A pagan Christian?

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew 8:5-13

We are told that as the Lord Jesus entered Capernaum, he was stopped by a centurion. A centurion was a Roman soldier. He wasn’t Christian, he wasn’t Jewish, he was Roman, and Romans were generally regarded as pagans in their belief. They were well known for being idol worshipers and worshiping many different gods. All of this sets the stage for the amazing encounter that the Lord has with this centurion. The centurion comes to Jesus and tells him that his own servant is lying at his house and very sick. We see the compassion of the Lord Jesus as He quickly replies “I will come and heal him.” Of course we know from experience that the Lord is quick to heal us of most of our illnesses and weaknesses.

But the centurion surprises all of us because he doesn’t agree to have the Lord visit him. He says “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under the roof of my house.” That is an amazing statement because this pagan Roman should know nothing about humility, impurity or modesty and yet when he meets the Lord he feels that he is simply unworthy to receive Him into his home. The centurion continues “but only say a word, and my servant will be healed.” Again we are stunned! The Lord tells us that this mans level of humility and faith is very, very rare. Listen to His words “Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” We know that the Lord Jesus does not lie and here He has told us plainly that the Roman centurion has more faith than anyone in Israel. But the Lord doesn’t stop there.

He gives us a glimpse into the jealous heart of God for His people (For God is a jealous God) when it comes to our hearts. The Lord says “I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven,” This is a prophecy of the spreading of the gospel all over the nations and the rise of the Christian Faith which brings people from all over the world together. And then the Lord Jesus gives us these dreadful words “the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.”

Because the Lord Jesus Christ is full of love we are struck by the severity of His message at times. Jesus can sound quite harsh, even mean, and yet we are reminded that our picture of love is human but His picture of love is perfect. In fact we never forget that “God IS love”. Listen again to the words of Jesus Christ, the lover of mankind…“the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.” This “throwing of the sons of the kingdom into the outer darkness” is a reference to the many Jews who did not receive Jesus Christ and refused His authority and lordship over their lives.

But sadly that does not leave us off the hook simply because we are Christians and not Jews. In fact we can be so bold as to say that we will be held to a far higher standard and our judgment will be far more strict than the judgment the Lord mentions here. Why? Because we are not simply the children of the kingdom but the children of the fullness of the kingdom. The Jews did not have full knowledge of Jesus Christ but we are baptized Christians! And if that is true Christians will be judged more strictly than the Jews and that also means that Orthodox Christians will be judged with more strictness than nearly any other group of Christians. Why? We have received the unbroken teachings of Christ from the Apostles. We have held the faith, doctrine and worship in an undiluted, unchanged way. We have been given the amazing gifts of the anointing of the Holy Spirit, the reception of the body and blood of Christ every week, the gift of absolution and the leadership of bishops and presbyters as taught in the New Testament. We have also been given the examples of countless saints to guide us in the faith and teach us how to live and how to pray.

We have been given all of these gifts by the grace of God. We have been entrusted with so many wonderful treasures and these are proof that God loves us and cares for us deeply. How could we be given so many life changing and wonderful gifts from God and yet remain so cold to Him? We always have to remember the words of Jesus in Luke 12 “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required”. This also means that there are some who may not have access to the treasures of the Orthodox because they lack the education or the exposure, who will be found acceptable before God.

We are told that Our Lord showed tremendous love and mercy on the centurion’s servant as He said “Go; be it done for you as you have believed.” We can always come to Him with the confidence that He loves us and will not hold back any good thing. But there is a catch as usual. He says “Be it done for you…. as you have believed”. It’s our faith, our belief that makes all the difference in the world. Faith or belief for an Orthodox Christian is not a one time mental decision. It has very little to do with intellect. Faith for us is a life changing conviction and love for Christ.

It is God’s good pleasure to give us healing of bodily illnesses and even spiritual infirmities. It is God’s good pleasure to give us joy and peace and holiness and righteousness. All of these things are ours, by His grace, if we really want them. There is no question that God is faithful to us. Every Sunday one of the main themes for us is the question “are we faithful to Him?” I want Our Lord to look at me when I pray and I want to hear these words in my heart “be it done for you as you have believed!”

God loves us and wants to share these words with us “be it done for you as you have believed”….and Glory be to God forever, AMEN.

 

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