Today we read Matthew 8, one of my favorite passages in Scripture. A centurion, and therefore probably a gentile, comes to Jesus seeking healing for his paralyzed servant. Jesus immediately agrees to go to the man’s house to heal the servant. But the centurion is so convinced of who Jesus is that he says,
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.
This is a tremendous statement of faith. For the centurion, knowing who Jesus is understands that he is not worthy even to be in Jesus’ presence let alone for Jesus to enter his home. The centurion shows great humility. Further, he so understands Jesus authority that he knows all Jesus has to do is will for the servant to be healed and he will be.
This verse is one of the most quoted verses of scripture in the entire world. For this great statement of faith and humility is repeated out loud by the entire congregation in every Catholic mass before the Communion rite begins.
The other thing that is important in this verse is that we are told that these events happen in Capernaum. Several times we are told in the bible that events happen in and around Capernaum. Usually, when this happens it means the events are in some way connected. Jesus will go to Capernaum after turning water into wine at the wedding feast of Cana. Jesus will give the “bread of life discourse” at the synagogue in Capernaum. Now, look at what Jesus says after the statement of faith made by the centurion.
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. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of 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.”
At first glance this seems like an odd thing for Jesus to say. How do we go from the great statement of faith by the centurion to ‘some people are going to hell’ language so quickly? The key in understanding is looking at who the people are and what they are doing.
The people, “will come from the east and the west”. They are outsiders – gentiles.
They will recline at table with the patriarchs in heaven. What table? The table of the Last Supper. The table of the new covenant. Remember, God always marks covenants with food. So Jesus is saying that the gentiles will have faith in Him and be brought into heaven through a new covenant that has some relation to the old (b/c the patriarchs are also there).
Who will be thrown out? The “sons of the kingdom”. In the first instance the sons of the kingdom are the Jews. However, it is important not to take this statement to far. It is not all Jews who are excluded but only those Jews who knowingly reject the new covenant. Later we will read how Jesus does not condemn people who have not been told the message. Jesus will say that only after they have heard are they guilty for rejecting. What Jesus is saying here is that some Jews, because of their upbringing, will hear the message, understand that He is the messiah and yet still reject him. After the resurrection, the meaning of “sons of the kingdom” will be expanded and mean all people who have access to the gospel and the Church. The same will apply to them. If they hear the truth but reject it they will be thrown out.