THE POWER OF FAITHPosted: June 2, 2013
SLIDE 3: A GENTILE, A ROMAN ARMY OFFICER
Our story from Luke this morning is unusual. Jesus was having dealings with a gentile, a roman, and an officer in the roman army, a centurion, sort of our equivalent of an infantry captain. And in this story the leaders of the Synagogue in Capernaum were asking Jesus to heal a slave that belonged to the centurion, because the centurion had been a friend of the synagogue and he had even contributed to the building fund. Because of the unusual circumstances of this story, before we examine the content of the narrative, we might ask whether or not there is any evidence, this anecdote might have an historical basis? We can hardly establish proof after two-thousand years, but there is evidence this story of Jesus and the centurion may be grounded in fact.
SLIDE 4: SYNAGOGUE IN CAPERNAUM
In the ruins of the synagogue in Capernaum there is an inscription to the Tenth Legion on one of the pillars. Now while it is true that the current ruins of the Capernaum Synagogue date from the year 300 A.D., we know that these ruins were built on top of the foundation of the previous synagogue. If we look closely at the base of the synagogue we will note that in contrast to the upper part of the structure that is white limestone the foundation stones are a black basalt that dates to the time of Jesus. We also know it was common to reuse building materials, in the ancient world, and the inscription on the pillar from the third century may have actually been part of the first century synagogue.
SLIDE 5: TENTH LEGION FRETENSIS
We also know from accounts of the history of the roman army that the Tenth Legion Fretensis that served with distinction under Octavian at the battle of Actium was stationed in Judea and Syria from about 20 years before the birth of Christ until about 400 A.D. We might assume that a detachment of the Tenth Legion could have been stationed in or near Capernaum in order to police the busy caravan route and supervise the collection of tolls and taxes at the border between the principalities of Herod Phillip and Herod Antipas.
SLIDE 6: GOD FEARER
So we have some evidence for this encounter between Jesus and the centurion. I would also like to speculate this morning, that if this centurion contributed to the synagogue building fund, he might have been what was known as a God fearer. That was a gentile who attended synagogue prayer services, gave money to the synagogue, observed the ethical norms of the Ten Commandments, but he did not keep the whole law or seek circumcision or formal conversion to Judaism. As a regular attendee of prayer services, the centurion would have heard Jesus teach in the synagogue, and he almost surely would have witnessed some of the healing miracles that surrounded Jesus’ ministry. As we said a couple of weeks ago teachers were a dime a dozen in the ancient world, and what really attracted people to the ministry of Jesus were the healings that accompanied his ministry. This roman officer had seen people who had been healed by Jesus, and so he sought help for his sick slave.
SLIDE 7: SAY THE WORD AND HE WILL BE HEALED
The centurion was appropriately sensitive to approaching Jesus in public. According to the text he sent elders from the synagogue to ask for Jesus’ assistance in the healing of his servant. If the centurion had approached Jesus in public many Jews would have frowned upon Jesus helping a gentile, and a roman officer at that. So he used intermediaries to seek Jesus’ help. The text also tells us that when Jesus was still some ways from the roman officer’s house, the centurion, sensitive to Jewish customs concerning impurity sent a messenger to tell Jesus not to come into his house, lest Jesus be ritually defiled by entering the home of a gentile. Instead the centurion said, “Say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I am a man set 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.”
All of these details in the story are consistent with life in First Century Galilee. So while we cannot prove this story is factual, I believe we can assume it could be true. So what can we learn from this story?
SLIDE 8: WE HAVE TO WANT TO BE HEALED
First, in order for healing to occur we have to want to be healed. I like the classic story in the gospel of John, where Jesus confronted the lame man with the question, “do you want to be healed?” We cannot be healed against our will. If we are determined to remain ill, no amount of medication or surgery or therapy will make us well. In the meantime many of us ignore the two most common prescriptions – diet and exercise. No one can heal us against our will.
SLIDE 9: ELEMENT OF FAITH IN HEALING
Second, in all healing there is an element of faith. If we don’t have faith in our physician or the course of treatment, we probably won’t get better. And here allow me to share some insight from the book, “How God Changes Your Brain.”
Faith heals. Faith is equivalent with hope, optimism, and the belief that a positive future awaits us. Faith can also be defined as the ability to trust our beliefs, even when we have no proof that such beliefs are accurate or true. The psychiatrist Vicktor Frankl, who was imprisoned in a Nazi death camp until the end of World War II, said that the single most important thing that kept a survivor alive was faith. If a prisoner lost faith in the future, he was doomed, because the will to live seldom returned. . .
To me it doesn’t matter if God is an illusion or fact, because even as a metaphor, God represents all we are capable of becoming, an ideal that offers hope to millions of people throughout the world, especially for those who may have little to fall back on other than their religious ties. Faith in an optimistic future may be a placebo, but it’s important to remember that placebos can cure, on average, 30 percent of most physical and emotional diseases. Even an irrational belief in a cure that has been proven not to work can significantly boost the body’s immune system when dealing with a deadly disease.
SLIDE 10: CONFESSED DOUBT IS ENOUGH FAITH TO HEAL
Over and over again, Jesus told people, “your faith has made you well.” Faith heals. But does that mean that doubt prevents us from becoming well? Do we have to have perfect faith? According to Jesus no. If you have faith even as small as a grain of mustard seed you can be healed. But what if we doubt? Remember the man who brought his epileptic child to Jesus. And when Jesus asked him to believe, he confessed, “I believe but help my unbelief.” Our confession of doubt is enough faith to bring healing.
SLIDE 11: REVERENCE FOR LIFE
But where does this faith come from? Dr. Albert Schweitzer gives us a clue in his articulation of the ethical principle “reverence for life.” Dr. Schweitzer wrote in his memoir Out of My Life and Thought: “The most immediate fact of a person’s consciousness is the assertion ‘I am life that wills to live in the midst of life that wills to live. . . .’ Affirmation of life is the spiritual act by which a human being ceases to live thoughtlessly and begins to devote himself to his life with reverence in order to give it true value. To affirm life is to deepen, to make more inward, and to exalt the will to live. At the same time the person who has become a thinking being feels a compulsion to give to every will to live the same reverence for life that he gives to his own.”
SLIDE 12: WILL TO LIVE
Schweitzer is sharing with us the deep insight that every living creature has a will to live, and at a fundamental level the will to live is faith – not a set of beliefs, but faith in the possibilities of existence. Andrew Newberg, the author of How God Changes Your Brain identified this fundamental level of faith when he wrote: . . . Faith is embedded in our neurons and in our genes, and it is one of the most important principles in our lives. . . wherever you choose to place your faith, you must still confront a deeper question: What is your ultimate pursuit and dream? What do you truly desire in your life – not only for yourself, but for the world as well?
SLIDE 13: PURPOSE, POWER, FAITH
What do you desire for yourself and the world? As my father said, “If you are alive, you have a purpose!” What is your purpose? As Paul said, “Faith is the assurance of what we hope for the confidence in what we do not see.” Faith is powerful. When we have faith miracles begin to happen. Embrace your purpose. Embrace your power. Live your faith.