The title pretty much says it all. Other than, I like the Gospel reading for Epiphany 3 as a reading for Saint Titus way more than I like the reading for Saint Titus.
Jesus heals two people who had no other option. The first, knew that Jesus only needed to will him clean. It wasn’t in some flashy trick with lights and smoke. It was simply the will of Jesus that was needed.
The second man that Jesus heals shows this sort of faith even more. A centurion – not a Jew – wanted his servant healed. But when Jesus says that he will come and do it, the man says, “No. I’m not worthy of that. And besides if you can heal him while standing the room, you can just as easily do it from here.” The man understands authority. He has authority, and is under the authority of others. When he is told to go, he goes. When he tells those under himself to go, they go. When he tells them to do something, they do it.
And so he has no problem understanding that a man who can heal miraculously can do it whether close up or from a great distance. This isn’t a natural sort of healing, like going to see a doctor. The Doctor must examine, evaluate, and then prescribe. But first you must go to him. The centurion knows that medicine has been left behind. This is the realm of the miraculous, and so Jesus only needs to will his servant clean – even from a great distance.
And he does. Jesus marvels at the faith of the centurion, and then heals the servant. And that’s it. Simple. No requirement for him to show up. For Jesus, being there to do the miraculous is merely a matter of his will and promise to do so – even if he seems far away.
In addition to being the third Sunday after Epiphany, today is the commemoration of Saint Titus. Paul wrote him a letter. It’s between second Timothy and Philemon. Three chapters. Short. When we speak of the apostles appointing pastors, and then pastors and people carrying that forward to today, Saint Titus was of that first generation of apostle-appointed pastors. He was the pastor of Crete, and more than that, he appointed other pastors throughout Crete. A lot of what we have about him is from traditions and later histories. We do know from scripture that Paul sent Titus to help with things in Corinth, and that Paul went to Jerusalem with Titus. They traveled, he was a trusted companion, and he was a faithful pastor in Crete. That’s about all we know for sure.
But it’s enough. He was, like so many before and since, faithful to God and his word. He stood as an example of faithfulness to that Word. His words and deeds don’t much matter, because he wasn’t sent to talk about himself. He was sent to bring Jesus word and deeds to the people.
The reading for Saint Titus – which we didn’t hear today, is Jesus sending the seventy-two. Now, Titus was not among them. He was one of those ordained later by the apostles. But the principle is the same. The Lord sends them out – the apostles appoint them in each city and send them.
But the Gospel for the third Sunday after Epiphany works, too. Which brings us back to the centurion. A man under authority. The apostles were under the authority of Jesus. The pastors they appointed were under their authority. And pastors today are under that same authority. The Lord has given the command to teach, preach, baptize, absolve, and feed. And that’s what pastors do. They stand in the stead and by the command of Christ to bring the word of God to the people. They are under authority. The Lord said, Go: Baptize, teach all things. So pastors do. Just as Saint Titus did on Paul’s orders. But not really just Paul’s orders, because Paul was also a man under authority. It wasn’t about Paul. It has always been about Jesus. Just like the centurion serves not himself, or even his commanding officer, but Caesar. So, pastors serve, not the synod, or the District President, or even the apostles. They serve Christ, because it is Christ who has placed them – through the congregation and other pastors. That’s how it is now, just as it has always been, and always will be. As long as the church endures. That is, as long as the world endures.
That is the work of the church – to bring Jesus. Because we need Jesus.
We are like that leper. Like that dying servant. There is no one and nothing in this world that can help us. We are dying. We cover it up with soaps and perfumes, fancy clothes and creature comforts. But the hard truth is still there. The bodies which we are given – which are fearfully and wonderfully made – have been corrupted by sin. And they can not last.
Those who study such things say that medicine is now one sixth of our nation’s economy. Who needs Jesus to speak only a word when you have MRI’s and Laser Surgery, the latest in life enhancing and life extending medications?
And yet, the stench of death still clings to our bodies. We can not get rid of it no matter how many pills we pop, no matter how many showers we take, how much perfume we pour over our heads. The truth is, it’s all for show. A great masquerade where we pamper and primp ourselves and pretend that death isn’t out there. But it is. And if you take the long view, modern medicine still loses 100% of the time.
The leper and servant could only be healed by Jesus. We need that same kind of miracle. And so, God sent his son – the one who spoke the word and there was life. The one who was there when our heavenly father formed man from the dust of the ground, and when the spirit was breathed into him and he became a living being. The same Son, who was with the Father from eternity. He became man. The Lord of life joined this dying world. He put himself under the laws of sin and death. But that didn’t mean he was helpless. He still had the power of God. And so his word and his will go forth, and the leper is healed. The servant is healed.
We now have the promise – his word – that those whom he sends speak under his authority. That is, when the church brings Jesus to people, we’re only doing what we’ve been told to do. We are under authority. And when the word of Jesus is spoken, then miracles happen. Oh, not necessarily the flashy zap-em kind.
When water is poured, death is taken away and life is given. The powers of hell are vanquished. Satan himself must flee before this life-giving water, rich in grace; this washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit that is given in Holy Baptism.
When the word is spoken at Christ’s command “I forgive you your sins in the name of the Father.” Then sins are forgiven. Burdens are removed. Joy and gladness replace guilt and weeping.
When the body and blood – the same body and blood sacrificed on the cross for you – when they are taken, and eaten and drunk as he has commanded, then forgiveness, life and salvation are given to dying Christians. Those who are poor in spirit are given the kingdom of God. Those who hunger and thirst after righteousness are filled.
This is the work of Jesus. To bring you to your heavenly Father. So that he would be your true Father, and you would be his true child. That’s why he was born of the virgin Mary and was made man. That’s why he was crucified died and was buried. So that, in his death, you would have forgiveness of sins.
That’s why God sends the Saint Titus’s to the church. To proclaim this word of life. To bring himself to you. So that you would have the gift of Jesus – the life of Jesus – given to you by one who is under authority, and so speaks not for himself, but for the one who sent him.
Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace. Sin no more.