Thursday of Trinity 21: The Word and Communal Faith

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So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way. And as he was now going down, his servants met him and told him, saying, “Your son lives!” Then he inquired of them the hour when he got better. And they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” So the father knew that it was at the same hour in which Jesus said to him, “Your son lives.”

An additional background text from John’s Gospel is the following:

Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man.

Is there a tease from St. John with the “seventh hour”? On the seventh day, the Sabbath Day, our Lord descended into the realm of death and rescued those imprisoned there. He does the same thing here, in the seventh hour, “going down” to Capernaum by the Holy Spirit, that is, by His Word, declaring “Your son lives.”

As Jesus said, he who hears His word and believes in Him who send Him has everlasting life. The nobleman heard Jesus’ word and believed not only the word, but Jesus Himself. His son passed from death to life.

What’s interesting here is that the nobleman heard the word on behalf of his son, and far away, the word carried Jesus’ authority for the boy. The father believed for the son, and the son lived.

Faith is communal. It just is. The father believes the word, and the boy lives, and then the whole household believes in Jesus. It’s similar to when the men brought the lame man to Jesus, and it is written, “When Jesus saw their faith, He said to him….” Jesus saw the faith of the men carrying the lame man, but then said to the lame man, “Your sins are forgiven you.” On the basis of the faith of others, Jesus directs his grace to the one.

It’s not that individuals aren’t responsible for their faith. It’s that faith is communal, or ecclesiastical. The faith is objective, the possession of the community. As the Lord is enthroned in the praises of Israel, the Lord’s grace is communicated to the community as a group. It’s not that individuals “do” the faith; rather it’s that the ecclesiastical faith does individuals. Individuals may be sleeping, weak, skeptical, doubtful, lame lying on beds, or dying far away, but the faith of the Church sustains them. We pray, after all, “Our Father,” not “My Father.”

The problem with praying to saints has never been a denial that the saints are praying for us. They absolutely are. The question is whether the Bible gives evidence that the saints hear us praying for them, or commands us to pray to them. If the Bible gives any guidance, it’s that the saints pray for us without regard to whether we ask them! The lame man and the dying son didn’t need to entreat their friends or father; they did it on their own.

Jesus hears the prayers of His Church praying in His name, and as He promises, “whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.” He’s not talking about Cadillacs or cash – such things are transient and actually do not have existence from the eternal perspective. Rather, we pray for the Holy Spirit, Whom Jesus sends from the Father to give to us by His Word what He Himself possesses. The main and simplest thing Jesus possesses is eternal life.

So, when the nobleman begs Jesus for life, Jesus cannot deny who He is. He sends His Word by the Holy Spirit to deliver that life to the boy, and the boy lives, just as Jesus said.

And that is the judgment. Jesus grants life to them that believe in Him. Meanwhile, for those who reject Him, the very word He has spoken will be their judge on the last day. Faith is the dividing line between those judged to life and those judged to death.

Sometimes, as in the case of the boy, the faith comes later after the gift. The boy’s father believed, the son lived, and then the whole household believed in Jesus. It’s not so much that the faith came after the gift, but the gift itself established the contours of the faith which received. Did the boy know his father was going to Jesus? Maybe, maybe not. Whatever the case, upon getting healed he knew life, and from that point on he grew in that life.

Very similar to how children are baptized and grow in that gift they receive.

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