Good morning! I hope you are enjoying this deep dive into Matthew’s gospel. I find myself reading and learning in a different way when we consider large chunks of the gospel, rather than a 10-20 verse excerpt selected to make preaching easier. For example, I’m only noticing now the contrast between the stationary Jesus of yesterday (preaching and teaching in the Sermon on the Mount) with the man of action we encounter today. In Matthew 8-11, Jesus heals, casts out demons, teaches more, calls disciples, sends them out, and corresponds with John the Baptist via messengers—busy throughout!
Jesus’ healing ministry takes center stage in today’s reading. There are almost more than can be counted, and at least some of them teach by action, meaning that they reveal Jesus’ priorities. When he cleanses a leper, note that Jesus directs the healed man to go be validated as clean by a priest (in keeping with the law). Jesus also responds favorably to a (Gentile) centurion, marveling at the man’s faith and understanding. We glimpse the upside-down values that Jesus pointed to in the Beatitudes when he describes a worldwide welcome to the table of the Hebrew patriarchs, and yet the Hebrew “heirs of the kingdom” will be cast out (perhaps by their own stubbornness). He also liberates the two swineherds from demon possession in the country of the Gadarenes. When the townspeople subsequently send Jesus away, it’s a reminder that liberation is not always “good news” for those who were comfortable with the status quo. But those who heard Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount can take confidence that his deeds will match those many words of liberation. Proving this point, healing stories continue throughout the next chapters—they are a constant in Jesus’ ministry.
We get a brief glimpse of conflict with other religious authorities starting in chapter 9, when they challenge Jesus for declaring someone’s sins forgiven. Objections also arise over the type of people Jesus surrounds himself with: tax collectors (seen as traitors), sinners, and other folks he doesn’t intend to somehow make more “respectable”. Jesus quotes Hosea and the prophetic concern for transformed people, saying, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”
Another key focus in these chapters is the trials and triumphs of discipleship. Jesus feels urgently the need for faithful followers to do the same work of liberation that he has begun. The mission is so urgent that he tells as scribe that Jesus won’t rest until it is completed, and tells a disciple that there isn’t time even to bury one’s own father. As a result, Jesus empowers and sends forth the twelve apostles with detailed instructions. They are equipped to heal and liberate as he is, as well as to encourage or warn the towns that they minister to. (I wonder why they’re only sent to Jewish towns, especially since Jesus sees such promise in the Gentile centurion’s faith.) Wherever they go, disciples are called to practice radical trust—just showing up without preparation or provision, trusting in the hospitality of strangers. Jesus minces no words when describing the opposition that comes from living his way in the world. (This was no doubt informed by Matthew’s own experience of Jewish and Roman opposition to Christ’s followers.) Jesus encourages disciples to persevere through hardship and persecution: the Spirit will give the words that are needed, and God knows every sacrifice. Therefore, when sword-like division comes (as it had come between families at the time of Matthew’s composition), they are to endure the trials while trusting that disciples of Christ can overcome like him. John the Baptist emerges as a model for determined discipleship, even though he is imprisoned for his words. Though the way is hard, Jesus promises solace, “for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light”. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Matthew 12-13. Thanks for reading!