gifted speakers in church history was John Chrysostom—the name comes from a Greek word meaning “golden tongued.” Our beloved saint was sent from Antioch to Constantinople where he preached fearlessly about the lavish extravagance of the rich and ruling class. His condemnation of excess infuriated many, including Empress Eudoxia who arranged for him to be exiled.
When he was told of his fate, Chrysostom responded: “What can I fear? Will it be death? But you know that Christ is my life, and that I shall gain by death. Will it be exile? But the earth and all its fullness is the Lord’s. Will it be the loss of wealth? But we brought nothing into the world, and can carry nothing out. Thus, all the terrors of the world are contemptible in my eyes, and I smile at all its good things. Poverty I do not fear. Riches I do not sigh for. Death I do not shrink from.”
Today, far too many of us are more worried about what people think than about what God thinks. Faithful Christians like St. John Chrysostom take Proverbs 29:25 to heart: “The fear of man brings a snare: but whoever puts their trust in the LORD shall be safe.” Faithful Christian are fearless.
The “A” in Faith stands for Action:
A.W. Tozer tells us that “God is looking for people through whom He can do the impossible. What a pity that we plan only the things we can do by ourselves.”
In the greater scheme of things, our Lord has a collective plan for His people, His Church, and for the entire world. Our collective mission is to help God bring “all things” to Himself so that God’s entire creation can be sanctified and transformed. Our Lord wants us to actively participate in His mission to save and transform this fallen world. We are His co-workers and through our combined efforts we can do the impossible when our “human will” is united with the divine. Unfortunately, very few people understand God’s greater plan to be active participants in His ministries and are bystanders in this cosmic event. Make no mistake, our faith is an “active one” whereby we listen to God’s voice, receive direction, and set out in faith.
In Matthew 7:24 we are instructed: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”
Note that it isn’t enough to hear God’s word, but we must engage in activity. There are no spectators in God’s plan, only participants.
What does it mean to be active? Let’s recall the biblical account of the tax collector Zaccheus. When he came into contact with Christ, Zaccheus totally changed his life through actions. Listen to the account in Luke 19:8-9: “Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham.”
Zaccheus’ new found faith was validated by his actions towards others. My friends there is no true faith without good works. I know that other Christian denominations profess that they are “saved” by confessing their faith, but don’t be mistaken, this is not only contrary to Church teaching, but contradicts the Bible as well.
“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:14-17)
Quite simply, our actions validate our faith and it’s important that we align them with God’s purpose for our lives rather than following the dictates of our own will and passions. Finally, there is comfort in living a life fulfilling God’s purposes and moving actively though steps of faith because faithful Christians actively implement God’s plans for their lives.
The “I” in Faith stands for Inquisitiveness/Inquiry
While we are all challenged to implement God’s plan for the world, the main question we are all asking is, what is God’s plan for my life? What does God want me to do? What is God’s action plan for me? Well, God reveals His plans for us when we are inquisitive and ask Him. Faithful Christians constantly ask God for direction, revelation, advice, and how to move forward.
Consider the early Church. After our Lord’s death and Resurrection, the Apostles needed direction on how to proceed. There were originally twelve disciples, and now there were just eleven Apostles; who else would they choose? So, they inquired God, as we read in Acts 1:24-26: “And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two You have chosen to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they drew lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.”
By the way, this example along with similar examples in the Book of Acts sets a precedent and is validation that the Holy Spirit is not only active within our Church, but is constantly guiding the Church when we ask for direction.
“But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. “He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. “All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore, I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.” (John 16:13-15)
Faithful Christians reach upward to God and ask Him to direct your lives. Building on this thought, our faith comes down to whether we want to ask God’s direction or not. Do we believe in God and His promises in the Bible or do we reject it? There is no in between for we either want a faith that “swims in the depths of divine revelation” or a poor faith that “paddles at the edge of the water”. One faith is dynamic and vibrant, the other faith is poor at best. On one hand, an inquisitive faith brings fulfilment and blessing while an indifferent faith or “dead” faith leads to frustration, lack of true purpose, and self-centeredness because we chose to put our own will ahead of God’s will for our lives. It all boils down to how we want to live. Faithful Christians constantly inquire God for direction.
The “T” in Faith stands for Trust:
The African impala can jump to a height of over 10 feet and leap a distance up to 33 feet. Yet these magnificent creatures can be kept in an enclosure in any zoo with a 3-foot wall because the impala will not jump if they cannot see where their feet will fall.
Such is the question of faith. Are we willing to go places with our faith that we cannot see or imagine? You see, faith is the ability to trust what we cannot see and it allows us to free ourselves from fear and attain our potential. Faithful Christians trust God and rely on His promises toward salvation; and our faith in God allows us to “tap” into God’s power and implement His direction for our lives. Trusting God enables the faithful Christian to go beyond themselves and their personal abilities to accomplish great things. Faithful Christians “trust” God because not only do they believe in Him and His promises, but they have life experiences whereby God positively impacted their lives. Keep in mind that trusting God does not necessarily mean that we believe God will deliver us from every unpleasant situation or circumstance.
Oswald Chambers wrote, “Faith for my deliverance is not faith in God. Faith means, whether I am visibly delivered or not, I will stick to my belief that God is love. There are some things only learned in a fiery furnace.”
Trusting God and our faith and is not one whereby we are spared unpleasant circumstances or difficulties. Rather, we are instead promised that we will never be abandoned by God.
Here are two great verses from Psalms and Proverbs that affirm this:
“Those who know your name trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you.” (Psalm 9:10)
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Trusting God is not easy for anyone; especially when we’re dire straits and going through a personal “hell”. Trust in God comes when we get to know Him through prayer, scripture study, meditation, and experience. Trusting God is having a relationship with Him and the more we devote our lives to God, worship Him, and serve Him, His Church, His people, the more we know and trust Him.
St. Nektarius of Aegina in The Path to Happiness speaks to us of God’s faithfulness and that we should trust Him to help us mature spiritually. “Temptations come so that hidden passions may be revealed and so that it will be possible to fight them, and so that the soul may be rid of them. They are also a sign of God’s mercy. So, give yourself with trust into God’s hands and ask his help, so that he will strengthen you in your struggle. God knows how much each one can bear and allows temptations according to the measure of our strength. Remember that after temptation comes spiritual joy, and that the Lord protects them that endure temptations and suffering for the sake of His love.” Faithful Christians trust God completely.
The “H” in Faith stands for Humility
Humility is a misunderstood word in our age and the world often defines humility as a lowering of oneself in relation to others and having a modest opinion or estimate of one’s own worth. This definition is incorrect. It is not groveling in front of others, being a doormat, nor is it a sign of weakness.
Humble people “count others more significant than” themselves because they not only look after their own interests, but also to the interests of others. In addition, humble people know their place in this world where their vocation is to serve God, His people and His Church. Without humility, no one can come to God. Elder Joseph the Hesychast is clear when he tells us that, “all Saints through humility were elevated, honored, glorified, made wondrous and sanctified by God. If you take away humility no one would be a Saint.” St. Augustine adds that, “If you plan to build a tall house of virtues, you must first lay deep foundations of humility.”
Humility allows us to approach God with trust and openness that we are willing to not only listen to Him, but obey. Faithful Christians grow their faith through humility because God gives us His graces when we are humble. This is supported by 2 Chronicles 7:14 “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
God rewards and honors the humble. Let us not forget today’s Gospel lesson of the Centurion. Our Lord marveled at his faith and granted his servant healing mostly because of his humility and faithfulness. Through humility we ascend to heaven. St. John Climacus reminds us that “an angel fell from heaven without any other passion except pride, and so we may ask whether it is possible to ascend to Heaven by humility alone, without any other of the virtues.”
The question is how can become humble?
Samuel Brengle who was an early Salvation Army official was once introduced as the, “Great Dr. Brengle.” He later wrote in his diary, “If I appear great in their eyes, the Lord is most graciously helping me to see how absolutely nothing I am without Him, and helping me to keep little in my own eyes. He does use me. But I am so concerned that He uses me and that it is not of me the work is done. The axe cannot boast of the trees it has cut down. It could do nothing but for the woodsman. He made it, he sharpened it, and he used it. The moment he throws it aside, it becomes only old iron. O, that I may never lose sight of this.”
Likewise, may we never lose sight of the fact that we are God’s servants and tools in this world to help Him transform our world. He is the ultimate craftsman, we are simply his tools. Faithful Christians are humble and we become humble when we realize God’s greatness.
Today’s gospel lesson where Jesus healed the centurion’s servant is a lesson for everyone in faithfulness. The centurion found himself in a situation beyond his control and yielded to Jesus’ power and authority. The centurion acted out of a faith that took chances by reaching out to Jesus in courage and fearlessness of what others would say, he actively sought the Lord rather than just sitting home idle, and he trusted that Jesus could heal his servant from a distance. The most noteworthy factor of the centurion’s faith is his humility that was based on his knowledge of who Jesus is.
As we move forward in our own spiritual development, let us not ever lose sight that the centurion’s faith, our faith, the faith of the Church and its saints is a byproduct of many disciplines. Faith requires us to be FEARLESS in the face of adversity, ACTION oriented so that we practice what we believe, INQUISITIVE whereby we are constantly asking God for direction, TRUSTING and knowing that God has the best plan for our lives, and finally HUMBLE so that we can open ourselves to God’s many blessings. Amen.