Sermon on Matt 8:5-13 (7-2-2022)
It does not matter what people think of you. What other people think of me is none of my business, as it has been well said. Let us let go of our care about this and the anxiety that follows from it, and we will know a greater freedom.
A friend of mine recently shared with me a concept that I find helpful in thinking about this issue. Now, this friend is not a believer, but that doesn’t mean that there is no wisdom in what he says. I believe God, who is Wisdom, plants a seed of wisdom in every human heart. So what matters more than whether he believes is that God believes in him. More on that later.
For now, here is the concept:
Every person you meet, have a relationship with, or make eye contact with on the street imagines a version of you in their minds, based entirely on their own experiences and perceptions. So out there in the world, there are as many imaginary versions of you as there are people who have met you. When someone meets you, they have some thought about you – some image of you in their minds, be it good, bad, or indifferent, just as you have some thought about every person you meet. Hopefully we can understand that these perceptions are not the same as the truth of who a person is.
For example, I’m standing up here preaching, but out there in the congregation there are four or five dozen imaginary Father Johns – the one in each of your minds – and none of those imaginary people is really me. Just as my perceptions of you are not really the real you. Let’s let go of too much care for what others think of us and also let go of too much trust in our own perceptions.
Now surely it is true that some people know us better than other people do. Intimate relationship is possible. Father Sid Sidor used to say that intimacy means “into me see.”
Our perception of another moves closer to the truth of who they are the more we look on them with love. This is how the centurion looked upon his servant who was ill. We can see how he cares for him in how he intercedes for him. And Luke’s gospel tells us plainly that this slave was dear to the centurion. Of course, more profound than this and the most intimate relationship possible among human beings is holy matrimony. I say *holy* matrimony, which is loving and intimate. But even within marriage, we continue to learn about one another. Hopefully, every day we learn something new about our beloved. And this means that, even in marriage, we always have more to learn. There is always much that we do not know about the person to whom we are married. This isn’t a bad thing; it is an aspect of being human. Our capacity for knowing is always growing and always limited. We are finite. Only God is beginningless, uncreated, and omniscient.
Even though the centurion loved his slave and cared for him, he surely had more to learn about who he really was. Who knows? Had he truly known him, he may have not only sought his healing, but also freed him from his servitude.
I think we can take this concept even a step further. Not only do we imagine everyone else according to our perceptions and experiences, but we also even have an imagined self. There is who truly are, and there is who we think we are, and these two are not precisely the same.
There’s another thing we could let go of: our imagined self. This has gotten quite extreme in some quarters of our culture where many now seem to believe that they are whoever and whatever they feel like or decide to be.
Our true selves, on the contrary, are God-given. We are who God sees when he looks at us. He alone can see into me with perfect intimacy. He alone knows us better than we know ourselves. He who alone is perfect love alone can see us perfectly.
So if you have a care for what someone thinks of you, let that one be the one, the only one who knows you, the only one who loves you truly, the only one Lord and God.
Discard and set aside any worry about the thoughts or imaginations of anyone else about you. These have no substance. They are not truth. Some may flatter and some may scorn, but none of that is real.
The only thing real that we can give or receive to or from one another is love. Not flattery, but loving kindness. Not scorn, but loving guidance. When we act out of love, you see, we are being who we truly are, and we are becoming more like God, who is love.
Everything else that we think about one another or do to one another, (which sadly may be most of what we think and do,) is inauthentic, false, insubstantial, and to be disregarded. Let go of every unloving thought about others and at the same time have no regard for the unloving thoughts of others about you.
Observe the centurion. He is not a man interested in the opinions of other men. In the gospel of Luke, we hear that the Jewish elders regarded the centurion as worthy, because of his love for their people and because he had built a synagogue for them. But the centurion does not concern himself with what they think of him. He does not say to Jesus, “See! I am accounted worthy by other men, therefore do as I have asked.” Rather, he says to Jesus, “I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.” In fact, he even makes bold to refuse the offer of Jesus himself. Jesus says, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion does not boast, saying, “See! I am accounted worthy by the master.” No, he says, “I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my servant will be healed.”
But what matters most here is not how the centurion sees himself, even though it is good that he does not base that on the opinions of others. What matters most is how does Jesus see the centurion. And Jesus says that he is a man of great faith. Indeed, of greater faith than all in Israel.
This is who the centurion truly is. He is truly the one that our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ sees when he looks at him. And you are truly the one that our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ sees when he looks at you. That is the only perspective that counts and that is the perspective to which we seek to align our own by imitating Christ.
Unlike this centurion, the friend I mentioned earlier is not a believer (at least, that’s my perception! which doesn’t matter!). But the Lord has used him to inspire me today. The Lord has not abandoned him, or anyone. Pray for him and for all those who lack faith, that they grow in faith and that they come to know the Lord, who is the only one who knows them. One thing I firmly believe that the Lord sees when he looks at each and every one of us, even his enemies, is his beloved.