4th Sunday After Pentecost
In the Gospel reading for today we heard the words of the righteous centurion who humbly declared, ‘Lord, I am not worthy that You should under my roof. But only speak a word and my servant will be healed.’ The centurion’s servant was lying at home paralyzed and dreadfully tormented. He sought the help of Jesus to heal his servant. When Christ indicated that He would come to the centurion’s home and heal his servant, the centurion, in his humility and in his complete faith in the authority of Christ, made his declaration, ‘Lord, I am not worthy that You should under my roof. But only speak a word and my servant will be healed.’
The Gospels tell us that when Jesus heard this response, He marveled, and said to those who followed, ‘Assuredly I say unto you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!’
We hear an echo of the centurion’s words spoken by St John Chrysostom in our prayers before communion: ‘O Lord my God, I know that I am not worthy or sufficient that Thou shouldest come under the roof of the house of my soul, for all is desolate and fallen, and Thou has not with me a place fit to lay Thy head. But as from the highest heaven Thou didst humble Thyself for our sake, so now conform Thyself to my humility.’
This combination of the humble recognition of our unworthiness along with an unconquerable confidence of faith in Christ, this is the combination that reveals the truth of things and most pleases our Lord and God.
Both of these ingredients – humility and hope - are necessary if we are to have a balanced and healthy spiritual life.
Humility and awareness of our unworthiness of God’s love are important and appropriate responses in looking honestly at our relationship with God. God blesses us in so many ways and we are so often ungrateful and even unaware of His grace and constant care for us. And as we look at how consistently we fall short of what God calls us to be, this is cause for us to weep indeed.
I’m sure all of us struggle to one degree or another in the spiritual life. It is hard work to be mindful of our tongue and of our thoughts and actions. It can be difficult to try to keep the fast. Our thoughts wander during prayer and we don’t take the time to nourish our souls with spiritual reading of the Gospels and other inspiring texts. We may pray daily ‘Thy will be done’, but so often the reality is ‘my will be done’.
And so we have to strive… We have to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Christ. This must be our effort and our offering to Christ, born out of a humble awareness of our unworthiness and with gratitude for all of God’s goodness and blessings.
Yes, it is true that we are unworthy. Yes, it is true that we constantly fall short of what God calls us to do and to be. Yes, these realities are frustrating and the cause for sorrow and self-reproach and humility.
And yet, my brothers and sisters in Christ… though we work out our salvation in fear and trembling, we must never so preoccupy ourselves with ourselves that we lose sight of the One Who redeems us! Our sinfulness is only part of the story… if we remain there, we are lost.
The other part of the story is the good news of the Gospel… that God became man and has sanctified and redeemed our humanity by His divinity.
Here is where the complete trust and confidence of the centurion comes into play. He knew with complete faith that Christ was capable of healing his servant and he surrendered himself and entrusted his servant’s health into the capable hands of Christ.
This is the key point - Our salvation shall not be based on the degree of our success… it will be based on the degree of our surrender to God.
Many of us were present yesterday at the baptismal service. There we heard the Godparents making a declaration to ‘unite ourselves to Christ’. This is the whole point of our Christian struggles… Not that by our striving we will earn our place in the kingdom of heaven. But that by our striving we will unite ourselves to Christ, Who has already obtained the victory. The victory we seek is not our own… it is to unite ourselves to the One Who has already been victorious.
And so, dear brothers and sisters in Christ… let us strive for this balanced view of facing our unworthiness on the one hand, and the graciousness and effectiveness of God on the other. Our sins are indeed a cause for sorrow, but we must never give over to despair. We must never accept the lie that would tell us that the darkness of the shadow of our sins is more powerful than the radiance of the Light of Christ.
Where there is Light, the darkness is overthrown and cannot abide. We need to cling to and unite ourselves to the Light of Christ and have that confidence of faith as did the centurion. And in this faith we may then rejoice and reflect that radiance of the joy of Christ our Lord!