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The Third Sunday after Epiphany

David Phillips

Holy Communion

West LaHave, Broad Cove and Crousetown, January 21, AD 2007

Romans 12:16f      Matthew 8:1f

 

Many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down

with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.

In Epiphany season God’s glory is being manifested forth in Jesus Christ.

 

We have come to know Jesus as an infant visited by kings; as the Wisdom of God, teaching daily in the Temple, making plain what is the will of God; and, as the Bridegroom, come to usher in a new age – making possible the mystical marriage, the union of our souls with God.  We are being transformed through our baptism and faith into the best wine.  God is adorning our natural gifts with supernatural purposes and supernatural power.

 

Today Jesus reveals to us further the nature of God.  We come to see more clearly the mercy of God and the fruit of that union of our souls with God in Christ-- the healing of our souls and the healing of the nations.

 

In the Gospel there are two healing miracles:

And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped (Jesus), saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.  And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean And further, in the same Gospel…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

 

There is a Jew and there is a Gentile who come to Jesus for healing – Jesus responds to both, showing the universal character of God’s love, of His mercy.  That mercy removes the ancient distinctions, even the ancient animosity, between Jew and Gentile.  Just as the Gospel was to be preached first to Jew and then Gentile, so do the order of these healing miracles figure that divine plan.  And the mercy of God is shown as a desire to heal.

 

But even before the two healings happen, the divine grace manifests itself in the souls of the two men who seek out Jesus for help:  both have been given faith in the mercy of God – they seek out Jesus believing He can help; and both come in humility – the leper came and worshipped Jesus, an act of humility, and the centurion, said, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof.

 

The kind of healings too, are ordered to signify importance and priority.  The first healing miracle, the healing of the man of leprosy, is a figure of the forgiveness and the cleansing of sin, the second about paralysis.  Jesus showed us in a healing miracle elsewhere in the Gospels what is of first importance in the case of the paralyzed man brought on a stretcher by his friends.  Remember, it was only after declaring that a paralyzed man’s sins were forgiven that he then healed the man, and that, to show that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins.

 

The healings perhaps also show stages in the perfecting of our love – the first man comes for healing of himself, while the second comes seeking the healing of another.

 

Here by the gift of faith and by the gift of an answer to prayer a Jew and a Gentile are shown mercy, here friend and enemy of Israel are shown mercy, here unclean because of sin and unclean because of birth are shown mercy.  Here is the reconciliation of heaven and earth through the forgiveness of sins and between nations on earth through the removal of preference under the Old Covenant of Jew over Gentile. 

 

Here, in fact, a Gentile is exalted above all Jews, not on the basis of race, but on his openness to the gift of faith shown in his great humility and his trusting Christ can heal by only speaking the word.  Jesus says, 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 East and West, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.

 

This universal character of the mercy of God is set forth before us by Christ in the Gospel.

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St. Paul calls on us, in the Epistle, to exemplify that mercy in our dealings with all people

Recompense to no man evil for evil.  Provide things honest in the sight of all men.  If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men

We are to be reconciled with all people, even our enemies.

 

What makes a person our enemy? 

 

Can you think of anyone right now who is your enemy?  It is perhaps easy to think of the terrorists who would seek to harm us or undermine our way of life.  Maybe it is because of their sin, their envy or pride leading to wrath.  They don't even know us, yet they hate us.  But we know that more often we are involved in some way in the enemies that we have – people whom we have hurt and who will not forgive us, but continue to try to get back at us.  What about closer to home: someone in our work; someone in our neighbourhood; someone in our family? someone who has hurt us and we cannot forgive or someone we have hurt who cannot forgive us or maybe a mixture of both and it has set up a life draining animosity between us and them? 

 

How will we ever be reconciled?

St. Paul reminds us earlier in Romans, when we were enemies – that is, enemies of God, – we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son [Rom 5:10].

 

Reconciliation, healing, begins in our Gospels with the forgiveness and cleansing of our sin, then continues with the freeing up of the soul and body.

 

Likewise, if we are to be reconciled with all men, it begins with humbling ourselves before those who are at enmity with us and forgiving them their sins against us.  That will change our hearts towards them.  But it may not change their hearts towards us.

 

But Christ would have us go further than just our no longer holding enmity towards our neighbour.  St. Paul knows this when he says, If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.  It is an echo of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.

 

If we, by the grace of God, take the next step, humbling ourselves before our enemies and allowing the grace of divine charity to manifest itself in acts of love – seeing our enemies' needs and seeking to satisfy them – it will bring about a change in their hearts, perhaps ever so slowly at first.  The fire of divine love will melt the enmity at work in them, and their paralysis caused by hatred, their evil, will be overcome with good just as God's goodness has overcome our evil.  It is our interceding for them with Christ.  It is frightening to step out like that, but Jesus will give us courage.

 

The epiphany of God in Christ to the world, becomes an epiphany of God in our souls, and, if we are faithful, it becomes an epiphany of love towards our neighbours.

 

St. John speaks about the healing of the nations in his vision of heaven near the very end of the Book of Revelation:

And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb… and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life… and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

Let us now gaze upon the tree of life from which our Saviour hung, as His passion and death are brought before our minds.  Let us now partake of that stream of mercy flowing, clear as crystal, from the throne of God as we partake of His Body and Blood given for us.  And let us be reconciled with God and participate in the healing of the nations - beginning with our enemies in our midst - a family member, a co-worker, a neighbour...

Amen.

 

 

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