Friday of Trinity 21: The Many Different Forms of Faith

Image result for Nobleman's son healed

And he himself believed, and his whole household.

This whole Gospel has been an interesting meditation on faith. We begin with a man going to Jesus begging for help, and Jesus seems to be curt with him, saying he wouldn’t believe unless he saw signs and wonders. But didn’t he just want his son healed? Perhaps it wasn’t so much the desire for healing, but the manner with which he begged, wanting Jesus to “come down” and be there. Instead of believing the word, people need to see that magic act. Perhaps that’s the point.

When Jesus says, “Your son lives,” it says the man believed Jesus’ words. His son was healed at the exact moment Jesus said those words, meaning the healing wasn’t contingent on the man’s faith. The gift, delivered by the word, created the faith. It was this faith that carried the man for what must have been a tense walk back to Capernaum, until he met the people coming from there telling him his son had become better.

As far as the son was concerned, he was healed independently of any faith on his part at all. His father, if anything, laid the groundwork for his healing, by seeking Jesus out and being willing to receive Jesus’ word by faith, even if it was a faith hampered by a desire for “signs and wonders.” Here we contemplated that faith is a communal, ecclesiastical thing. We hold each other up in the faith, all of us reacting to the great gifts Jesus promises us in different states of faith: sleeping, weak, skeptical, doubtful, lame lying on a bed, dying far away in Capernaum. Here, no evidence of the boy’s faith combined with a misdirected father’s faith conspired to receive the healing of the boy. Jesus is the same Jesus regardless of the quality of faith.

Now we come to the wonderful conclusion of the Gospel as far as faith is concerned. The father himself believed, and his whole household. Note the three developments of the man’s faith. First was the faith which saw in Jesus one who could heal his son, which led him to Jesus. This was the “signs and wonders” faith, a faith which saw Jesus purely as a possible healer the magical touch of healing. Second was the belief in Jesus’ words. Third was the belief in Jesus Himself.

On that, let’s pause for a moment. Christian faith calls for belief both in Jesus and His Word. A faith in Jesus without His Word risks becoming the projection of an antichrist. That is, Jesus becomes the projection of my personal values, desires, aspirations, and ideals. Actual external words from the Scriptures need not guide who Jesus is. I craft Jesus in my image. Such is a “faith” in Jesus outside of His word.

Meanwhile, faith in Jesus’ word without faith in Jesus turns Christianity into mere philosophy, or an ethics of love and mercy, care for the weak, and so on. “As long as you love, isn’t that what Jesus was all about? Let’s go beyond names and doctrines. What matters is what you do.” Such was the theology of the Emergent Church. Jesus becomes a cosmic pretense for loving action, or an archetype taking on different names and forms.

Faith requires both – faith in the person Jesus and faith in His words. The two cannot be separated. In the case of the nobleman, at the second level of his faith – believing Jesus’ words – he could have ended up merely realizing Jesus was a great man of God, like a prophet, someone God was using to convey grace. At the third and final level, he realized Jesus is Lord and God, that His word, “Your son lives,” isn’t a request from Jesus for God to heal, which may have some lag time between prayer and answer, but no different than the Lord God saying, “Let there be light,” and there was light. Jesus’ word does it because Jesus is God.

So, lots going on with faith! What, praytell, can we take away concerning faith? I think it’s obvious. While faith is a big theme in the Gospel, faith isn’t running the show. Jesus is running the show, and faith takes different forms as it seeks to settles around what Jesus is doing, appropriately contoured to the great gifts Jesus is giving.

Say a family is sitting in their living room watching television. Suddenly the door rings, and upon opening the door the father discovers a chest. In the chest is gold, gifts, titles to lands, the keys to a kingdom. That’s the new reality – we might say a new world – introduced into the lives of the family. How the members of the family react to that gift may take different forms. The young son may not have any understanding of what’s going on – doesn’t matter, he’s still rich. The father may regret there wasn’t more pomp and personality associated with the gift – doesn’t matter, he’s still rich. The mother may still be fretting about bills and debts – doesn’t matter, she’s still rich. As time goes on, however, the family begins to process what the new normal is. Slowly their existence will settle around the realities of the gift given, as they become appropriately contoured to the gift. The one thing which would derail this new world is if they run away from the gift, or reject it completely.

So also faith. The reality is “Your son lives.” That’s the gift given. Faith doesn’t effect that gift being given, but it takes the settles into an appropriate contouring of the gift given, and that may take time, and come in layers. Weak faith, strong faith, skeptical faith, sleeping faith, doubting faith, the gift doesn’t change relative to the faith. Of course, strong faith is the difference between walking that way to Capernaum in fear, trembling, anxiety, and sadness, thinking your son is probably close to death, or walking that way in joy and hope, knowing… “Your son lives.”

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