Only Say the Word

Word with scrabble blocks

As the Priest invites us to go forward to take communion the liturgy of the Mass includes the response of the people;

“Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”

This quote comes from the gospel story of Jesus and the Roman Centurion.

“When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help.

‘Lord,’ he said, ‘my servant lies at home paralysed, suffering terribly.’

Jesus said to him, ‘Shall I come and heal him?’

The centurion replied, ‘Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, “Go,” and he goes; and that one, “Come,” and he comes. I say to my servant, “Do this,” and he does it.’

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, ‘Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith …. Then Jesus said to the centurion, ‘Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.’ And his servant was healed at that moment.” (Matt 8:5-13 NIVUK)

This Roman Centurion, a non-Jew, is congratulated on his faith; a faith which surpasses any Jesus has found amongst his own people, the Jews.

This soldier understands two things:

Firstly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, he understands about authority. He understands that when authority is invested in someone whatever they say, goes; there is no argument, no discussion, no debate. The one is authority speaks his will and others run to carry it out.

Secondly, this unnamed soldier has come to understand that Jesus has authority over sickness and disease.

His faith is proved to be well founded as Jesus does “speak the word of command” and the sickness leaves his servant’s body.

All of which is rather wonderful, but we need to understand that, wonderful as it is, this authority to heal is merely a tiny part of the universal authority of Jesus.

“Then Jesus came to them and said,

‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18 NIVUK)

Do you get this?! ALL AUTHORITY!!

There is NOTHING in the created universe that is not under Jesus’ direct command.

No situation, no power, no world leader, no nation, no plague, no pestilence.

EVERYTHING is under his command.

“Only say the word”

This phrase then becomes for the Christian a wonderful summing up of the limitless possibility of God. He has only to say the word.

By a wonderful fluke, in the English Bible the words of the Centurion are found in Luke 7:7 (and Matthew 8:8). Those with some background knowledge of Jewish culture will know that 7 is the known as the number of perfection, of completeness.

Our faith will be perfect, will be complete, when we can hold onto the fact, in each and every situation, that no outcome is definite, no possibility excluded, until God has spoken. He has only to say the word, the word of limitless possibility, and everything can change. He has the authority to do so. And we need to remember it.

I am reminded of the reaction of the crowd in the synagogue when Jesus cast a demon out of a man.

“And they were all amazed, and spake among themselves, saying, ‘What a word is this! for with authority and power he commandeth the unclean spirits, and they come out.’” (Luke 4:36 AKJV)

“What a word is this!”

Perhaps we need to live more with this kind of expectation. All we need is for Jesus to speak a word, and everything can change.

Indeed, it is only because Jesus wields such unlimited power and authority, that he was able to continue his discourse as he did;

“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” (Matthew 28:18-20 NIVUK)

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Do ALL churches fail?

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Okay, ‘nightmare quote time’.

I’m reading a book in which the author talks about how people encounter the power of Christ entering their lives in various ways.

For evangelical spirituality it is through crisis conversion and doctrinal affirmation;

For charismatic spirituality it is through an experience of encounter with the Holy Spirit;

For liturgical spirituality it is through ritual and sacrament;

– then the author goes on to say;

“However, neither individually nor collectively do any of these ways reliably produce large numbers of people who really are like Christ and his closest followers throughout history. That is a statistically verifiable fact.”

That quote really stopped me in my tracks.

I wish that he were wrong, but in my heart of hearts I think he is probably right.

Why is it that the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit doesn’t seem to be transforming very much in those of us who claim to have an intimate, passionate love relationship with the God who created the universe?

Dallas Willard claims that

behaving like Christ

can only authentically flow out of

being like Christ.

Thus the well-worn phrase ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ should rather be ‘How Would Jesus Live?’

Fortunately, we have some data for that.

What we see in the gospel accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus are certain spiritual disciplines.

Now, if Christ himself, our perfect example, needed to use the spiritual disciplines in order to perfectly express his human-ness in relationship to the Father, then why has the contemporary church largely put them to one side?

Do we consider ourselves better than him?!

For human beings the spiritual and physical are linked.

Thus in the disciplining of our bodies, our spirits may also grow.

Willard lists the following spiritual disciplines;

Disciplines of Abstinence :
solitude
silence
fasting
frugality
chastity
secrecy (about ones good deeds, qualities)
sacrifice

Disciplines of Engagement:

study
worship
celebration
service
prayer
fellowship
confession
submission

I believe that Willard has written a prophetic book for the contemporary church.

I think he has the courage to say things that we needed to hear and the wisdom to point us towards difficult but necessary solutions.

As Michael W. Smith so eloquently sang;

‘For the world to know the truth,
There can be no greater proof,
Than to live the life, live the life.’

Or, put another way, authentic discipleship is intrinsically evangelistic.

God grant all of us the grace and discernment to take a long hard look at ourselves and our churches and see whether we are ‘living the life” authentically and discipling others to do the same. God help us all.

“The Spirit of the Disciplines”, Dallas Willard, HarperCollins, 1988 p. x (3 book series with ‘Hearing God’ and ‘The Divine Conspiracy’)
“Live the Life”, from the CD of the same name, Michael W. Smith, Reunion Records, 1998.