A Word about the Readings
by Father Gethin
(The readings may be found here)
As we make our way through the Epiphany season, we are drawn into an ever-sharpening vision of the person of our Saviour, Christ the Lord, and in the course of that progress we also come to a clearer knowledge of our own life and identity as His disciples. The manifesting of Jesus, His character and person, is also the light of glory that illuminates the truth of our condition, in the midst of this world’s fallen and mortal darkness. “In Him was life,” wrote St. John, “and the life was the light of men…that was the true light which gives light to every man coming into the world…and we beheld His glory…full of grace and truth.” The vision of the Word made flesh clears our minds of earthly fears and fantasies, so that we come to know what it means to be drawn “from the east and from the west and to sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.”
Primarily, for us, that is a knowledge of the soul’s freedom to turn to God with faith and to receive the Father’s grace of healing, restoring our earthly-minded ways to His ways, and fashioning us as the inheritors of His blessing. To see the Son with faith and thanksgiving is to see ourselves embraced with the adoption of sons.
And so today, we meet our Lord, just as He comes ‘down from the mountain’: Jesus was returning from the mount of His first great sermon, which was His full and clear declaration of how His Way should become our way, how our mortal anxieties should be exchanged for faithful perseverance, and how we should learn to seek first God’s kingdom, calling out to Him with a new and clarified voice of prayer, saying “Our Father.” The revelation of His person teaches us both that we should pray, and how we should pray. And it would be a helpful exercise for us, in the midst of our Epiphany devotions, to re-read that sermon, [Matthew 5:1-7:27] carefully and fully, in a quiet moment we set aside in the days ahead.
With all this in mind, we can see how the two miracles in today’s gospel carry us forward in the meaning of the Epiphany of our Lord: A leper comes and calls to Christ in prayer, and we ought to notice the form his prayer takes: ‘Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.’ All the elements are there: the vision of Jesus as Lord, the knowledge of our need for grace, the faith that perceives His power and authority to overcome our suffering, and the submission to that authority in the humility of worship. To that faith Christ’s response is immediate and gracious: “I am willing, be thou cleansed.” And for us, to behold that moment clearly, is also to be drawn into it ourselves, to offer our own prayer and to know His cleansing in forgiveness. Likewise with the centurion: notice the phrase, how he ‘came to Him.’ Imagine the journey he must have made, and the humility it must have required, for a Roman soldier to seek out a poor Jewish carpenter. Faith must learn to persevere in its course to find the Way of Life: “because narrow is the gate, and difficult is the way which leads to life,” Jesus had told them on the mount.
All this constitutes the perspective in which we are called to know ourselves as Christ’s followers. It is a perspective that is both costly, and rich with blessing: in the first place, says Paul, it requires that we give up our private claims on truth, “being not wise in your own conceits,” because we recognize in God, and the sending of His Son, the working out of all Truth—I will repay, saith the Lord—so that, in the way of His Truth, we are free to bear out His goodness, loving our enemy, just as we know that Christ loves us. The vision of the Messiah prevails over the darkness, ‘on earth, as it is in heaven’, and so too, in us.