daily biblical sermons


THE CENTRAL IMPORTANCE OF FAITH IN THE CHRISTIAN LIFE
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Monday, 24th Week of the Year, September 18, 2017
1 Timothy 2:1-8, Psalm 27, Luke 7:1-10


Scripture quotations are from the RSV unless otherwise noted

 

"And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying to him, ‘Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But 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.' When Jesus heard this he marveled at him, and turned and said to the multitude that followed him, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith'" (Luke 7:6-9).


We see the great importance of faith in this account of Jesus' healing of a centurion's slave. This Gentile centurion believes that Jesus has the power to heal his slave. So strong is his faith that he does not even need Jesus to come to his house. He only wants Jesus to say the word and he believes that that will be enough and his slave will be healed. Jesus praises his great faith, saying, "Not even in Israel have I found such faith" (Luke 7:9). "And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave well" (Luke 7:10).


Jesus only healed a few people during his earthly life, and after the apostles died, such physical healings were only rarely done by Christians. Yet this passage of the gospel, like all the accounts of Jesus' healings, remains important to us today, and priests everywhere in the world today will be preaching sermons like this one about the faith of this centurion and of how his slave was healed by Jesus because of his great faith.


Why do we continue year after year to preach ever new sermons about how Jesus healed this centurion's slave and about how Jesus praised his great faith? The reason is that faith in Jesus' healing and curing power continues to be of central importance for Christians today. Jesus' miraculous physical cures - even at a distance, as we see in today's account - were performed to arouse faith in his power to heal. And his power to heal was itself the sign of his power to forgive our sins and make us righteous. Once this faith caught on, the physical cures receded in importance and frequency, and all the focus was then put on how God justifies us through our faith in Jesus.


But how exactly does God justify us through Jesus, when we put our faith in him? This happens to us through Jesus' Paschal Mystery, that is, through his death and Resurrection. He was put to death as a sacrifice for sins. He died vicariously (that is, instead of us dying) for our sins, in punishment for them. So our need to be punished for our sins by an all-just God was fulfilled and satisfied for all sinners by Christ's death on the cross. In his death justice has been done concerning our sins, and so they may now be forgiven without any further need of punishment for them. It only remains for us to believe this and to put our faith in Christ, calling out to him for forgiveness, as we confess and renounce our sins.


St. Paul made a great announcement in Romans 1:16-17 about how justification works:


"For I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live'" (Romans 1:16-17).


There are three key words here: gospel, righteousness, and faith. St. Paul says that the righteousness of God is in the gospel, and it is revealed through faith so that the righteous may live through faith. These are two of the most important, powerful, and meaningful sentences ever written, but they have not always been properly understood or appreciated.


Some have thought that this righteousness of God that St. Paul is talking about here is God's own righteousness as a perfectly just God standing over us as a judge ready to condemn and punish us for our lack of righteousness, that is, for our sins. They think that this is what the gospel reveals to those who have faith.


This is a dreadful misunderstanding of the gospel. It is the opposite of what the gospel is about. The gospel is good news, not bad news for sinful people. This misunderstanding turns the good news into bad news and changes these great verses about salvation through faith into bad news about how God judges, condemns, and punishes us for our sins, that is, for our lack of righteousness.


But whenever the true meaning of these verses is rediscovered, people break through to a whole new understanding of human life and of God's plan to save us and to make us sinners righteous. The true meaning of these verses is this:


God's righteousness here is not his righteousness in himself as all just, but rather it is his justifying righteousness whereby he makes us sinners righteous, not through our works, which we always fall short of, but through our faith in Christ. It is Christ's Paschal Mystery, that is, his death and Resurrection, that makes us righteous, because in his death on the cross Christ made perfect reparation before the Father for our sins that atoned for them and propitiated God's just wrath against us for our sins by satisfying his justice in our regard, which we offended by our sins.


Christ's vicarious death as our sin offering substituted for us in bearing our punishment for our sins and made substitutionary satisfaction for them. This satisfaction atoned for our sins.


But then enters our faith. This substitutionary satisfaction only becomes effective for those who have faith in Christ and in his atoning death on the cross. Furthermore, this whole matter is the subject matter of the gospel. The justifying righteousness of God is revealed to us in the gospel. And this justifying righteousness is none other than "the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith" (Romans 1:16).


This is the gospel that St. Paul preaches. It is the task of the Church to preach this gospel and to preach it clearly so that people may truly grasp its revolutionary message, namely that it is their faith, not their works, that justifies them.


It is really Christ's work on the cross that justifies us. He made just reparation for our sins on the cross. Christ's work on the cross justifies us, and our faith in him is what connects us to his justifying work. Therefore when we put our faith in Christ and confess, renounce, and abandon our sins, God then and there counts Christ's reparation-making work on the cross as expiating our sins and satisfying divine justice for them, and so God declares us to be fully absolved of our sins and righteous and just before him.


So the conclusion is: "He who through faith is righteous shall live" (Romans 1:17). What this means is that the one who is declared and made righteous by God, through his faith, shall live before God. And this is to be understood as a whole new way of life, life from the dead, walking in newness of life (Romans 6:4), being made a new creation, a new creature in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). Our life will be transformed by this act of faith if we have this proper understanding of these two key verses.


A life of good works then begins and follows immediately as the result and consequence of this justification through faith without works.


This is the faith in Jesus that heals and cures us, as it enabled the centurion's slave to be healed from a distance.

 

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