Chapter 68: Ten Lessons about Life

The second book of Matthew’s Gospel is all about discipleship. Two of the three chapters are devoted to ten healing stories. Matthew sees healing and discipleship as two sides of the same coin.

The ten mighty deeds can be divided into three groups. Healing is brought to outcasts; a leper, a paralysed pagan and a Jewish woman. The second grouping has Jesus confronting evil; he calms the storms of conflict within communities, the powers of evil that dehumanise us are destroyed and the paralysing consequences of sin are vanquished. Finally Jesus addresses what causes us to reject truth; truth about our God, truth about ourselves. Two women are cured. The older, who is so cut off from society that she is a living dead person, the younger, a twelve year old on the brink of womanhood dies. Both are raised. Jesus cures the blindness and deafness that cut us off from “Truth”.

I suggest you read each healing story before reading the parts I will highlight.

A Leper (8:1 – 4)

Timidly the leper approaches Jesus asking for a cure. “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” How graciously Jesus’ replies, “I do choose.” As disciples, our response to those in need should be just as generous and enthusiastic. “Show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded.”   As an observant Jew, Jesus respects the Law’. Finally the man is told, “Go”. Do something about your situation. You have many gifts and talents, use them.

A pagan – the Centurion’s paralysed servant (8: 5-13)

This Roman officer is exceptional. An enemy of the Jews asks for a favour for his servant.   “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralysed, in terrible distress.” Once again Jesus replies generously. “I will come and cure him.” “Lord I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but speak only the word, and my servant will be healed.” He knows that Jesus will incur ritual uncleanness by entering his home. He respects Jesus and the Jewish customs and practices. Once more we are told to, “Go,” and do likewise.

Peter’s mother-in-law began to serve them. She is the first disciple to proclaim the Word. A woman!!! She probably played a leading role in Matthew’s Christian community. Everybody knew her – no need for names. Later, the two blind men who Jesus cured will react in the same way. “They went and spread the news about him throughout the district.” (9: 31)

“For the Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests.” (8: 19) Herod is the Fox and the birds of the air a derogatory reference to the Roman army of occupation. Jesus’ disciples should never aspire to Power.

21Another of his disciples said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”       22 But Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” Put the kingdom first – hunger and thirst for goodness. (5: 6)

In the second group of healing stories Jesus dominates evil. “He rebuked the winds and the sea.” (8: 26) This is symbolic of conflict that destroys communities, our humanity and ultimately ourselves.

34Then the whole town came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw the healed man, they begged Jesus to leave their neighbourhood.” (8:28-34) This community valued pigs more than people. When we place money and possessions ahead of people we lose our very humanity.

The healing of the paralytic opens with people carrying the paralysed man. This simple kindness will bear much fruit. Sin, it was believed, had caused this paralysis and it is kindness that brings about the cure.

“5For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk?’ How difficult it is for us to forgive!

“6But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” He then said to the paralytic, “Stand up, take your bed and go to your home.” 7And he stood up and went to his home. 8When the crowds saw it, they were filled with awe, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to human beings.” “Authority to forgive”; Each one of us has the power to forgive. This is one of the most wonderful qualities we have received. When we forgive we are at our very best.

“Go, and learn what it means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,” Jesus said during the meal celebrating the call of Matthew, a sinner and tax collector. He calls all to discipleship.

Our God is great. “The Lord, merciful and gracious, slow to anger and rich in kindness, faithful and forgiving. (Ex 34: 6-7) Nothing and nobody should separate us from such a Good God. Spiritual death, blindness and deafness are defeated by Jesus.

“Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest,” Jesus exhorts us. (9: 37) God’s reply, “He summoned the twelve.”   (10: 1)

Chapter 67: Healing Stories / Mighty Deeds?

Walking across the school playground one morning I was greeted by a long lost friend. “I hear you are working miracles,” she said. What could she have meant?

The Gospels tell of Jesus performing many miracles.   John closes his Gospel with, “There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written.” Is this exaggeration, or is John trying to tell us something?

Instead of speaking of ‘miracles’ why not use, mighty deeds of power.

Mark tells us that Jesus received a cold reception when he went visiting Nazareth. He closes this unpleasant episode with, “So he was not able to perform any mighty deeds there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them.” (Mk 6: 5) This suggests that curing the sick was just one aspect of his healing ministry.

14 When Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever; 15 he touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she got up and began to serve them. (Mt 8: 14 – 15) This healing was probably witnessed by Peter, his wife, other members of the family and of course the woman herself. This must have made a profound impact on all present. The story was told and re-told. Matthew, probably got the story second or third hand. His community did not experience this healing. All they had was a healing story.

Healing stories are a type of literature that the evangelists used to convey to their communities the teachings and values of Jesus. We must search out the message that Matthew wanted to convey and the lesson that story has for us.

God has a healing mission:

“I will heal their wounds and reveal an abundance of lasting peace. I will rebuild them as of old. I will cleanse them of all guilt ; all their offences I will forgive. Then Jerusalem shall be my joy, my praise, my glory, before all the nations of the earth, as they hear of all the good I will do among them. I will give her the benefits of peace. (Jer 33: 6-9)

On that day the deaf shall hear the words of the book; and out of gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. The lowly shall ever find joy in the Lord, and the poor rejoice in the Holy One of Israel. (Is 29: 18-19)

Jesus saw his healing mission in a similar light.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind and to let the oppressed go free.” (Lk 4: 18)

Our healing mission is summed up:

“This, rather is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, lifting every burden, sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.” (Is 58: 6-8)

According to Isaiah healing is a two way process.   Both the ‘sick’ and the ‘healer’ experience change in their lives.

“Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall be quickly healed. Your saving goodness will be recognized, and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.” (Is 58: 8)

The feeding of the crowds appears six times in the Gospels, twice in Mark, twice in Matthew, once in Luke and once in John. This event must have been deeply significant for the early Christians. Mark, after the first feeding story tells us that, “They had not understood the incident of the loaves (Mk 6: 52) After the second feeding the disciples are in a boat and Jesus addresses them.

“Do you not understand or comprehend? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear? (Mk 8: 17) The disciples had witnessed the feeding. Mark is telling us that there is a deeper meaning to the feeding than handing out sandwiches.

He gives us one possible insight.   Immediately after arriving at Gennesaret the local people “scurried about the surrounding country and began to bring in the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was, and as many as he touched were healed.” (Mk 6: 55-56) This is true religion. The meaning of the feeding is summed up by James; “Religion that is pure and undefiled is this; to care for orphans and widows in their affliction.” (Jm 1: 27)

When we share with the hungry we exercise our healing ministry. (Is 58: 7) Matthew encourages us to share, care, heal, change people’s lives. Always let, “Your light shine before others.” (Mt 5: 16)

Chapter 66: Matthew Presents the New Moses

This year the Gospel texts for Sundays of Ordinary Time are taken from Matthew. We give the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, a variety of names: The Pentateuch, the Books of the Law or the Five Books of Moses. At one time it was suggested that Moses actually wrote them. We now realise that he did not.

In his Gospel, Matthew sets out to portray Jesus as the New Moses. He models his Gospel on these Five Books and tells the story of Jesus’ deeds and teaching in five books. Each book ends with, “When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.” Go to these texts. 7: 29; 11: 1; 13: 53; 19: 1; 26; 1.

Let us look at how Matthew portrays Jesus, drawing parallels from the Old Testament. The wicked king of Egypt ordered the midwives, who helped the Hebrew women to give birth, to kill all the male babies. (Ex 2: 15) According to Matthew something similar happened at the time Jesus was born. When the wise men arrived in Jerusalem, they foolishly asked Herod, the ruling King, “Where is the new born king of the Jews?” Most kings do not take kindly to being told that a rival has come on the scene. Neither did Herod. He ordered all the little boys in Bethlehem to be killed. As things turned out both Moses and Jesus were saved; Moses by Pharaoh’s daughter, and Jesus by Joseph taking him and his mother to Egypt. Matthew further strengthens his argument by telling us, “He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.” (2: 15 and Hos 11: 1)

This is not the first time the evangelist quotes from the Hebrew Scriptures to emphasise that Jesus is fulfilling what the prophets had said. It will not be the last time that he uses this technique. As you go through the Gospel you will find more instances where he quotes from the Old Testament.

Moses journeyed with the Hebrew people from Egypt and Matthew has Joseph being instructed, “Rise, and take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel.” If Matthew wanted to portray Jesus as the New Moses then he had to have him following the same route into Israel.

“Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord swept the sea with a strong east wind throughout the night and so it turned into dry land. The Israelites marched into the midst of the sea on dry land, with the water like a wall to their right and to their left.” (Ex 14: 21 -22) Picture the Israelites climbing the beach on the other side.

At the start of Jesus’ ministry he also passes through the waters of John’s baptism. “After Jesus was baptised, he came up out of the water and behold the heavens opened, and a voice came from the heavens saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (3: 16-17) When God instructs Moses on the message he is to deliver to Pharaoh he says, “So you shall say to Pharaoh: Thus says the Lord, Israel is my son, my first-born. Hence I tell you: let my son go.” By alluding to this text Matthew leaves us in no doubt as to the identity of Jesus and his relationship with God. (Ex 4: 22)

Possibly one of the most significant parallels is when Moses brought ten plagues down on Egypt. On the contrary, Jesus, the New Moses, brings ten healings to the community; he cleanses the leper, cures the centurion’s servant, heals many people, calms the storm, frees the Gadarene demoniac, cures the paralytic, raises the daughter of the synagogue official from the dead, restores the haemorrhaging woman, gives sight to two blind men and gives hearing and speech to the dumb man. (Mt 8 & 9)

Chapter 62: Lazarus

Lk 16: 19 – 31

Note: Last month I briefly introduced the Parable of ‘The Rich Man and Lazarus.’ We will now look deeper into this story. I suggest that you read this text once more.

St Basil   (died 379 AD)writes: “Aren’t you behaving like a thief when you consider yours, the riches of this world, while these riches have been entrusted to you for stewardship.”

Our World

19“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.

One man sporting the most expensive clothing and the other clothed in nothing, but sores. Only metres apart, one feasting sumptuously and the other longing for the bread the guests used to clean their fingers. Both were fully aware of the other’s existence and all that separated them was a gate. This describes South Africa and is repeated the world over.

In truth the tragedy of the story is that Lazarus is invisible. He has been erased from the rich man’s mind – deleted in the way that people of privilege delete the homeless from their personal landscapes.

At the centre of this totally unfair situation lies the fundamental belief that that we are owners of wealth rather than stewards. We should manage our wealth for the benefit of ourselves and others. “You shall love yourself, your neighbour and your God.”

22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. One was buried. Nobody bothered to bury Lazarus. He is regarded as less than human.

The arrogance of the Rich Man continues even in death. He orders Abraham and Lazarus to comfort him. “Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue.”

26Between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.

This is not a new development. Our story opened with a description of this chasm. Now, it is just that much bigger. If we do nothing, nothing will change.

“Your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall be quickly healed. If you remove oppression from among you, if you offer your food to the hungry, and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness. (Is 58: 8 – 10)

The Rich Man pleads, “I beg you to send Lazarus to my father’s house – to us the members of the kingdom – that he may warn them.” The chasm is not just between two people, it includes all humanity, my father’s house, the Kingdom of God.

Abraham replies, “They have Moses and the prophets; the Scriptures, they should listen to them.”

He ponders, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets…. They will never be convinced?” Sounds ominous! I do not think so.

‘Lazarus’ means, God helps. God will help us to change. Start with a cup of cold water. (Mt 10: 42)

I will let St Basil have the last word. When someone steals another person’s clothes we call him thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not?

The bread in your cupboard belongs to the person who is hungry. The coat hanging, unused, in your wardrobe belongs to the person who needs it. The shoes rotting in your cupboard belong to the person who has no shoes. The money which you are hoarding belongs to the poor.