St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

The Centurion - On the Fourth Sunday of Matthew

Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, July 21, 2013

Matthew 8:5-13 (4th Sunday of Matthew)

Today we read a most beautiful, inspiring and enlightening story in the life of Jesus.  It is a story of a meeting between kindred spirits, an awakened soul and the One who awakens all. They meet and recognize each other. They share in a communion of Divine Love that only those who are enlightened know and what comes of it is healing and transformation – not only for the young man who is the Centurion’s beloved servant, but for the Centurion himself and for all the witnesses there who have ears to hear and eyes to see.

And who of us doesn’t?  Even those who are blind and deaf have spiritual eyes and ears. Only those who are sleeping, who either refuse to see or are kept from seeing by fear and desire, have “no eyes and ears” with which to see and hear.

The Centurion is awake. Jesus is drawn to him. He is drawn to Jesus. Why?   Because both are filled with Compassion.

The Sufi poet Hafiz puts his finger on it.

"The wise man learns.
What draws God near.
It is the beauty of compassion in your heart.”

The Centurion loved this particular servant so deeply that he risked public humiliation by begging publicly  for his life.  He, a Roman soldier, in the streets of Judea, before a bunch of Jews who are more likely to hate him than anything, comes and begs to an itinerant rabbi.  Only those who are empty of self attain such heights of humility.

Jesus is like this. That is why they connect so deeply.  They are alike. The image of God shines brightly in the Centurion on this day.  Jesus, being the perfect image of the Father, sees the soldier as if he were looking into a mirror.  The Lord looks at this soldier and sees himself.  The deep calls out to the deep.

What would be most wonderful is to be able to read meet this Centurion and ask him what he believed was important in life.  Looks to me like he would have much to teach us.  Was he a believer in God, an atheist, or somewhere in between?  Did he call God Jupiter, or Mithra, or Adonai?  Did he call God anything at all?  How many people had he wounded, sent to prison, or killed?  Centurions, after all, were soldiers. Did he have a loving family? Or was he orphaned and alone as a child?  Was he raised in a comfortable home or in poverty?

We don’t know anything at all about him except that he was a Centurion and a man capable of deep and utterly selfless acts of love and compassion. We really don’t need to know anything else, but it would be interesting.

I believe that on that day, in this most amazing and intimate encounter, the Centurion and Jesus bonded in a way all of us in our heart of hearts hopes to do someday – with God, with one another.

The real message in this Gospel for me today is that if we want to draw near to God and want him to draw near to us, there is one sure way to make that happen.  Become full of compassion.  That is, become like God. One’s background, career, religion, and race, not one of the accidentals of life we think are so important really matter. 

There is only one thing that matters and Frank Schaeffer puts it well, "...the whole point of life is to create beauty, give love and to be at peace."