Three Kinds of Faith

Luke 7:1-23

+ I have not found such great faith even in Israel +

“The Great Gadsby” is really about faith and character. Nick seems to be searching for something to believe in, a guiding-principle for his life. He has left the stable confines of his mid-western upbringing. New York is chaotic in its rebellion against prohibition. New York is problematic in its failure to deal with social issues or provide an examples of great persons living noble, charitable, lives. Nick begins the book (or the movie) in need of a Christ-figure. This is what makes it a good launching off point for discussing people like the centurion, and ourselves, that put their faith in Jesus. 


Nick’s first New York friends are Tom, Daisy, and the golfing pro, Miss Baker. He observes with horror their lack of faith and their failure to develop anything that approaches an ethical system for life. In a great quote, F. Scott Fitzgerald writes:


“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy -- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made"


One can ask, is it possible to live a good life and not have something to believe in? There is a God-shaped vacuum driving the party scene on Gatsby’s Long Island. The point is not that they are great sinners. The point is, as Fitzgerald writes, they are careless people. We can identify the careless and faithless people of our lives by observing the trail of broken relationships that they leave behind them.


Of course, what makes the book great and worthy of so many movie attempts is Gatsby’s perfect following of his faith. His entire life and character is molded to serve a single ideal, a faith that the perfection of a past moment can be returned to. In the last line of the book, Nick confers sainthood upon Gatsby. The man is a martyr to his faith, because “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter— tomorrow we will run faster...”


We are left with the realization that having faith isn’t enough. One has to have faith in the right object. People today often speak about faith as if it is a quantity, like gasoline, that one puts into one’s gas tank. A person who is low on faith, might go to a spiritual place to get topped off (it doesn’t matter which religion).  A person with too much faith might go out and buy a lottery ticket. Gatsby had faith in his own ability to build a perfect life. Such faith is tragic and unsustainable. Preach it!


Now we come to the story of faith in Luke 7:1-10. A Roman centurion comes from the midwest (of the Mediterranean world) and settles in Palestine. Like Nick, he needs a Christ figure. His situation, though, is the reverse. He comes from a culture that has few human heroes and no ethical guidelines. The gods of the centurion’s home world are flawed human beings on steroids. He finds the Jewish faith in a holy, transcendent, God appealing. He begins to reshape his life around the ethics and values of his Jewish neighbors. When Jesus passes through, this centurion is ready to receive him as the needed Christ figure. Jesus compliments not just this man’s faith, but his capacity to direct it towards the right object. This faith towards the right object theme, is continued in the next two stories and concludes with Jesus saying "Blessed are those who don't stumble (or misplace their trust) in me."  

The Great Gatsby
Pentecost 3