As he 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. (Matthew 8:5-13)
In Matthew 8:5-13, we learn a little bit about being a servant. This Roman army officer, a commander of 100 soldiers, who is used to giving orders and being obeyed, comes to Jesus not as a commander but as a servant himself to beg for mercy from Christ for one of his slaves. And this Centurion gives a good description of what being a servant means. “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.” A servant is meant to do what he is commanded to do by the master.
A servant serves others and doesn’t demand his own way. That is what the centurion models as he humbles himself before Christ. This should cause us to ask ourselves: am I not supposed to be a servant of God? Then, what should I be doing? If in relationship to God, I am God’s servant, how am I to behave?
Certainly, not demanding God do what I want, but rather I should be studiously trying to figure out what God wants me to do.
At some point in my life I decided to follow Jesus Christ, to be His servant. I must admit that being a servant was a concept that was nebulous to me as I never grew up around anyone who had servants. But I had this vague sense that I was supposed to obey God in my life. I’ve found it to be very difficult to be a servant of God because at times I forget that I am the servant and God is the master. In my prayer life I demand things from God instead of standing before my master to clarify what I am supposed to do to serve Him. I sometimes forget (and other times ignore!) some of the commandments that Christ gave to me through the scriptures. More embarrassingly, I occasionally even forget about my master – namely God. I get involved in life and lose awareness of His existence. Even worse, I have strong feelings and passions and opinions which make me want to act in a way that I know is contrary to God’s will. So I have to struggle with these questions – do I really want to be a servant of God? What price am I willing to pay to be God’s servant? Am I willing to put aside my wants and my will to serve God? AND to serve others as God commands me?
The centurion in the Gospel lesson understood well what it is to be under command and also to command others. He knew how to obey and serve as well as give orders. As a Christian, I need to understand Jesus is Lord, and I am to be his servant.
Also note in the Matthew 8 that Jesus first talks about the kingdom of God before healing the Centurion’s servant. “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…” The centurion’s humility and faith speak to Christ about the Kingdom of God. Christ recognizes the presence of the Kingdom in the centurion – who also happened to be an officer in the army oppressing Israel! When Christ sees the Kingdom present in the centurion, then He declares the servant healed. He recognizes the Kingdom in this Roman soldier because the soldier showed himself willing to be a servant of God. Christ will also see in us His Kingdom anytime we willingly serve others and do God’s will.
Being a servant of God is a blessed thing. St. Paul in Romans 6:17-23 talks about another issue related to being a servant: being slaves of sin. Here we see the negative side of being a servant.
But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once yielded your members to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now yield your members to righteousness for sanctification. When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But then what return did you get from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the return you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:17-23)
St. Paul shows us sin is not merely disobeying a rule, sin enslaves. It controls our behavior and our way of seeing the world. Christ comes to deliver us from slavery to sin so that we can love God and love one another.
Sin is an attitude which shapes everything we do or think or say. To sin is to miss the mark or completely miss the goal, to fail to do and be what we are supposed to do and be. On the other hand, “Good” as a word meant to do or be what you are created by God to do or be. Being good means to do what God wants you to do. A story from the desert fathers to illustrate that sin is more than breaking a law or that sin is complete lawlessness:
There was a wealthy Christian man who was known for being a great philanthropist. One day the abbot of the monastery came to visit him. It happened that a poor widow also came to the rich man and asked for a little wheat. The man told her to bring a cup and he would fill the cup for her. The woman came back with a pot. The man chided her, “This pot is too large. You are a greedy woman.” The widow blushed and was shamed by her benefactor. After she left, the abbot said to the man, “Were you selling the wheat to the widow?” The man said, “No, I was giving it to her in charity.” The monk replied, “If you gave her the wheat in charity, why did you speak harshly to her and measure the amount of wheat you gave her and put her to shame?”
Maybe we even sympathize with the rich man, but the story shows us that sin distorts our view of everything, even charity. Sin is not just disobeying a law, it is a failure to love and act in accordance with the commandments of our Lord Jesus.
Sin is death because it separates us from God, and from God’s love.
Union with Christ means salvation from sin. Generally we seem to want salvation to mean we are saved from sin’s consequences such as the bad results from what we do, or from sin’s guilt, or from punishment for sin and from hell. Salvation means far more than this – for it means the possibility of living for God and overcoming sin in our life so that guilt and fear of death no longer have any meaning for us. Salvation means we can actually serve God and receive God’s love.
It is also true at times that if we suffer as a result of our own sins, the suffering can be a form of mercy – it warns us to change our life, it warns us that sin leads to death and that it is time to change our minds, our hearts, our direction in life.
Christ comes to free us from enslavement to sin, so that we can be united to God. Being united to God, being God’s servant, requires of us to be willing to love God and one another. It is only by being united to God that we can fulfill our task to be God’s servant. Salvation is not simply from the consequences of sin but from slavery to sin. We regain our humanity by being re-united to God.