Matthew 9:1-8; A Different Kind of Healing

It’s back in the boat and back across the lake and back to HQ in Capernaum. Not much of a vacation.

Back home, Jesus is met by some folks carrying a paralyzed man on a bed. Jesus perceives “their” faith, but instead of healing the man, he pronounces that his sins are forgiven.

Forgiveness of sins is nothing new to the Jews. They had provisions to be forgiven in their rituals and there are many stories of forgiveness in the OT that are not associated with the Temple at all. But forgiveness always came from God. Here was a man pronouncing forgiveness.

A scribe—a lawyer—took issue with it and thought that Jesus was disrespecting God by saying what he said.

Now, a fraud can easier get by with forgiving sins than physical healing because you cannot see the result. The scribe probably thinks Jesus is a fraud.

I can’t decide whether most of verse 6 is an aside to the reader or a response to the scribe, and neither can the scholars. But the point is that a physical healing would prove the truth of Jesus’ pronouncement of forgiveness.

So Jesus proves what he says by completing the physical healing. The man is healed, gets up, and walks home.

Like the demoniacs, there isn’t much detail about the healed man or his friends. But the disciples—present but unmentioned—learned some more lessons:

  • the kingdom is a spiritual thing as well as a physical thing
  • Jesus is able to do stuff like forgiving sin that only God can do
  • Jesus and the disciples will not always be understood
  • the authority exhibited by Jesus is amazing

Matthew 8:28-34; Demoniacs and Pigs

This is a story where it is difficult to not bring elements into my thinking from Mark and Luke. Matthew tells the story his own way, and I’ll concentrate on what Matthew says, not on what he doesn’t say.

The boat with Jesus and the disciples comes across the lake into the area called Decapolis, or Ten Cities. There they meet two (Matthew has this curious characteristic of doubling from the other gospels) demon-possessed men who cause trouble for travelers.

Matthew doesn’t say much about the men, but the demons in them recognize Jesus for who he is, the Son of God. They know they are doomed in the long run, but they see Jesus before they were expecting to, and ask to be moved into a herd of pigs.

Jesus obliges their request and they proceed to kill the pigs by drowning in the lake. Naturally, the people of the town are disturbed about their loss and ask Jesus to leave their territory, which he does.

It’s curious how little Matthew tells about the men, before or after their exorcism. But my job today is to extract some discipleship stuff from the passage, since this is what Matthew is teaching through his gospel in this section.

  • The disciples are with Jesus and observe all this. This is the first fully explained exorcism in the gospel, and they see what their own future ministry may entail.
  • Jesus cares more about people than pigs.
  • Some people care more about pigs than people.
  • When you help people, you will not always be welcome.

What else am I missing?

Matthew 8:23-27; The Storm

Time for another lesson in what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, the Christ.

Jesus got in the boat and his followers followed him. That’s what followers do. Perhaps it already looked stormy, I don’t know. But they followed him onto the boat and they set sail (?) for the other side.

A storm blew up. It must have been a bad one; Matthew describes it as some sort of earthquake at sea. That does sound bad. But Jesus was tired and asleep in the boat and didn’t notice the storm.

The disciples woke Jesus and informed him. Matthew uses a single word adjective to describe the name Jesus gives them: you-of-little-faith. Ouch.

If their faith was little, they did go to the right place with it. If their faith was little, the did get an answer to their prayer.

I am convinced that the size of our faith is not nearly as important as the direction it points. Who do you trust? That leaves room for growth in our faith. The disciples learned that lesson on that stormy sea.

Jesus made the storm stop. That proves that the disciples trusted the right person. A disciple of Jesus trusts him.

The storms will come. They may be bad. They may be dangerous. We might even be dumped out of the boat and into the sea. We might not even survive the storm. Jesus may calm the storm or he may not.

We keep trusting him. With whatever level of faith we have.

Side note: be careful what you pray for. If the wind dies, you might have a long way to row your boat.

Matthew 8:18-22; It’s Hard to Follow Jesus

Jesus has crowds following him. He’s working hard. And Matthew uses this occasion to show us Jesus doing some weeding. Not everyone who wants to be with Jesus is really fit and/or willing to truly follow.

We don’t hear much today about counting the cost of discipleship. Jesus wasn’t squeamish about it.

The scribe wants to follow Jesus everywhere he goes. Maybe he enjoyed the preaching. Maybe he sees a potential messiah. Whatever, he wants to follow. Jesus discourages him by pointing out the hardship that will come with following him. We aren’t told what the scribe did in response, but the picture seems to be that of Jesus discouraging him because he knows it wouldn’t work.

This is the first time in Matthew that Jesus calls himself “the Son of Man.” The first of many times. That title should elicit in first century Jews a memory of Daniel’s vision and a coming anointed one. That is quite a contrast with this essentially homeless traveling preacher and healer.

Next a disciple wants to take care of a family obligation. Jesus says this disciple has more important things to do. Permission for leave NOT granted.

Following Jesus is all-consuming. It’s more important than personal comfort and convenience. It’s more important that family and social responsibilities. It’s a narrow road and a rugged hike.

Count the cost.

This morning I smoked a poor man’s brisket—a chuck roast. And a chicken. Both came out great. Parts of the beef are more like brisket burnt ends, but still very tasty.

I just saw that I have 119 commentaries on Matthew, not counting the briefer single volume commentaries. I guess I need a lot of help.

Matthew 8:14-17; Jesus Heals

Upon arrival at Peter’s house in Capernaum, the group of disciples found Peter’s mother-in-law having taken sick with a fever. The wording implies a rather serious illness and an unexpected onset.

Jesus heals her with a touch. No word mentioned. No fancy-dan maneuvers. Just a touch.

The lady’s response was the proper one. She served Jesus.

That evening there were many more healings and exorcisms. He cured them all, Matthew says. No one was left out.

Today it doesn’t seem to work like that. I know that some are healed because I’ve heard their testimonies and I trust them. I also know lots of people who are not healed of serious illnesses. Many of you know that I have a terminal cancer; I’d love to be healed and I don’t doubt that God can do it, but so far I’m still sick. And that seems to be the norm, not the exception.

Still, I trust Jesus, by the way. I don’t need to be healed to believe in him.

These healings en masse are by way of announcement. The anointed one has come. The king has come. The kingdom is dawning. He took our infirmities and bore our diseases. I believe that with all I’ve got.

Matthew 8:5-13; The Centurion’s Servant

Matthew continues with the theme of authority.

A gentile centurion comes to Jesus. He shows great humility—sort of a role reversal—and great faith in Jesus. The servant of concern to the centurion is healed at a distance. I think healing at a distance is something of an anomaly. Most of the miracle stories in the gospels involve the touch of Jesus.

Jesus marvels at the faith of the centurion. Matthew doesn’t paint an emotional Jesus, but here you see a bit of emotion. Jesus says he rarely sees such faith, even in Israel, where one should expect more of it.

Jesus talks about how gentiles will have a place in the gathering of the kingdom. Some of the natural heirs of the kingdom will find themselves left out, much to their surprise and discomfort. That’s a spot of good news for people like me who are not Jewish. Also, it’s quite humbling.

Jesus has authority to teach, to heal lepers, and even to heal based on the faith of a gentile and at a distance. More to come.

I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Let anyone be accursed who has no love for the Lord. Our Lord, come! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. 24 My love be with all of you in Christ Jesus. (1 Corinthians 16:21–24, NRSV)

The first of these sentences will strike many present-day readers as needlessly abrasive. Why, at the conclusion of a letter appealing for love in the community, does Paul feel the need to pronounce a curse on those who do not share his passion for the Lord Jesus? The question is an important one, because it reminds us of the substantial attention that Paul gives in this letter to the call for community discipline (see especially chapters 5 and 6). The Christian community as a community of love is not infinitely inclusive: those who reject Jesus are not and cannot be a part of it. There is great danger to the church, in Paul’s view, when some people represent themselves as Christians while rejecting the apostolically proclaimed gospel. In Galatians 1:8–9, for example, Paul pronounces a solemn curse on those who proclaim “another gospel.”

Richard Hays, 1 Corinthians (Interpretation)