Author: Fr George Dimopoulos
Source: Orthodox Sermons for all the Sundays of the Year – Volume I
Publisher: Christian Orthodox Editions
“‘Go’, Jesus told the captain. ‘Let it be as you believed’. (Matthew 8:13)
This person who comes to Christ in today’s Gospel Lesson, dear brethren, is far from being simple, uneducated, jobless individual. On the contrary, he is a great man, wielding considerable authority. He is an officer, a representative, of the glorious and world-ruling Empire of Rome.
History tells us that Rome was most proud and haughty, particularly towards those conquered peoples who endeavoured to regain their lost freedom. We would expect this officer of Capernaum, then, to be exceptionally harsh and cruel. But he was not. He was a kind man, with human feelings – humble and pious in spite of the fact that he grew up in pagan Rome. He realised that the religious convictions of others differed from his own, and he accepted this, unlike the fanatical Pharisees who felt that they possessed the whole truth, to the exclusion of everyone else.
The centurion had a serious problem that troubled him greatly every day. Which one of us, dear brethren, does not have problems. Just when our lives seem peaceful and calm and unbelievably happy, all of a sudden some pain, some source of sorrow appears, and our happiness fades. Perhaps it is a bodily ailment, a physical pain. You go to the doctor immediately, and he admits you to the hospital. The doctors diagnose a serious sickness. The illness is incurable, and the only solution is death.
Life is full of problems. You care for your children, you sacrifice for your posterity. You hope to educate them, to see them one day married to the right people. You try to install in them the advantages of a good home life, and a feeling for family. You have dreams for their future. And in the midst of, and in spite of, all of your concern for your child’s welfare, suddenly he leaves home without a trace, just like the Prodigal Son in the Gospel. Such are the problems of life!
The problem of the centurion, however, was slightly different. His servant was ill, and the physician St Luke informs us that he was close to death. “There was a Roman captain who had a slave that was very dear to him, and he was sick and at the point of death” (Luke 7:2). Although historians of this age inform us that the children of slaves were considered to be of so little value that their flesh was given as food for the fish in the Imperial lakes; although we read how an uncle whose nephew complained to him that he never got to see any bloodshed immediately ordered the slaughter of seven slaves; in spite of all this, we find a centurion who loved his slave. He was not a cruel man. Even though he was not a Jew he had within himself what St Paul describes in the first two chapters of the book of Romans, what Justin Martyr referred to as the Spermatic Law, in his heart. “Indeed, when heathen people who have no law instinctively do what the law demands, although they have no law they are a law to themselves, for they show that the deeds the law demands are written on their hearts, because their consciences will testify for them, and their inner thoughts will either accuse or defend them, on the day when God through Jesus Christ, in accordance with the good news I preach, will judge the secrets people have kept,” (Romans 2:14-16).
This centurion, this Roman captain, heeded the voice of the great and true God, the Creator and Sustainer of the world. It did not matter to him that his slave was a slave; he was a human being, an icon and image of God. “From one forefather He made every nation of mankind, for living all over the face of the earth, fixing their appointed times and the limits of their lands, so that they might search for God, possibly might grope for Him, and find Him though He is really not far from any of us. For it is through union with Him that we live and move and exist…” (Acts 17:26-28).
Thus preached the Apostle Paul to the philosophers of went to the physicians, spending there quite a sum of money, yet not receiving healing for his ailing slave. There was no hope – no hope but Jesus! Dear brethren, how often is Jesus our last hope, when He should be our first, our greatest, our strongest hope! The centurion had doubtlessly heard about, and perhaps even witnessed, some of the miracles and supernatural acts of the Saviour. In touching faith, the centurion begs Jesus just to give an order from a distance, with confidence that this will bring about the healing of his slave. With surprised astonishment Jesus admires the faith of the centurion, saying, “Not even in Israel have I found such faith”. God is always pleased by the faith and works of His children when they are in accordance with His moral law. The servant boy’s health was restored to him. “‘Go’, Jesus told the captain. ‘Let it be as you believed’”.
Historians tell us that when Alexander the Great had conquered a city, he would light a huge bonfire. All who surrendered to him before that fire went out had nothing to fear. They would not be killed or enslaved; they would be freed. Some 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ kindled a fire on this earth. Its flames of Gospel teaching are spread over the whole world. All who will come to the Lord Jesus before the lamp or their lives is extinguished have nothing to fear; they will be blessed and happy. They will hear the words of the Lord Jesus: “As you have believed, so let it be done to you”.