Epiphany 4, 2017
The Epistle. Romans 13:1-7
The Gospel. St. Matthew 8:1-13
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
As Epiphany began we saw that Christ manifested Himself to the Gentiles, which brought good news for us as well, being Gentiles ourselves.
Secondly we saw in the weeks to follow, Christ manifesting Himself to His own people in the Temple as a young boy.
Then Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan and in that manifestation we encountered the Holy Trinity and saw how Christ was a member with the other two….the Father and the Holy Spirit.
Last week Christ manifested His glory in that He changed water to wine. And His Disciples believed in Him.
Today, in our Gospel lesson, a few things happen.
Jesus descends the mountain from which He delivers the Sermon on the Mount….and great crowds follow Him. A leper approaches Jesus and asks Jesus that if He is willing, He might make him clean.
Jesus stretches out His hand to the leprous man, touches Him, and says, “I will. Be clean.” And immediately the leprosy is gone.
Jesus tells the man that he is to tell no one of what Jesus did, but rather he is to do what a Law abiding Jewish man is supposed to do when the disease is gone. He is to go and show himself to the priest and then offer a gift as Moses commanded.
This is all found in Leviticus in the Old Testament. The third book of Moses, chapter 14 under the heading of Laws for Cleansing Lepers.
The entire chapter 14 is devoted to this issue.
So Jesus then enters Capernaum, after this, and there a Centurion comes to Jesus, appealing to him to heal his paralyzed servant.
Jesus offers to come to the Centurion’s home to heal the servant. The Centurion declines. Rather, he says, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.”
We know at least a form or version of this, inserted into the Prayer Book service from the Missal that alters the second part to say, “but speak the word only and my soul shall be healed.”
There is nothing inherently wrong with petitioning the Lord this way. It is not what the Centurion said….however it is a valid thing to ask the Lord to bring healing relief to a sin-laden soul.
We, on our own merit are not worthy to have the Lord enter our home or our heart, but He does so out of mercy as we call upon Him.
It is just important to know that this is the actual rendering of the altered phrase that we say right before communion.
So as the Centurion says this, Jesus is taken aback. The Centurion recognizes his station and says that he too is a man under authority…as his servant is under him and he knows (or he seems to know from what he says) that there is One who rules over all and under whom all of us live and must give an account.
Jesus marvels at the Centurion’s faith and humility.
Jesus says, “I haven’t found faith like this in all of Israel.”
He goes on to say that, “Many will come from East and West and will recline at table with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven, while the sons of the Kingdom will be thrown into outer darkness…where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
So Jesus sort of takes advantage of this moment to let all who are in earshot of His voice that those who accept the Christ, will in fact sit down in the Kingdom of Heaven with the Ancient Fathers, the Ancient Patriarchs.
Others, whom Jesus refers to, as “the sons of the Kingdom” will be cast out. These are the Jews who are the rightful heirs of the Kingdom of God and yet reject Jesus as the Christ.
Outsiders like Gentiles will be admitted.
Insiders like Jews who reject Him will not be admitted.
Then Jesus says to the Centurion, “Go, let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.
What is the Epiphany here in these two accounts?
What is the
Church handing down to us in the Lectionary in this Gospel?
Is it the healing power of Jesus?
Is it, as one suggests, an Epiphany of Mercy?
Maybe better an Epiphany of the Mercy of God.
The leper was most likely Jewish.
The Centurion was certainly Gentile.
Both receive healing from Jesus….one personally and one indirectly petitioning for another.
Jesus didn't invite the man healed of his leprosy to follow Him, but rather He commands him to go to the Temple and follow the Laws of Moses.
The Centurion was not a follower (though he was probably one secretly in some way) but He knew of the power of Jesus.
Both men do not join the band of those who followed Jesus around, as far as we can tell from the text today, but both were to return to their respective stations and resume what their lives required of them.
The leper was to go to the Temple and follow the cleansing ritual….because he was healed. Probably from there to home.
The Centurion was to return home and to work…for his servant was healed.
Both would most likely bask in the glow of what Jesus did for them and remember and give thanks to God and tell others (even though the leper was told not to)
…and would be forever changed by the mercy that Christ showed them that day.
So in looking at our Collect today we prayed this way, “O GOD, who knowest us to be set in the midst of so many and great dangers, that by reason of the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright; Grant to us such strength and protection, as may support us in all dangers, and carry us through all temptations; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen..”
…by the frailty of our nature (both physically and spiritually) we cannot always stand upright. And to take some words from last week’s Collect as well…. “Mercifully look upon our infirmities….which Jesus did in both instances.
Stretch forth thy right hand to help and defend us…which Jesus did in both cases.
(He stretched out His hand and actually touched the leper. He figuratively stretched forth His “right hand of power” and delivered the Centurion's servant as well.)
We can say this, because the phrase “The Right Hand of God” is metaphorical to mean the power of God,
The strength of God.
The omnipotence of God.
Jesus is said in the Scriptures to be sitting at the Right Hand of Power or at the Right Hand of the Father at this very moment. So He enjoys a position of power. He enjoys the preeminence.
Yet at the same time, Jesus has this same power as the Father.
Jesus not only sits at the Right Hand of God, but He has the ability and the right to exercise the Right Hand of God as He desires.
So our Collect here admits that God, (or in our readings today, Christ) knows that we are set in so many and great dangers…. Knows that we have a frail nature keeping us from always standing upright…
…looks with mercy on those who need Him or call on Him in particular and He helps and defends us with the Right Hand of the Power of God.
So an Epiphany of Mercy in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God is for today.
It is important for us to remember that the Bible is not just reporting and recording events for us to read on the surface only.
It is written, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit in such a way, so as to convey many layers of meaning.
This is not to say we will get bogged down in confusion looking always for the deeper meaning. But we can, with diligence and a sound exegetical approach, find much more than what we find on the surface.
Matthew did not just tell us that Jesus stretched forth His hand and touched the leper for no reason. The intent on letting us know that Jesus touched the man has significance.
To tell us that Jesus stretched out His hand has significance.
Jewish people would be reading Matthew’s Gospel in particular as it is believed to be written to a primarily Jewish audience, and they would read about Jesus stretching out His hand to do the healing and think about passages in their scriptures.
Passages telling of God stretching out His hand and swallowing up the Egyptians at the Red Sea and delivering the Israelites from their pursuers.
Your right hand, O LORD, glorious in power,
your right hand, O LORD, shatters the enemy. (ESV)
You stretched out your right hand;
the earth swallowed them. (ESV)
For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly,
but the haughty he knows from afar.
Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
you preserve my life;
you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies,
and your right hand delivers me. (ESV)
As Jesus sits at the right hand of power this story today reminds us of his ability to still stretch forth His Right hand and heal.
The same Christ, who healed the leper and the Centurion’s servant, is sitting right now at the Right hand of the Father.
He is reigning.
He is governing.
He is not absent. For He is here through the Spirit.
Yet in both cases, the recipient of the miracle or the promise of the miracle leave Jesus’ presence and return to their lives…obviously never forgetting what Jesus did for them.
But in these two stories of the manifestation of the Power of God in showing mercy, we learn so much about how God works and how little we have any control over the circumstances.
In sending the leper to the priests, Jesus might have, as He does elsewhere, desired that the man stay there and testify to the power of God in his own town.
The Centurion will go home to find the servant healed. What must the conversation have been like in the days that followed?
Our prayer directs us to trust in the power of God this day and always…to trust in His strength and protection and His support.
There are many dangers and temptations in each of our lives. He knows that we are set in the midst of them. Yet He chooses to let us go through them rather than take us out of them most of the time. The Right Hand of God can and does deliver us.
Our call is to be where we are in our own lives as witnesses to this great power and to give God the glory in all of His healing and strengthening mercies.
We are to remember the meaning…the significance of these miracles today. Jesus Christ healed to demonstrate His power and ability to heal us from sin. A much greater and detrimental disease than anything else.
So let us dwell in this Epiphany today…of Christ’s healing power…and know that through faith in Him, we will be healed in body and soul completely in the Kingdom of Heaven.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.