- Fr. Athanasius Oweis
It is Not I - July 10th 2022
Link to Gospel and Apostolic Reading: https://www.antiochian.org/epistleliturgicday/3149
At that time, as Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, beseeching him and saying, "Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress." And he said to him, "I will come and heal him." But the centurion answered him, "Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, 'Go, ' and he goes, and to another, 'Come, ' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this, ' and he does it." When Jesus heard him, he marveled, and said to those who followed him, "Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth." And to the centurion Jesus said, "Go; be it done for you as you have believed." And the servant was healed at that very moment.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,
both now and ever and unto ages of ages, Amen.
Christ is in our Midst!
A Little Background
This story is one of my favorite stories in the life of Christ before His passion and Resurrection, because it clearly shows how we, the Orthodox Church, read the Bible.
This is the same story that exists in the Gospel of Luke Chapter 7:1-10. And I encourage your love to read it at home. Because the version of Luke shows some important details to this story. The Gospel of Luke shows that the Centurion, who is a roman native from the roman army, actually never saw Jesus, and all of the conversation between him and Christ that Matthew narrates, did not happen face to face between them. But through mediators.
The centurion, who saw himself unworthy to talk to Christ, for two reasons: First, he realized who Christ was, and second, he was a roman invader of the Jewish lands, so he could not put his eyes as an outsider in the eyes of a Holy Jewish Man. So the Centurion sends to Christ elders of the Jews, His own people.
Now let’s pause for a minute and understand why he did that. The reason is embedded very deeply in the culture of the Mediterranean people. Till this day, if a man was to marry a woman, he does not ask her hand in marriage directly from her, nor directly from her parents. The groom would actually arrange for a day, where he sends his parents along with elders and leaders/heads of society (called: leaders وجهاء) from his side to the bride’s family, and even her parents are not by themselves, but it is also the elders of the bride’s side that receive the elders of the groom’s side. These elders/leaders would be the people who are seniors in age, highest rank in society and stature. Through these elders, the groom asks for the bride’s hand.
Hence, the centurion sends the elders of the Jews, that is the highest-ranking people, to Christ, who Luke tells us “they begged Him earnestly” to heal the centurion’s servant, “saying that the one for whom He should do this was deserving.for he loves our nation, and has built us a synagogue”, so Jesus hearkens unto their pleas and goes with them. And as Jesus is walking with the elders towards the centurion’s house, the centurion, in his great humility, thinks to himself, “Why would I do this?”, Christ does not need to come at all, and then he send another group of friends, telling Jesus: “I did not even think myself worthy to come to You. But say the word, and my servant will be healed”.
So this whole conversation that happened between the Centurion and Christ, was not face to face, and it was through other people, yet, Matthew narrates it as a direct conversation between him and Christ. Isn’t that interesting?
Notice also: The centurion said that he is unworthy, but the elders said that he is deserving. They defended him in front of Christ. This is exactly how we pray as Orthodox Christians. We tell Christ we are unworthy, and we bring all the saints before Him to defend us.
The Big Question
What was Christ’s reaction to the centurion. Did he say: “No, this is not acceptable, you have to come to me directly, I would not listen to other people on your behalf, it should be just me and you and no mediators?”
Or did we actually see Jesus in a very rare reaction marveled at him, and turned around and said to the crowd that followed Him, “I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!”
Christ celebrates the faith of the humble.
Christ celebrate you saying: “I am not worthy”, or any attitude of yours where you give no weight to yourself whatsoever. Why? Because He did it before you. This is the medicine that is sent by Christ to heal us from the ancestral sin (pride) where He promised that His grace will flow abundantly. This medicine is abundant in the Bible. This formula of medicine is set by Christ in Matthew 23:12, and Luke 14: 11 “And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.“ The medicine is the death of I ‘ego’, and the resurrection of Christ within you.
Let’s see how this medicinal formula is taught to us by the life of Christ Himself and then the life of the Saints:
Christ Himself, God the Son, the Second Economy of the Trinity, through Whom everything was created out of nothing, Who is in one essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit, never exalts Himself, but rather this is how we hear Him speak:
· John 5:30 “I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.”
· John 8:28 “I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things.”
· John 12:49 “For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak.”
· John 14:10 “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works.”
St. Paul summarizes Christ’s humility very clearly in Philippians 2:5-10 “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He emptied Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name,”
He who humbles himself will be exalted.“
The saints, being immersed in the mind of Christ, follow the same formula:
We hear it most beautifully in the canticle of the Mother of God (Magnificat) in Luke 1:48. She sings: “For He has regarded the lowly state (lowliness) of His handmaiden; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.” Mary is saying: “I am not worthy”
St. John the Baptist, who the womb of no woman bore a son like him, would say in Mark 1:7 ““There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose.”
Saint Elizabet the mother of St. John the Baptist, who is a 60+ year old Presbytera (wife of a Priest), whose husband was just visited by the Chief Archangel of the Lord, and granted them an amazing miracle that only happened with few women before her, would tell the 14-year old Mary in Luke 1:43 “But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” She is saying: “I am not worthy for you to come”.
St. Paul in 1st Corinthians 15:9,10 “For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”
I am not worthy
This is the Spiritual logic of Christ, which is different than that of the world. The world will give you platforms to brag about your life: Facebook and Linked in, where you can keep talking about your career, your vacations, your activities, your friends and how great you are. On the other hand, Christ does not care about how you look outwardly, he does not care how you even look to your own self, because He knows that our view of ourselves is distorted. Christ cares if you look towards Him, and towards Him before you there is a cloud of saints who are way above you. it would be impossible to look at the sun and miss the clouds, if you do, you are not looking at the sun.
Our Christian faith sounds like a paradox, but it is not: You are worthy if you consider yourself unworthy. You are unworthy if you consider yourself worthy. Because if you exalt yourself, you make yourself bigger in your heart, where would Christ abide then? You are going in the direction of the Serpent. And God will resist you as he promised in (James 4:6) “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”
However, the smaller that you are in your eyes, the bigger space Christ has in your heart to work, and the more abundant His grace will flow. Do you want your own power? Or God’s grace to work?
The Mind of Christ
This is the mind of Christ, if He himself said I do nothing of myself, why would we come to him directly in ourselves and consider ourselves worthy to come to Him. Who are we to approach the King of Kings directly? If we do that, we will be cast out as trespassers. However, if we come with great humility, saying: “A contrite and humble heart God will not despise”, if we bring before us His beloved, His Saints, and mostly His most Holy mother. If we do this and tell him “I am unworthy”, He would marvel at our faith, and hearken and will answer.
1 John 1:8 “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” If we say that we are worthy, we are saying that we have no sin, we are liars. Only the ones who truly feel unworthy will feel the need for others to intercede for them. Hence, God does not need the intercession of the saints to answer our prayers, it is us who need their intercessions, if we feel that we don’t need them, then we still need much more humility. Let’s tell the Father what the prodigal son told His Father: “I am not worthy to be called your son”
We even pray in the Church before we start the Divine Liturgy, the words of David in Psalm 50: “Oh Lord open thou my lips and my mouth shall show forth Thy praise”. That is, even the words that we pray to you Oh Lord, are not ours, You give us prayer, you open our mouth, the praise that is meet to be offered to You we cannot even write it, but You yourself provide it. everything is from you. “Thine own of thine own, we offer unto all, and on behalf of all.” And only then, we hear God in Isaiah 57: 15 saying: For thus says the High and Lofty One, Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, With him who has a contrite and humble spirit, To revive the spirit of the humble, And to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”
Do you want to be healed?
Do you want to be healed, to have the mind of Christ, let the light of Christ, shine on your darkness, and discover that you don’t have the vestment of the wedding, and Christ’s grace will cover you.
May the Mother of God and all the Saints keep defending us the unworthy with their intercessions all the days of our life. Amen.