February 3, 2019
Matthew 8:1, 5-15
When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him;
When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.” And he said to him, “I will come and cure him.” The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also 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 the slave does it.” When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.” And the servant was healed in that hour.
Some people brought to Jesus a paralyzed man on a mat. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “Be encouraged, my child! Your sins are forgiven.”
But some of the teachers of religious law said to themselves, “That’s blasphemy! Does he think he’s God?”
Jesus knew what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you have such evil thoughts in your hearts? Is it easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up and walk’? But so you know that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins” - Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!” And the man got up and went home!
Fear swept through the crowd as they saw this happen. And they praised God for giving such authority to human beings.
* * * * *
In some Christian traditions, there’s a question people often ask each other:
“How’s your walk of faith?” they ask.
It’s an accountability question, meant to offer encouragement, not judgment.
“How’s your faith walk going these days?”
Encouraging each other in our faith is not a bad idea; but it makes me wonder, how many of us talk about our faith with each other? Frankly, it’s not something I think we do all that much. We seem to act as if ‘faith’ were a private, personal matter - even though we’re a community of faith. I find that so curious. As if faith is something we shouldn’t talk about with each other, even here in church. We’re followers of Jesus, but we won’t ask for directions if we get lost. That would mean admitting we’re not sure where we are in our own ‘walk of faith.’ It’s just not something we talk about. Isn’t that strange?
I found myself wondering about all that as I read our passages for this morning’s worship. In these healing stories, Jesus calls out the faith of the people he encounters, people who are bringing others to him for healing. Their “walk of faith” seems to impress Jesus. It’s certainly something he’s willing to talk about, and pretty directly at that.
“Faith” was something Jesus engendered in the people around him. From the very beginning, there was something so compelling about him; he attracted people to him. From the moment of his baptism by John, the Spirit was with him, and people came to him in droves. Matthew’s Gospel tells us that as Jesus traveled around Galilee, he was teaching in the synagogues and teaching the good news of the kingdom. The way he was curing people, his fame started spreading - as far as Syria, Matthew says - and pretty soon people started bringing him all these people they loved who were sick. These poor souls had everything imaginable - and Jesus healed them all. Pretty soon crowds were coming from miles around.
But not everybody treated him like a rock star; Matthew also makes that perfectly clear. Some resented him and wanted to put him in his place. It didn’t take long for things to get ugly. What was so ironic is that is that more often that not, it was the religious insiders who resisted him, and the outsiders who were attracted.
Like the Centurion – we don’t know a whole lot about him, but we can say for a fact that he wasn’t a Jew. It was pretty remarkable that he came to Jesus at all, being a Gentile, and someone whose job it was to keep order. He came to Jesus asking for healing for his servant, who was paralyzed. He’s a complete outsider, but he sees Jesus’ authority more clearly than most. So much so that he not only comes to Jesus seeking healing for his slave, he tells Jesus not to bother coming over in person because it isn’t necessary. Instead, he says, “Only say the word, and my servant will be healed.” Who has that kind of faith?
Not the religious leaders, apparently.
Jesus holds up this Centurion, this non-Jew, this Gentile - as an example of faith. In fact, Jesus ‘was amazed’ by the man’s faith. Which stands in stark contrast to the religious ‘faithful’ who have no faith at all. It’s a stinging indictment.
“No one in Israel has that kind of faith,” he says about the Centurion. No one!?! In all of Israel? Really? That’s harsh. It’s so harsh…
Then he goes even farther – these ‘heirs of the kingdom’ – the descendants of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob – the ‘family of God’ – well, you won’t find them in the kingdom. No, you’ll find people like this Centurion.
To the Centurion, a word of encouragement, praise, about his ‘walk of faith.’
To the religious leaders, the harsh indictment that they are hopelessly lost.
The same thing happens when another paralyzed man is brought to Jesus for healing. Some people carry their paralyzed friend to him, Jesus sees their faith, and he heals the man. But the religious ‘teachers of the law’ are appalled. It’s not because Jesus is healing people, but because he dares to claim the power to forgive sins. Who does Jesus think he is? God?!
Jesus will have none of this nonsense, and confronts them. “What is wrong with you people?” he says to them. “Why do you even go there? So it’s OK to say, ‘get up and walk’ but not ‘your sins are forgiven’ – when the end result is the same?”
It’s as if the religious leaders are the ones who are paralyzed - frozen by their own set of rules, immobilized by their righteous indignation.
It’s as if the ones who should be bringing people for healing – helping others who are paralyzed - are the very ones who are getting in the way of healing.
It’s as if the ones who think they are closest to God are hopelessly lost – and they don’t even know it.
What do we do with all this? When it raises all sorts of questions – at least in my mind.
Like, what does it mean to have a “walk of faith”? And how do we know if we’re going the right direction, following Jesus…. Or if we’re using a roadmap that’s hopelessly out of date? Or if we’re stuck, frozen in place, spinning our wheels, going nowhere?
In these stories at least, a true “walk of faith” has little to do with being “religious” or “righteous” and much more with having the kind of faith that helps other people walk.
In just a little while we’re going to be sharing communion. We’ll be walking down the aisles to receive the bread and cup. To me it’s a symbol of our own walk of faith – coming to Jesus, like the crowds came to him, with eagerness and trust and hope for wholeness. It’s a way of embodying our faith, literally walking, moving our bodies, taking that step. When we walk up this aisle, we’re responding to Jesus’ claim on our lives, to his love, to his power, to the Spirit moving through him and through us.
We’re walking towards healing, towards hope.
But here’s the other part about it, I hope we don’t miss. We don’t do this alone. We’re walking alongside each other. We’re being carried by each other. And we’re carrying the people we know and love who need this grace and this hope and this peace.
We need each other in this walk of faith. You know this already. There are people who have carried you when times were bad. People who have prayed for you, listened to you, walked alongside you. And maybe – hopefully - you have done the same for them, or someone else. Think about these people when you walk down this aisle today. Think about the people who have walked with you, and are walking with you now.
This walk of faith: it’s not about how religious we are, or how righteous. It’s about healing. Growing strong, together; witnessing, working, loving, serving, hoping, praying – living.
Walking the walk – with each other.