The Third Sunday after the Epiphany
Christ Church in the Hall,
January 22 AD 2006
“Speak the word only”
There is a wonderful richness to
the Epiphany season. Everything is “charged with the grandeur of God”
seems; “signs and wonders” abound. Epiphany is the season of
miracles and in today’s gospel we are given a richness of miracles,
not just one but two miracles, a double healing, the healing of the
leper and the healing of the centurion’s servant. Jesus “puts forth his
hand”. Jesus speaks. He is the healer.
abounds in miracles. They belong to the larger purpose of the Epiphany
season as the season of teaching. In other words, the miracles of
Jesus teach us something about God and something about the divine will and
purpose for our humanity. The miracles belong to the making visible of the
glory of God. They are not for our entertainment but for our
A miracle is,
of course, a sign and a wonder. The healing miracles are a wonder. They
awaken awe and wonder in us. Consider what we see in the miracles of
healing. Simply the signs of the glory of God in the effects of what is said
and done. Notice, too, the close connection between word and deed, between
what is said and what is done. The miracles of the gospel are all about
the word in action, the word of Christ written in the very fabric of our
humanity, redeemed and restored to wholeness. The wonder, really, is the
wonder of Christ, the wonder of God with us.
Christ heals a
leper. Christ heals the paralyzed servant of the centurion. Christ speaks
and Christ acts. There is healing. And important things are being taught to
us about Jesus as God and about the nature of human redemption. These two
healings, so closely juxtaposed, are within and beyond the
spiritual boundaries of Israel, we might say. Through the history and
meaning of Israel, the glory of God is not only made known to the
world but is shown to be for the world. The leper, on the one hand,
is healed within the context of the religious culture of Israel and
is held to the requirements of the Law. “Go thy way, show thyself to the
priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.”
on the other hand, is from outside Israel. But Jesus responds to his
request, saying “I will come and heal him”. But his own amazement to
the centurion’s simple and direct response, “speak the word only”,
shows us something more. Here is the wonder of faith which coming out of
Israel transcends Israel. “I have not found”, Jesus says,
“so great faith, no not in Israel”. And for both the leper and the
centurion, Christ is the wonder. There is an epiphany and in the wonder of
Christ we see something greater, namely God’s delight in us through our
taking hold of his word.
Christ is the
wonder before he puts forth his hand, before he speaks. Yet, the healing
miracles are, surprisingly, only part of the glory. They are the making
visible of the glory that is present in Jesus Christ. He is the glory.
And he is the glory that is somehow made known not just in his effects but
in his person.
The leper came
and worshipped him, saying, “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me
clean”. It is a petition, though expressed almost in the form of an
imperious demand. It is a petition which finds its deeper heart of meaning
in things like “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”, and,
“if it be possible, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not my will
but thine be done”. These are the words of the one who says “I have
come to do the will of him who sent me”. Such words carry us into the
glory of the Son with the Father in the bond of the Holy Spirit. The leper
somehow knows the presence of the glory of God in Christ Jesus. His petition
is his response to what he knows. The healing act which follows both
confirms and illumines the glory. “Jesus put forth his hand and touched
him saying, ‘I will, be thou clean’”. A window in Israel is opened to
behold the glory of heaven on earth.
The glory is
made visible in the will that has declared itself. That will is the love
that made the heaven and the earth and all that therein is, “the love
that moves the sun and the other stars”
, as Dante puts
also came and besought him with the simple statement about his servant’s
condition. It, too, is a petition, straightforward and direct, though far
less imperious. He, too, senses and knows something of the glory of Christ
even before Jesus speaks and acts. The brief dialogue between Jesus and the
centurion illumines that glory. Jesus says, “I will come and heal him”.
But the centurion immediately replies with the most amazing and exquisite
words of humility and faith imaginable, “Lord, I am not worthy that thou
shouldest come under my roof; but speak the word only and my servant shall
be healed”. Such is the light of the glory of Christ shining in us and
shining out into the world!
But the glory
is made visible not just in the healing but in the words which precede it.
“If thou wilt”, the leper says. “Speak the word only”, the
centurion says. Jesus says to the leper, “I will; be thou clean”.
Jesus says to the centurion,“I will come and heal him”, before being
‘blown away’ with amazement at the man’s statement of faith that is
far more than anything that he has found in Israel. Vistas of glory in these
simple scenes. Vistas of glory simply in what is said.
The Gospels do
not show us the process by which the leper and the centurion come to such an
insight into the presence of God’s glory in Jesus Christ. It is, of course,
an operation of grace. They show us, perhaps, how as Evangelists, they have
come to such a knowledge through the recollection of these events. They show
us these things so that we, too, may come to know and grow into the greater
knowledge of the glory of the Lord. Such is the mission of the Epiphany.
first has to be made known. It is made known in Christ. The light that
irradiates the world illumines the souls of those seeking grace. It is there
in the idea of the reality of Jesus Christ, God’s Word and Son, made known
and proclaimed. Such is the mission of the Church, here and everywhere and
at all times.
The light of
Epiphany opens us out to the glory of God in Jesus Christ. The hand that is
“put forth” is the hand of glory; the voice that speaks is the voice
of glory. It goes forth to effect our healing, our salvation. But our
healing, our salvation, is about nothing more than the effect of God’s glory
upon our lives. Christ is the glory. He puts forth his hand; he speaks his
word and only so are we healed. We enter into the glory of his presence,
here and now, in the Word proclaimed and the Sacraments celebrated.
“Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof; but speak the
word only and my servant shall be healed”.
evoke Christ’s wonder but as well his judgment, a judgment upon Israel and
upon us, for if we do not receive the word that is spoken in our midst then
we are like “the children of the kingdom” who are “cast out into
outer darkness” because we have ignored and denied the light of the word
words are words of “great faith” and words that challenge us. They
have their application for us as a prayer, especially at the time of
receiving communion: “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come
under my roof, but speak the word only and my soul shall be healed”.
The glory is present and proclaimed. It has only to be received in us.
“Speak the word only” is the condition of our participation in Christ’s
“Speak the word only”