Now that Matthew has finished the first of the five discourses of his Gospel, he turns his attention to healing stories. This next chapter of the Gospel is filled with all sorts of stories including a curing of leprosy, the healing of the son of a Roman centurion, the healing of Peter's mother-in-law, the expelling of several demons from unnamed people, and one exorcism of a demoniac in the territory of the Gerasenes. As we read through the next few days, each of these stories will be covered.
However, as I was reading this morning, I found myself looking at them as a group, a collective, rather than as individuals. My reading and my prayer led me to consider them as a whole. I found myself realizing that these healings and curing are related to the Sermon on the Mount which preceded them. You might remember that Jesus proclaimed in that sermon that he had come to fulfill the law, not to destroy it. At the same time, Jesus asked his disciples to look at the spirit of the Law rather than the letter of the Law. I believe that chapter eight exemplifies that very notion.
The leper was ritually impure, yet Jesus does not spurn his faith. The Roman centurion was an outsider, a Gentile, yet Jesus praises his faith. Peter's mother-in-law was definitely out of place in the home of her daughter, yet Jesus restores her health (and her dignity) so that she can function within the family. The demons which Jesus expels, in particular from the Gerasene demoniac, seem to know who Jesus is. However, he silences them.
In the midst of these stories, we hear the familiar tale of the storm at sea. Jesus calms the waves. As I have written before, St. Matthew seems to employ the narrative technique of chiasm in his writing, a literary convention that asks the reader to find the meaning of the story in the "middle." The disciples are astounded at Jesus' power over the forces of nature because they know that only God has such power. By placing the story in the midst of these healing stories, St. Matthew raises Jesus above that of the folk healer or medicine man, of which there were many at this time. St. Matthew tells us that this power comes from God, not from human skill or knowledge.
Not only that, by in each of these instances, Jesus demonstrates a sensitivity to the dictates of the Law and also extends the benefits of the Law to those who are on the outside. He goes beyond, reaching out to those who are in need but who might fall outside of the Law's reach. The Sermon on the Mount is put into action; and, as we all know, those actions speak louder than, amplify those words.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator