Updated: Jan 28
Because of the mayor’s mandate for social distancing, the bus stop bench can only allow two people, one at either end. I will now stand in the middle of the road to preach. Don’t worry. It will be safe, because all the bus drivers have the plague and are on respirators, so no buses are running. The thought did occur to me to video the sermons and broadcast them on Facebook, but I get less people coming to my Facebook page than I get imaginary bus riders.
I have come to realize (with God’s help) that every reading selection, every Bible story read aloud, be it from the histories of the Old Testament, including the books of the Prophets and the songs of David and Solomon, or every New Testament account of the life of Jesus or encouragement from his rebirth in the epistles of the Apostles, they ALL put the reader (or readee) into the story. Once in the story, it is up to ME and it is up to YOU to hear that story’s meaning as if God were talking specifically about everyone at all times, in all places.
If you do not approach Scripture in that way, there is no reason to read it. Scripture is not like incense, where simply sniffing the odour will metaphysically transform one into a pleasant and calming state of being … until one leaves the room and returns to smelling the stench of a sinful world. Scripture is not to be read as a fairy tale. It is not some magical ideal that is wonderful to believe, even if it never is within one’s grasp in the real world. It must be real, up close and personal. You have to live it in order to know what it means.
The only way Scripture becomes real is to stop pretending you are Jesus in the stories (or whoever the good guy is – Patriarch, angel, prophet, et al). You have to see yourself as the bad guy, the one who needs God’s help the most.
Stop seeing yourself as the hero, you old goat!
In this story from Matthew, you become the sick servant. You are the one who has come down with the coronavirus and is running a fever and has been put on a respirator at some hospital where all the doctors and nurses are so over-worked they do not know how to do much more than stack the bodies in refrigerator trailers after the sick die and open up another bed for the next sick servant. You must see yourself in that light for the message contained here to have any affect on your soul. YOU are sick and need healing by Jesus.
Once you see yourself as the sick servant, look at the Roman centurion. He is not a member of your church. He is your employer, the one you have not been able to work for since the president and the governors all decreed “Shelter In Place.” He reflects an acute businessman, one who knows businesses do not make profits without workers in place. The centurion is not a doctor, so he has no clue how to heal his servant. He really does not care about the servant as much as he cares about making money, but making money requires healthy servants.
This means the motivation of the centurion is not to seek those who excel in medicines and doctoring. They have proven to have no solution to the health of the servant. The absence of any vaccine for COVID19 is a perfect comparison to why the centurion shows up where Jesus is, saying “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented.” That says the doctors have already tried their magic and come up empty. It also says that the works of paganism have not worked either, as a Roman centurion would have known which priests, specific to which gods should be called upon, and they also could do nothing. Because he was a centurion in Galilee, in Capernaum, he would have known the Jewish presence in that region under Rome’s control. Most probably his servant was a Jew, so he would have called a local rabbi (and his doctor) to come and care for the servant, again with no positive results. All of this logical deduction, from having placed oneself into the story, says the centurion had reached a point of exasperation and cried out, “Who can help me in my quest to return my servant to working status!?!?”
Like an answer to a prayer, God sent someone to the centurion who told him, “Excuse me sir, but I overheard your cry. I know there is a man down the road named Jesus who has healed many sick people. He is truly a most holy man of God.”
Now, one cannot let the Big Brain interfere with this story. There are other accounts in Acts about centurions becoming Christians and there is a good chance that this centurion is that centurion. However, one must not see that in this centurion, as this is this centurion’s first encounter with Jesus, when he finds him and begins to talk to Jesus. The centurion does not talk like a man that loves Jesus. He addresses Jesus out of a position of equality, where both he and Jesus are parts of larger machines in life. The centurion serves Rome as a man of rank, who commands others below him, who then do as he commands. The centurion sees Jesus as also a soldier of rank in his God’s service. The centurion give orders based on Rome’s needs; so he assumes Jesus gives commands based on God’s needs. The faith Jesus saw in the centurion is that the centurion saw the God of Jesus as just as powerful as the emperor of the Roman Empire; and from what the centurion has been told, when Jesus gives an order stuff happens.
The faith Jesus marveled over was the centurion did not need Jesus to come to his house and lay hands on the servant or give him some elixir or potion. All that had already been tried and nothing like that had worked. The only way the servant would be healed [keep in mind now, YOU are the servant] is by Jesus telling God he needed His permission, so all Jesus had to do next was say, “Be healed servant.” The centurion never had to follow his soldiers around to make sure they were following instructions, because his faith was in the system. The system works. One just needs to know who the VIPs of the different systems are.
Jesus said to the centurion, “I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel! And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” That says several things that are important to grasp.
First, Jesus had not found any of the Jews having such faith in their system of religion. By adding “not even in Israel,” that was the land last ruled over by Solomon. Galilee was a region is the Northern Kingdom, known as Israel, but all that had long before fallen. The people of Israel had been scattered all around to their various new owners, as the servants of a Gentile world. Still, for as much as Moses had faith, Aaron had faith, and a line of judges and prophets had faith, no one really took the system as seriously as this centurion saw the promise of Rome being a system that demanded faith. Certainly, the Jews of Galilee (rabbis, Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, et al) knew the Law, but none had any faith that belief in Yahweh meant things actually happened. To see anyone with the faith in a system that the centurion showed was amazing to Jesus. Systematic faith does exist!
Second, when Jesus said “many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” that is a statement about the philosophies of man, which are often the foundations of religious principles. East was Persian and Babylonian. West was Greek and Egyptian, even Roman. All those philosophies came and studied the Mosaic system of law and found some similarities and things that were worthwhile … philosophically. That meant that the religious beliefs of the Jews were not like some secret society that only Jews knew about. After all, all religions have some concept about a “kingdom of heaven” as the utopia they all seek to gain.
Third, when Jesus said, “the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness, where will be weeping and gnashing of teeth,” that was a statement about the lack of faith in the system that came from the “sons” of “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Jews, Arabs, and Muslims by any other name). Because of the Jews having a lack of commitment to serve YHWH as His priests, totally observant of Mosaic Law, they had no faith based on their words of belief. There was no inner light that shone in them, enlightening them with the encouragement “The System Works! Just have FAITH in GOD.” Instead, they were completely blind to the TRUTH of the Commandments and the darkness of their vision had them teaching all those who followed them to also see nothing of value in the system. A system of faith without faith can only lead one to torment and great pains of grief.
It was into that lack of faith that God sent His Son. The Jews, who were supposed to be the servants of God were instead the servants of the Romans AND they lay paralyzed in the place they called “home,” tormented by the fact they had lost their land and only found overlords – one after another. Even after the prophets foretold of a coming Savior, most Jews were too blind to see Jesus was him. Only those who had faith that the system MUST WORK, because their lives had become so distraught they had nowhere else to turn sought out Jesus of Nazareth. They flocked to Jesus like moths to a flame; and Jesus healed them. He touched their hearts and opened their eyes.
Of course the story told today has a happy ending. We read, “Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.” And his servant was healed that same hour.” The faith of the centurion in the systems of power that be, with all systems of power equal but separate, saved his servant. Faith in the systems of power has healed YOU. Now, you have to figure out what that means, because you have done nothing to save yourself. The moral of this story is Salvation is possible, but YOU are not the one with the power of faith at your command.
That is a problem, meaning that is not a happy ending without Jesus.
Jesus was there for the centurion to find and tell, “Do this, because the systems demands you do what is best for the system.” Jesus healed the servant that was sick two thousand years ago. He got up and returned to work way back then. End of that story. However, Matthew was told by God, “Write that down. That story works year in and year out, century in and century out. That story never stops having a role to teach to the seekers of the world.”
The promise of Jesus never went away when Jesus died, resurrected, and ascended. The promise of Jesus is not waiting on some figurative cloud, where Jesus sits on a junior throne next to daddy’s. The promise of Jesus is not in some distant future, after Jesus says to God, “Now daddy? Now?” and God says, “Yes Son. Go gettem!”
Jesus went up on a Sabbath and came back down on Pentecost Sunday (the next day), only one Jesus became twelve Jesuses reborn. And those twelve spoke the Word so that three thousand more bodies of flesh became reborn Jesuses. This means the centurion of old is now a businessman of today, in a world that has complete faith in the system of business, but not so much in religion. That businessman has servants like YOU who are sick and paralyzed at home because of fear of death from some unseen virus. The problem today is simple: Who is the businessman gonna call upon?
Who is going to hear him cry out, “Who can help me return my servant to working status!?!?” and go tug on his sleeve, saying “That man down the road is a Saint. He is Jesus reborn. He can heal the sick, raise the dead, and talk to God like he knows Him personally.” Nobody knows any Saints anymore.
Name one if YOU know one.
Sure, a smart businessman will know to demand the system of medicine order their servants to invent new vaccines and cures. But, just like back then, they will fail miserably at making anything good happen soon … if at all. Sure, a smart businessman will know to make calls to the greatest religious leaders that the world has to offer, but because none of them are the resurrections of Jesus Christ … all living in the darkness of faithlessness … no promises of cures will ever stumble from their mouths. At best, one might open a book and read a common prayer for pandemic survivors? And post it on Facebook?
YOU have no chance of returning to life as a functioning servant to anyone (much less yourself) as long as there are no Saints left in the world. The story ends with a most unhappy conclusion. YOU die … and the rest of the world with you. Mortals to the end … then repeat via reincarnation.
It is only after you see yourself dying and feel all the torment and gnashing of teeth at the failure of every system you ever trusted … business, medicine, religion, philosophy … all collapsing because of a teenie tiny invisible virus that somehow sweeps the globe like a conquering hoard, that you can then feel a cold shiver run down your spine. Life as you knew it has stopped. It is at that point of fear and frustration that YOU act like the centurion and scream out, “Somebody show me where is the faith!”
If you mean it. If you pray to God and promise YOU will give Him your soul. If God will save you from death, then YOU promise to save others from death. If you mean that and feel the faith fo God surround you, then YOU can become Jesus resurrected. But, like the centurion, who did not do anything for his direct benefit as he went to Jesus on behalf of his sick servant, if you act to help others, then others will be saved. The whole world’s future now is on your shoulders, but with God’s help, as Jesus Christ reborn, you can handle it.
You just have to have faith in that system.