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)