A Catholic Monthly Magazine

The Gospel of Matthew – (Part 3)


J McHugh

by Joe McHugh

Matthew brackets the material in chapters 5-9 with two nearly identical verses. “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people” (4:23).

“Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness” (9:35). We have already noticed Jesus’ teaching and proclaiming the good news in chapters 5-7, the great Sermon on the Mount. Chapters 8-9 tell us about the other part of his ministry,
curing diseases.

Chapters 8-9

Healings discipleship

Most of the material in chapters 8-9 comes from Mark, although Matthew has greatly condensed it. (Compare Matthew 8:28-34 with Mark 5:1-20, for example. Note also that twice in these chapters Matthew doubles the number of the persons cured -- here and in 9:27-31—as compared to Mark’s version.) Our comments here will be focused on a few of the items Matthew includes.

A centurion came to Jesus to ask for the healing of his servant. The centurion indicated faith that Jesus could heal even at a distance. Granting the healing, Jesus announced, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.” This comment is part of Matthew’s plan to gradually introduce the fact that Jesus brings salvation even to those not part
of Israel.

Jesus calms the storm

We may ask why Jesus’ calming of the storm is one of the ‘healings.’ In our modern scientific age, we tend to attribute storms to low pressure systems. In Jesus’ day all disturbances of creation – whether illness or violent storms – were thought to be caused by the influence of satanic power. This particular storm was violent indeed, since the Greek word Matthew used means ‘shaking,’ and is usually associated with an earthquake. Interwoven into the list of healings, Matthew gives us information about discipleship. In this particular episode, the storm may be symbolic of the turmoil the Church would face as it proclaimed the Gospel message. Jesus’ peaceful sleep in the midst of the storm is an indication that he has complete confidence in God’s care for him. Christians need to have confidence in Jesus even in the difficult times.

Other stories concerning discipleship tell us about two would-be followers of Jesus (8:19-22) and the call of Matthew (9:9). It would seem that Jesus is being harsh in refusing to let a man go bury his father. We immediately think that the death is recent and the burial imminent. But Christians of the Middle East understand the message clearly: the son is postponing following Jesus indefinitely. Had the father just died, the son would be at his father’s side, not out on the road. The son is actually telling Jesus he will follow him in the distant future at the end of his father’s life. Matthew, on the other hand, immediately responds to Jesus’ call.

Chapter 10

Jesus preaching

After naming the twelve disciples, Matthew tells us that Jesus shared his ministry with them: “These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons’” (verses 5-8). Jesus’ earthly mission was to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel,” although even in this chapter, as we will see, there are hints of the wider mission of the Church to the whole world. Only in his instructions after the resurrection will Jesus say the Gospel is to be proclaimed to all the nations. The hint of a wider mission is contained in Jesus’ words, “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles” (verses 16-18). “Governors and kings” refer to Gentile rulers in areas where the Gospel will later be preached.

Verse 34 contains a curious statement, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Jesus warns that even within a family there will be strife because of him and his mission. In telling us that he has come to bring a sword, Jesus is not describing the purpose of his coming into the world, but rather its effect.

Chapter 11

Jesus walking

Follow Jesus

John the Baptist is in prison, but sends his disciples to confirm that Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus’ reply focused on what he has been doing in his ministry: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them” (verses 4-5). But recall what John had said in chapter 3, verses 11-12: “…one who is more powerful than I is coming after me…His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Jesus’ reply to John’s disciples is a yes and a no. Jesus is the mightier one, but his ministry is one of mercy, not vengeance. Jesus identifies John as the ‘Elijah’ of whom the prophet Malachi said, “Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes” (4:5; or 3:23 in translations based on the Latin Vulgate).

There are some people you just can’t please. Like children arguing about playing “Weddings and Funerals,” some people reject both John and Jesus: “But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’”
(verses 16-19).


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