1 When [Jesus] came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. 2 And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” 3 And Jesus 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, ‘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.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
All the Scripture lessons today (2 Kgs. 5:1-15; Ro. 12:16-21; and Mt. 8:1-13) speak of both mercy and anger. Naaman, the commander of Syria’s army has leprosy and is mercifully healed by God through the prophet Elisha when he washes seven times in the Jordan. But, when Naaman first heard about how this healing would come, he was angry and wasn’t even going to do as God directed him through Elisha.
In our Epistle lesson (Ro. 12:16-21), we Christians are told to be merciful instead of getting angry and vengeful. We are told to not be haughty, but to associate with the lowly. We are told to not repay evil for evil and never avenge ourselves, but leave vengeance to the Lord. We are commanded to overcome evil not with anger but with good.
But the theme of mercy and anger is a little harder to notice in this Gospel text. Mercy is easy to see. Jesus is merciful to two men. First, to a leper who was physically and spiritually unclean but then receives better than he asks. And second, to a Gentile centurion who had a sick servant. This centurion, a commander of at least one hundred men, believes that even though he was unworthy to have Christ come under his roof our Lord has both the ability and mercy to speak a word from far away and heal his servant. So, you might be wondering, where is the anger in this Gospel text?
After Jesus praises the centurion’s faith, Jesus talks about the anger of those who spend eternity in hell. In the outer darkness, Jesus says people will experience only weeping and gnashing of teeth for eternity. That phrase “gnashing of teeth” is not some sort of torture, like an eternal dental procedure. “Gnashing of teeth” is a Hebrew expression of anger and rage. A person who is angry gnashes his teeth at the one who has made him angry. (You see this in Ps. 112:10and other places in the Old Testament.) You can watch this happen when children are angry with their siblings or peers. They clench their jaw, show their teeth, and growl. Hell is where anger and rage never go away and is never satisfied. And we need to consider this for a bit to see the horror of hell.
Those who are in hell insisted on going their own way in this life. They want to be their own lords rather than let God be their Lord. They insist that they be judged according to their own righteousness and merits (which is only a big, smoldering pile of scat anyway), and so they will be. They will be judged and condemned because their trust is in their own righteousness rather than in Christ’s righteousness won for them on the cross and given to them by God’s grace and mercy. And they will be angry with God because they think God has been unfair. In hell, people are given over to their own anger for eternity.
Jesus gives this picture in the parable of the sheep and the goats (Mt. 25:31-46). The goats are justly condemned to hell for their sins, but they are angry with God for not seeing what they thought were their plethora of good works. In the parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Lk. 16:19-31) Jesus also shows how unbelievers grumble and angrily insist on their own way even when they are suffering. The rich man is in anguish and sorrow in hell begging Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to warn his brothers. Abraham says, “They already have Moses and the prophets.” In other words, they have the Scriptures, so they don’t need any further warning. But the rich man says, “That won’t work. My idea is better. Send Lazarus.” Even in there in hell, the rich man rejects the power and truth of God’s Word and angrily insists on his own way.
Hell is the place where people are given over to their anger. It is full of people whose pride has lead them to think that God owes them something because they are so good and righteous or because they belonged to the right club or had the right lineage. But they are wrong and so they are in torment stewing in their anger against God and there is no relief or release. All of that is the gnashing of teeth. So, when Jesus speaks of what hell will be, He gives a picture of darkness, sorrow, and anger.
Now, we need to consider this picture of hell as a place of eternal anger a bit because anger is so prevalent in our society. Anger is probably the most acceptable sin in our culture. We give in to it all too easily and quickly, but our expressions of anger reveal only our pride.
Someone cuts us off while we are driving, and we get angry. We sinfully think, “How dare that guy think he is so important that he cut me off like that?” Well, maybe he actually is more important. Maybe he is going to say goodbye to his dying relative.
Someone jumps into an empty line at the grocery store with a full cart while we have to wait holding only a gallon of milk. Or a coworker fumbles through a task leaving us to pick up the slack. Or our child forgets to do the chore we expected them to do and because of their absent-mindedness we end up behind schedule. We get angry because we see every inconvenience as an injustice against us. Our pride has been hurt, and we try to get even with that person or we take our frustration out on the first vulnerable target in our sights. In doing so, we act as though any hinderance to us is of cosmic significance. And our anger leads us to respond wrath and vengeance.
But by becoming angry – listen to this now – by becoming angry, we are stealing from God. “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says God. To give in to anger is to bring a little piece of hell upon yourself. In doing so, you hurt yourself and those you love. Your anger reveals your pride, and it is weakness. It is unhealthy and dangerous.
Repent. Let it go. Turn the other cheek. The Holy Spirit does not ever move you to anger. None of the fruits of the Spirit – neither love, nor joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, nor self-control – none of those have anything to do with anger. Instead, the Holy Spirit moves you to pity, compassion, patience, forgiveness, and mercy.
Now, pay careful attention here because this is the most important thing about this sermon. Mercy triumphs over anger. Consider Naaman in our Old Testament text. He went off in a rage when he thought Elisha’s prescribed ceremony was foolish. Naaman was a strong man, but we see that his strength was not in his military might rather in his humility and submission to the Word of God.
Same with the centurion in this Gospel text. While he had authority over many men and could order them around, he lacked the authority to make his servant better. He could not say to his servant’s sickness, “Go away.” And he lacked the authority to say to his servant, “Get better.” He couldn’t do it because he didn’t have the strength or authority. The centurion’s truest strength was his submission and faith that Christ’s authority far surpassed his own. So, the centurion in faith and hope asks Jesus to merely speak the word, and his servant is healed at that very moment.
Dear saints, your Savior’s mercy is more than His anger toward you. Trust in that mercy. And when you are tempted to be angry with others, remember that God is just. He is just and merciful. May we, as His children, be like Him. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.