Matthew 8 (NRSV)
Jesus Cleanses a Leper
We remember an important foundational verse for Matthew’s Gospel: Now Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and disease among the people (Matthew 4:23). Matthew went on to tell us about the teaching ministry of Jesus (Matthew 5-7); now he tells us more about the healing ministry of Jesus, and how His works confirmed His words.
When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; 2and there was a leper who came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.”
According to Jewish law and customs, one had to keep 6 feet from a leper. If the wind was blowing toward a person from a leper, they had to keep 150 feet away. The only thing more defiling than contact with a leper was contact with a dead body.
Barclay wrote: “In the middle ages, if a man became a leper, the priest donned his stole and took his crucifix, and brought the man into the church, and read the burial service over him. For all human purposes the man was dead.”
3He stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 4Then Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
Jesus Heals a Centurion’s Servant
5When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him,
The centurion was an officer in the Roman army, obviously a Gentile. Whenever the New Testament mentions a centurion (there are at least seven), it presents them as honorable, good men.
appealing to him 6and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.”
7And he said to him, “I will come and cure him.”
You half wish the centurion would have agreed to this! It was forbidden for a Jew to enter a Gentile home — what would the Jewish leaders have said had Jesus disobeyed their human rule for the sake of God’s Kingdom?
8The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. 9For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.”
10When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. 11I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
13And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.” And the servant was healed in that hour.
“Only say the word . . .”
In the Roman Catholic Mass, just before Holy Communion, the celebrant raises the host and proclaims to the congregation: “This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper.” The people respond with the prayer , “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word, and I shall be healed.”
That response is adapted from the centurion’s prayer in Matthew 8:8. The centurion asked Jesus to cure his servant at home. When Jesus said he would come to the centurion’s home, the man responded that he was not worthy to have Jesus visit his house. Besides, if Jesus would stay there and “only say the word,” then the servant would be healed.
Jesus did; the servant was cured. Jesus praised the great faith of this gentile centurion.
With the substitution of the word “I” for “servant,” this prayer becomes a preparation for receiving Holy Communion.
How do you know when you are worthy to receive the Eucharist? Strictly speaking, no one is ever worthy . . . but “Only say the word” is a way of acknowledging that all healing and grace ultimately come from God.
(from Ask a Franciscan, http://www.americancatholic.org/Messenger/Aug2001/Wiseman.asp)
Years ago when I was living and teaching in Izmir, Turkey, I played the organ for the Catholic military masses there, and every Sunday I heard the congregation say, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word, and I shall be healed.” My heart heard. To this day, when I take Communion, I hold the bread in my hand and murmur these very words to myself and to Jesus.
Jesus Heals Many at Peter’s House
14When Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever; 15he touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she got up and began to serve him.
16That evening they brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick. 17This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah,
“He took our infirmities
and bore our diseases.”
Would-Be Followers of Jesus
18Now when Jesus saw great crowds around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. 19A scribe then approached and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”
20And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
21Another of his disciples said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
22But Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”
Jesus Stills the Storm
23And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24A windstorm arose on the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25And they went and woke him up, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!”
26And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm.
27They were amazed, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?”
Is there a storm in your life?
Jesus, Savior, pilot me
Over life’s tempestuous sea;
Unknown waves before me roll,
Hiding rock and treach’rous shoal;
Chart and compass comes from thee.
Jesus, Savior, pilot me.
As a mother stills her child,
Thou canst hush the ocean wild;
Boist’rous waves obey thy will
When thou say’st to them: “Be still.”
Wondrous Sovereign of the sea,
Jesus Savior, pilot me.
–Edward Hopper (1812-1888), pastor of a small church in the New York harbor area, known as the Church of Sea and Land.
HERE is a comforting hymn. “In Times Like These, You Need a Savior” sung by the wonderful Cadet Sisters.
Jesus Heals the Gadarene Demoniacs
28When he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs coming out of the tombs met him. They were so fierce that no one could pass that way. 29Suddenly they shouted, “What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?”
30Now a large herd of swine was feeding at some distance from them. 31The demons begged him, “If you cast us out, send us into the herd of swine.”
32And he said to them, “Go!” So they came out and entered the swine; and suddenly, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and perished in the water. 33The swineherds ran off, and on going into the town, they told the whole story about what had happened to the demoniacs. 34Then the whole town came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their neighborhood.
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.