Sunday, January 22, 2017
The Third Sunday after the Epiphany (Epiphany 3)
Matthew 8:1-13; Romans 12:16-21; 2 Kings 5:1-15
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
It is a lesson about faith. It is a lesson about authority. It is a lesson about the creative power of the Word of God. It is a lesson about true healing in the forgiveness of sins. It is a lesson about the Gospel extended to the Gentiles. It is a lesson about Jesus made manifest as the Son of God in our own human flesh. It is a lesson about humility and repentance in receiving mercy from God and in showing mercy to our neighbors. Indeed, our Gospel lesson today is about all these lessons and many, many more, all at the same time, for the Word of God is an inexhaustible fountain of life and an inviting mystery that draws the faithful ever deeper into the life of God Himself.
In the Gospel lesson we are presented first with a Jewish leper and then with a Roman centurion, a commander of a hundred men, both of whom appeal to Jesus, the leper for cleansing and the centurion for the healing of his dying servant. Clearly the leper is a man of great faith. He dared to approach His Lord in his uncleanness and appealed to the Lord’s will saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” His words are an outstanding confession of faith in the good will, nature, and essence of His Lord. His confession is like unto Job’s – the Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the Name of the Lord – in that, even if it were not the Lord’s will to cleanse, the good will, nature, and essence of the Lord would not be changed in any way. But, the centurion outdid the leper in his confession. The centurion, initially, did not confess anything about Jesus, but merely laid his concern for his dying servant before the Lord. Without hesitation, Jesus said that He would go to his servant and heal him. But, this is when the centurion makes his great confession saying, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.” What made the centurion’s confession great was not so much what he said about his Lord as it was what he said about himself – I am not worthy.
I am not worthy. I do not deserve your healing and forgiveness. I a poor and miserable sinner confess…. My brothers and sisters, we come before our Lord with no expectation of entitlements and with nothing of our own to offer. Rather, we come before the Lord as idolaters, as prodigals, as murderers, adulterers, and thieves. In humility and repentance we confess our sins and our iniquities against the Lord. We confess that we are worthy only of temporal and eternal punishment. We confess that to remain an unclean leper is too good for us. And, we confess our repentance and contrition and pray for the Lord’s mercy for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Jesus Christ alone. “Lord, I am not worthy,” we confess. “I forgive you all your sins,” our Lord replies. “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.”
In a beautiful display of the unity and concord of the Holy Scriptures, the Church, in Her wisdom, has assigned as the Old Testament lesson for this day the complimentary narrative concerning Naaman of Syria. Whereas, in the Gospel we were presented with a Jewish leper and a Roman centurion, Naaman is at once a Syrian commander and a leper. Now, Naaman was a powerful man of great authority and influence, and, yet, he was also a leper. Apparently, it seems, the disease of leprosy had not the same social stigma amongst the Syrians as it did amongst the Jews. Further, this may be indicative of the corruption of the pagan Syrian culture. Thus, when Naaman was informed that there was a prophet in Israel who could heal him, despite his leprosy, he was bold to go directly to the king of Israel. But, having, himself, no power to heal, the king of Israel was distraught. Thus, Elisha the prophet counseled the king to send Naaman to him. So, Naaman then came to Elisha with his horses and chariots and stood outside his house awaiting an audience with the prophet. But, Elisha sent out a messenger instead. The messenger instructed Naaman to wash in the Jordan seven times and that his flesh would be restored and he would be clean. But, Naaman was angry that neither the king nor the prophet would come to him in person. And, he expected ceremonial invocations and showy hand-wavings to accompany such a miracle. Also, he was repulsed by the lowly waters of Israel in comparison to the rivers of Damascus. And, so we see that Naaman is the exact opposite of the Roman centurion. Naaman came to the king and then to Elisha with expectations of entitlement and with a sense of self-worth that he merited respect and honor. He was offended and scandalized that a mere messenger and not the prophet himself would speak to him. He was offended and scandalized that he was given only the command to wash. And he was offended and scandalized that he was to submit himself to washing in such lowly and common waters as the Jordan in Israel. He would not accept the word delivered through subordinates and he would not surrender his own expectations, desires, and will even for the promise of healing.
How like Naaman are you, thinking that the uncleanness of your sin is no big deal and that you are entitled to be heard and served by your Lord on your own terms, according to your own preferences and expectations? How often are you offended and scandalized by the means and the messengers through which your Lord ministers to you, thinking them old fashioned, irrelevant, outdated, and foolish? How often do you think that what is desirable, beautiful, glorious, and pleasurable in your eyes should determine how we worship before our Lord? How often do you leave in a huff and grumble in anger, inciting others to join in your malcontent? Of this you must repent daily, for you are not worthy that the Lord should enter under your roof.
Nevertheless, thanks be to God, He does speak His Word and you are healed. And, it is a great Word that your God has spoken to you, the Word become flesh, dwelling amongst us, whose Name is Jesus, God’s salvation. Thou you were not worthy that He should come under your roof, He has come into your flesh and has joined you into Him. Though He had no uncleanness of His own, He submitted Himself to be baptized in the Jordan for you, to become the Lord’s anointed scapegoat, taking your leprous sin, and the sin of the whole world, upon Himself, to defeat Satan’s temptations and to destroy death by His own death upon the cross. All this He gives you freely in Holy Baptism without ceremonial hand-wavings and impressive flair, but with humble, common water and His mighty, creative, and life-giving Word delivered by humble and common messengers and servants.
The Lord does indeed have authority, as confessed by the centurion, over heaven and earth, yet it is not evidenced in the worldly ways desired by Naaman, but in and through humble means does the Lord exercise His authority to forgive sins and heal, cure, and raise up men afflicted by sin’s poison and death. Though the wages of sin is, universally, death, and though all afflictions, disease, and sufferings are but the symptoms of sin, Jesus is the victor over death. Thus He is the Great Physician of your body and soul and He is the Medicine of Immortality who brings life to all who receive Him. You are not worthy that He should enter under your roof, nevertheless, He has come amongst you and has drawn you into Himself. Even now He is present with His life-giving Word to cleanse and forgive you, to feed and sustain you, and to send you as His messengers of mercy for the life of the world.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.