Third Sunday in Epiphany
When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. 2 And behold, a leper[a] came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” 3 And Jesus[b] stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 4 And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.5 When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, 6 “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” 7 And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” 8 But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant,[c] ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 10 When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment. (Matthew 8:1-13)
“Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel, have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham Isaac and Jacob in heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Jesus commends a gentile for his faith. Then he offers a warning to the “sons of the kingdom” that it is still yet possible for them as long as they don’t believe, to be thrown into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. It isn’t a pretty picture. It’s a disturbing and startling picture. Weeping and gnashing of teeth, it is what every one of us deserves for our sin. It is what each and every ingrate who takes Christ and his salvation for granted deserves. And it would be the fate of each and every one of us if it wasn’t for the cross Christ bore. If it wasn’t for the baptism he instituted that binds us to his death and resurrection. If it wasn’t for his body and blood the bread and wine of our salvation.
“Sons of the kingdom” It’s an odd phrase for us today. We think of sons of the kingdom as those who have been adopted by grace though baptism in the death and resurrection of Christ to be fellow heirs with him in the kingdom. Brothers and sisters in Christ who have been adopted by God. Obviously, no one was yet baptized with this baptism when Christ spoke these words. He had not gone through his baptism by fire, of death and resurrection. He had not yet rose from the dead and instructed the disciples to go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. So who are these sons of the kingdom?
They are those who think the kingdom is theirs by birthright. They are those who think they have earned their salvation and do not need Christ or a messiah for salvation. For salvation, this is key. They expected a messiah to come. Everyone knew the time was right and expected him to come at some time. But they expected a political figure and political salvation. They did not expect a cross with death and resurrection. Everyone is looking for him. And they are looking to Jesus to be him. He just cleansed a leper with the words “be clean.” But then he does something no one expected of the messiah. He had compassion on a centurion, an enemy of the state of Israel, a leader in the occupying force. And he commended that man’s faith. The faith of a gentile. There is room in the Messiah’s kingdom for all who believe, even for a hardened man of war leading a force of occupation on what many considered to be “the kingdom.”
What get’s him in is faith. The centurion knew who Jesus was. Knew that Jesus could issue the order and his servant would be healed. He knew he wasn’t worthy. That is the difference between this centurion, and the “sons of the kingdom.” A person with faith knows that they really are unworthy to be receiving such a gift as salvation. They know that they are sinners and deserve this weeping and gnashing of teeth. There are those who do not believe this. They don’t recognize their sin, they refuse to acknowledge their sinfulness. Furthermore they think they don’t need God’s grace. They don’t need a crucified Lord, his body or his blood or his baptism. They can do without these things they think and be just fine being good or nice. Perhaps they could use a messiah to come and reestablish Israel, maybe turn the ship and right the country, get a republican in to office, or maybe a democrat or a libertarian. To convince the rest of the world of right and wrong and to take the moral highroad. But that isn’t what Jesus came to do. No, Jesus came to die for you. Jesus came to give you salvation, because he knew something about you that you are often reluctant to admit. You are a sinner in need of salvation, a sinner deserving of the outer darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth. Even you a daughter, a son of the kingdom. But for this reason he has given you his death and resurrection in the waters of baptism, the free gift of salvation.