The Gospel today begins with the simple words, “when Jesus came down from the mountain.” This is the mountain of the Sermon on the Mount, of the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the peacemakers.” This is the mountain where the Lord said He has come not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. In last week’s Gospel of the Wedding Feast at Cana, the Lord did not destroy the water, he transformed it, into something greater, into wine.
The entry into the religion of Israel used to be that of birthright. If your mother was of the Jewish faith, you were of the Jewish faith. What we see in today’s Gospel is the new entry into the Church, the People of God, the Reign of God: faith, faith and baptism. And right away, what we see is that faith among those who were outside the ambit of the Jewish faith: the leper, who was excluded because of his leprosy, which was highly misunderstood, and is also a symbol of sin. Leprosy was thought to be a result of sin. And the centurion, who was a Roman.
Faith can be said to be this. St. Paul tells us that faith is a way of seeing, seeing what we cannot see with our natural eyes. The best example of this is the encounter with the empty tomb by Peter and John in the Gospel of John. The Greeks have three words for seeing. One is to glimpse; the Gospel says Peter saw the cloth lying on the ground. The other is to look at; Peter observed the cloth and the cloth which covered the head. The other is to see with perception; John saw, and believed. Faith is a way of seeing, with perception, with understanding, the true meaning, the reality. He saw, and remembered all the Lord said and did, and knew the Lord had been raised. Each of us has had an encounter with grace, which we may not be able to explain to others, but of which we are certain is an encounter with the hand of God. Faith is a way seeing, with understanding.
In John, love comes first. He says the mystery is this, that God has first loved us. The best example of this is the resurrection appearances of our Lord. Who did He appear to, reveal Himself to? St. Mary Magdalen, the disciples. They loved Him. He did not appear to Herod, He did not appear to Pilate. First comes love, and then He reveals Himself to us. It is a mistake that many people make in wanting to share their faith with others, that they go right to faith. But how can someone believe in a God whose love they have not yet experienced? And they experience that love, often through us, as St. Paul tells us in our Epistle reading, charity in all things. Love will lead to faith in God who first loved us.
And faith is expressed in these two wonderful encounters with the Lord in today’s Gospel, a confident and trusting placing ourselves before the Lord.
The leper was a man of faith. In simplicity, he asked the Lord for healing, and He healed him. But the Lord gave Him more. We hear the mysterious words that he should show himself to the priest. This was so his cure could be verified, and he could be readmitted to the community, to the assembly of God’s People. Lepers lived in terrible isolation. They wore a bell around their necks so that before people would see them they would hear them, and avoid them. The Lord does not want anyone to live in that kind of isolation, because of their condition, or because of sin, which isolates. He wants all to be united with Him and with His Church, by faith and reconciliation. This, too, is a healing.
The centurion was a man of faith. His words to our Lord, so familiar to us as we recite them before we receive Holy Communion, “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter my roof,” and the Lord does enter our roof, these words speak of his great faith. “I have not found so great faith in Israel.” And He heals his steward. His faith is also expressed in another way. The Lord tells him, “Go home, now.” The centurion went home, with faith in the Lord’s word, in serenity, peace, and confidence, and nothing else. That is faith, and a beautiful metaphor for our journey of faith. Like him, we receive the Lord’s word, His promise, His destiny in our baptism, and we walk in faith, amid the uncertainties of life, serene, peaceful, and confident, knowing that He will see us through.
This section of the Gospel of Matthew ends with the calling of the Twelve Apostles, and their instruction on discipleship. The Gospel says the Lord spoke in the synagogue, and He instructs the apostles to stay in a home which welcomes them. Here, again, we see the relationship between the big Church and the little church of the home. In both, faith is imparted, as well as that charity and love which lead to faith.
In these, and in between them, we encounter the Lord by faith. One of the features we will always see in the Gospels about our Lord, is that He always stops for faith. Faith is irresistible for Him. In today’s Gospel, He has come down the mountain and is now on His way to Jerusalem to undergo His cross and resurrection, the fulfillment of His mission. He knows what He is about, and is determined to fulfill the plan of the Father. But when He sees faith, he stops. If we ever want the Lord to stop for us—and He stops in many ways, in His love for us, in our Holy Communion with Him—show Him your faith, and He stops, and wonderful things happen.