I am often amazed at how fast news travels, good new or bad, news travels very quickly. It is said that there exists the “Orthodox Grape Vine” and if you want news to get out you use that as your means of fast communication. The Orthodox world is so small and someone is sure to know someone in another church or in another state that will keep the story going.
I think the same was true in Jesus day as well. Think about it, Jesus walked the earth in first century Palestine. There was no internet, no Facebook or Twitter, no newspapers not even the post office existed but word of his fame spread far and wide and no matter where he might be walking someone would approach him and ask him a favor. I sometimes wonder if Jesus ever wanted to sneak off, incognito, and go shopping or something.
Recently, I had to run down to the store to pick up a few items. I was not, obviously, dressed as I am standing here before you today; in fact, I believe I was in shorts and T shirt. I ran in the store, picked up what I needed, and was standing in line when I heard someone call my name. I turned and it was someone who frequents our Thursday night Community Meals. So we stood there, I got out of line, and chatted about what was going on in his life, for a few moments and then we both went our way. As clergy, we are never off duty and we see the same thing in Gospel today.
Jesus was in Capernaum walking with His disciples when a centurion approached Him to ask Him a question. Now this is remarkable in and of itself because a centurion, a Roman soldier, would approach Jesus, a Jew, and ask anything. But the most astonishing thing happens when the conversations begins, the centurion calls Jesus Lord and in the humblest of ways.
“Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed.”
The centurion humbled himself in front of Jesus, and those gathered around him, to ask for a favor. He was not asking for the healing of one of his soldiers or even on of his own children, but for his servant who was at his home and sick. The centurion humbled himself twice, once in calling Jesus Lord and the other in asking for the healing of his servant.
What we are seeing here is a break down in the strict ethnic lines that had been drawn to this point. The Jews were subjected to the Romans and they were not always treated very well.
The centurion tells Jesus that he is man under authority, centurions in the Roman Army would have commanded units for more than 100 men, and that his men obey his orders no matter what that order might be. But here he is, asking for help, this could not have been easy for this man to do.
None of us like to admit when we need help. We like to think we can do it all, we are the rock, and nothing will break us. Sometimes we need to be that rock for the family when tragedy strikes or because of our place in the birth order. Because of this, we have a hard time asking God for help when we need it the most. Sure, it is easy to follow the will and promptings of Jesus when things are going well, but what of when things turn bad? It is difficult to ask for help but we have the example of the centurion to guide us.
Scripture tells us that when Jesus heard what the centurion said, he marveled. This only happens twice in Scripture, this is one time and the other is at the lack of faith in His own hometown. Imagine, Jesus, who knows everything, was so surprised at the faith of this unbeliever, that Scripture remarks that he marveled. Jesus says that he has not found so great a faith, even in Israel! This is sort of a slap in the face to those around Him, Jesus has found their faith wanting. They are the chosen people and their faith is lukewarm, I would hope that could not be said about us.
He continues on to say, what some commentators hold is the expansion of the ministry of Jesus outside of the Jews, to say that many will come from east and west and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jesus is breaking down the ethnic barriers that have existed up to this point and shown that racial superiority in the Kingdom will not happen, in the Kingdom, all will be one there will be no Jew or Greek, male or female. Then the warning comes, but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
With these words Jesus says that not only the Jews who deny Christ will be cast out but those of the faith, who do not live their faith, will be cast into outer darkness. You see it is not enough to just say you believe you have to act like you believe to your very core. I have said this in the past but Orthodoxy is not a religion or a denomination but a lifestyle and it is not easy to live the Orthodox life in 21st century America, but it is what we have to do. Orthodoxy should influence everything we do and every action we take. If it does not, then we are not living the faith.
In the end, the centurion’s request was granted. Jesus tells him to go his way, and as you have believed, it has been done for you. This man had so much faith, faith in a man he had never met and faith in a man that he was sent to keep in captivity, that he came to him and asked him to heal his servant and because of the humble way he asked, and the fact that he truly believed, his request was granted.
In a few moments we will be invited to approach in the fear of God with faith and with live. We will come forward and meet Jesus in reality here in the chalice. When we step out of our seat and walk down the aisle, we need to approach with all humility as we are actually approaching the living Christ. As the Vespers prayer reminds us, we do not bow to flesh and blood but before you the awesome God. Let us pray as the centurion did, Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof. But only speak a word and your servant shall be healed.