Sunday, March 03, 2019

Come Follow Me - Matthew 8-9; Mark 2-5

Come Follow Me - Matthew 8-9; Mark 2-5

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Matthew and the Miracles
Many scholars believe that most of the events in Matthew 8-9 probably occurred prior to the Sermon on the Mount. However, Matthew combined them. As the 3 chapters on the Sermon on the Mount focus on the spiritual teachings of Jesus, these two chapters focus on the miracles Jesus performed.

Each of these miracles suggest a particular power that Jesus possesses. The first miracle, likely occurring immediately after the Sermon, was the healing of the leper.

This healing is very important, because leprosy was viewed differently than any other disease. Under the Law of Moses, leprosy was an uncleanness that reached to the very soul of the person. A leper could not dwell in Jerusalem, attend the temple, and clean people quickly learned to avoid them to avoid being contaminated themselves. In healing the leper, Jesus showed that he had power over clean/unclean, righteousness/sin.

While Matthew has Jesus asking for discretion on not broadcasting around his miracles, Mark seems to encourage it, as when he tells a young man he cures to return to his family and tell them of the miracle.

The Centurion
Jesus not only heals the unclean, but also gives time and consideration to the Gentiles in the area. A Centurion was a Roman military man in charge of 100 soldiers. While it is possible this was a centurion under Herod Antipas (and thus, a Jew), it is more likely to have been a Roman centurion. He notes that he is not worthy of having Jesus enter his house, as he is forced by Caesar's decrees to worship Caesar and other deities, as well as perform some terrible military actions. In this healing, Jesus shows that he is not only the Messiah of the Jews, but of all the Roman world. He is to be worshiped and believed in, even though the world forces down terrible paths. Even when we deem ourselves unworthy, Jesus is there to heal us when we call upon him.

Jairus' Daughter and the Woman with the blood issue
In this dual story, we find Jesus healing a rich and powerful man's daughter, and a poor woman considered unclean. This story shows the power of faith, as Jairus' daughter dies as Jesus is en route to heal her. The faithlessness of those mourning her death and mocking Jesus was palpable. But so was the faith of Jairus and his wife. It was a living faith that sent Jairus perhaps several miles to seek a miracle. Jesus raised a girl from the dead, so he had power over life and death. Jewish belief was that the spirit remained with the body for 3 days, and so was recoverable by a miracle as this. Later, Jesus' bringing Lazarus back from the dead on the fourth day, will show he has complete power over death.

For the woman with a blood issue (a menstruation cycle that never stops), the woman was considered unclean. Women were unclean during their menstrual cycle, and had to go through a cleansing period afterward, so they could be considered clean to enter the temple, to touch others, and to be accepted into all of society. For this woman, her issue was as bad as being a leper. She could never become clean. The scripture notes she saw many physicians, to no avail. Given how terrible medicine was practiced back then, it could have been painful, embarrassing, and harmful to go through the prescribed treatments. In this instance, only faith was sufficient to heal her. Unlike the leper, who walked through the crowds up to Jesus, this woman quietly sought a secret healing and then to go on her way. Having felt his power heal her, he stopped, even though the crowds pressed on him and his disciples. Jesus didn't have to stop. He could have continued walking. But the woman needed a moment to be recognized by her Savior, who looked upon her lovingly, saying her faith made her whole.

"Peace, Be Still"

In going by water to cross the Sea of Galilee, Jesus made an interesting choice. He could have easily went around by land. The storm that occurred would seem to have awakened the average person, but Christ continued sleeping on his pillow in the back of the boat, even while the others struggled to keep it afloat. The waters came in and the boat began to founder. Only then did they awaken Jesus, afraid they would perish. In saying, "Master, we perish," were they pleading for him to save them, or were they informing him that all, including Jesus, were about to meet a watery grave?

In commanding the storms to be still, Jesus showed that not only did he have power over disease and do over the elements. Taming the waters of a great sea is reminiscent of Moses controlling the Red Sea. Jesus, then, showed he had the same power and authority that Moses had. He was not just a prophet, but a new Moses. In the Sermon on the Mount, he replaced much of the Mosaic Law with the Christian Law. As with Moses, Jesus performed many miracles. Now he tamed the waters.

"We are Legion"

Arriving on the opposite shore in the land of the Gadarenes, Jesus encounters two men (one man in Mark), who are possessed by several demons. They are powerful, being able to break fetters and chains. Upon seeing Jesus, the demons proclaim who he is, and pray he won't torment them.

I've pondered without success, why demons would go out of their way to approach Jesus and proclaim him as the Son of God? Why didn't they go hide in a cave or elsewhere, until Jesus departed a few days later? What invisible force caused them to come before him?

Interestingly, those who had fought against God in the war in heaven, now came to Jesus for mercy. They did not want to be cast out of the country they were in, but to be cast into some swine instead. What did it do for them to enter the swine, when the swine immediately ran over a cliff into the sea? The swine were probably being raised for the Romans and other Gentiles in the area to eat, as Jews wouldn't have come near them even to care for the pigs. So, the town people likely were not Jews. Seeing a Jew with such power as to heal the possessed, while also destroying two thousand pigs (possibly one of the town's major livelihoods), would have unnerved those not accustomed to such power. Was the slaughter of the pigs partially due to the Jewish cleanliness laws, which taught that swine were unclean?  What does it mean when an unclean demon enters into an unclean swine? What is the symbolism beyond Christ seeking to cleanse the land of all uncleanness?

We do learn one important thought from this story. Jesus does not remain long with those who reject him. As the Gadarenes asked him to leave for killing their swine, so Jesus will not remain long with us when we ask him to depart from us, as well. We can use whatever reason we have to reject the Lord,  and he will not force himself upon us. Whether through sin, or a conscious demand to have him out of our lives, Jesus will not remain where he is not wanted. Still, he is not far off. Christ did not threaten them, brush his feet off as a testimony against them, nor anything else. He simply left at their request.

Yet, we also learn from those he healed, that when they came to him and asked him to bless them, he was ever ready to lift them up. He forgave sins, healed the sick, raised the dead, calmed the storms, but only when the people first sought him and then exercised faith in Christ. As we turn to him in faith and ask him for his blessings, we will not be turned away.

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