Friday, July 25, 2008

A more excellent faith

And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him,
And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.
And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him.
The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed.
For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.
When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.
And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.
But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour. (Matthew 8:5-13)
It strikes me that if Jesus marvels at someone’s great faith, it would behoove me to study very carefully to see just why that faith was greater than what He had previously seen in Israel among 'the chosen people'.

What was different about this healing?

In so many other healings, Jesus was sent for to come and touch the sick person. The sick peoples’ faith to be healed was such that they required his presence and touch, which they must have believed was the effective thing.

But in the centurion’s case, Jesus didn’t actually go to the sick person and touch them. Instead, because of the centurion’s faith in Jesus’s power to heal, Jesus could just speak the word from wherever He was, and regardless of the distance, the healing would occur. Long-distance faith.

The centurion told why he had this faith. He had long had the assurance that because of his authority, if he issued commands to his servants, whatever he commanded would be done. He didn’t have to be there to make sure it happened.

The centurion must have extrapolated from his own experience. He must have said to himself, If this Jesus really has the authority and power he says he has, then he should be able to command people to be healed and not have to be there for it to be done. If he is what he says he is, he should have even more assurance of being obeyed than I do. He would be obeyed at any distance!

Now THAT is great faith.

There is something else about the above story that seemed odd to me when I read it today. Why, after marveling at the centurion’s faith, did Jesus say the following before doing the healing? :
And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.
But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
What does the long-distance faith have to do with people from the east and west being able to sit down in the kingdom of God? And what does it have to do with the children of the kingdom being cast out? For what fault are they being cast out?

The answer, I realized, lay in the fact that there is more than one kind of healing. There is physical healing of the body, and there is the healing of the soul that comes from having our sins forgiven. I suspect that this healing—forgiveness—was what Jesus was most anxious to give.

The Israelites were not only unable to be physically healed without Jesus being there and touching them, they had troubles believing that he had the power to forgive them of their sins. He was there with them doing miraculous things and teaching doctrines more holy than anything they had heard before and yet too many had troubles believing He could take away their sins. How would they ever manage to believe it when He was gone?

If the Israelites, the children of the kingdom, couldn’t have the faith that Christ could forgive them while He was there with them, or if the best they could do was believe their sins were forgiven only if He was there telling them so, once Christ was ascended to heaven, none would be saved from their sins.

The lesson from this is that the centurion’s long-distance faith is exactly what we need to have today. It takes long-distance faith to believe that a Being whom we have never seen in the flesh in this life has suffered for our sins. It takes long-distance faith to believe that this Being has the power to forgive us when we repent of our sins and pray for forgiveness.

This is why the resurrected Christ said to Thomas, “because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)