Friday, January 18, 2013

I Only Trust Jesus In Person

Also, it's not true that "Jesus is all you need."

Image source.

This week, we're reading Matthew 8:1-17, where Jesus heals a bunch of people- a man with leprosy, a centurion's servant, Peter's mother-in-law, and other miscellaneous people. Which is great. But, as always, I have some questions and objections...

Jesus heals the man with leprosy (Matthew 8:1-4)

So Jesus wraps up his Sermon on the Mount, and a man with leprosy comes, begging Jesus to heal him. You can see the faith and respect he has for Jesus, since he kneels down and says "If you are willing, you can make me clean." Jesus totally heals him, then sends him off to show the priest.

This is a really big deal because Jesus touched him.

In Leviticus 13:45-46, God commanded "The person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face and cry out, 'Unclean! Unclean!' As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the camp."

So, this law was given hundreds of years before the time of Jesus, and I don't know if they actually followed it literally. BUT the point is, first of all, wow that's really dehumanizing. And I get that the quarantine is for practical reasons, for the safety of the community, and I don't really have a better solution... but wow, that's dehumanizing.

So Jesus was DEFINITELY NOT supposed to touch this guy. But he did. And it's a BIG DEAL. Maybe this guy had no friends, and hadn't had another human being touch him for years. And Jesus addresses that need- the need to connect with a friend- as well as his physical need for healing from the leprosy.

Jesus touched him. And that's really something only Jesus could do. Anyone else would risk being infected- see, that rule about not touching people with those diseases was there for a reason.

Why was he supposed to not tell anyone? And why was he supposed to go see the priest?

Sometimes Jesus tells a newly-healed person not to tell anyone. Presumably this was because Jesus already had too many paparazzi following him around, to the extent that it was sometimes impractical to even enter a city (see Mark 1:43-45). It seems that Jesus didn't want that type of publicity (though he certainly wanted some type of publicity, yes? If you have more thoughts on this, do leave a comment.)

Jesus sends this ex-leper to the priest. ("The" priest? Like there's only one? Okay...) Why? Well, back in Leviticus 13, where the laws are given about skin diseases, it puts priests in the role of examining those who are infected, and evaluating whether they are clean or unclean. Seems incredibly weird- shouldn't doctors be doing that? But I guess being "clean" or "unclean" had a religious component to it, so it kind of made sense?

Regardless of whether anyone can convince me that it made sense, that was the procedure, and Jesus instructs this guy to go through the proper channels to get officially recognized as cured of his leprosy.

Does this mean that Jesus is NOT "all we need"? That, one-on-one with Jesus, he can do what no one else can in terms of healing, but you still need more? That Jesus can't do everything for you?

This guy had a miraculous healing, and Jesus pointed him in the right direction to go through the steps of getting officially recognized as clean and welcomed back into society. But those were things that he needed to do himself. Jesus can't do everything for him. (Can't? Won't? People aren't going to be happy about me saying that Jesus "can't" do something...)

Yeah I guess Jesus isn't all we need. (Readers, what do you think?)

Why don't I have a hat like this? Image source.

The faith of the centurion (Matthew 8:5-13)

Next, a Roman centurion (commander of 100 soldiers) shows up, asking Jesus to come heal his servant, who is paralyzed. When Jesus agrees to go with him, the centurion objects, saying, "I do not deserve to have you come under my roof." He tells Jesus to just give the order, and his servant will be healed- just like he gives orders to the people under his command.

And then Jesus was really freakin' impressed and went with it.

Why didn't he want Jesus to go there in person?

Well I always liked to imagine that his wife would have been totally embarrassed to have important people over when the house wasn't clean.

But really, why? Was there something at his house he didn't want Jesus to see? Was he concerned about wasting Jesus' time, and wanted the healing to happen as efficiently as possible? Did he legitimately feel unworthy, like he said? It could be something to do with the honor/shame aspect of Middle Eastern culture.

Jesus is really impressed with this guy's faith.

Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith." This is a big deal because the centurion wasn't Jewish. Jesus was Jewish, and his ministry focused on Jewish people. So isn't it weird that this centurion guy shows up with wild (but accurate) ideas of what Jesus is capable of doing?

Jesus uses it to prove the point that the kingdom of God has people you never would have expected. Amen to that.

No way would I have agreed to this. This "faith" is foolishness.

If Jesus offered to COME TO YOUR HOUSE and heal someone, why in the world would you turn that down? Why in the world would you say, "no, just do it from here, and then I'll go back by myself and hopefully when I get there he's all better because if not... I have pretty much no chance of ever tracking you down again."

Because yes, I believe Jesus can "just say the word" and heal anyone. I believe he can still do that nowadays. Anytime he wants. But he DOESN'T. People pray to be healed from diseases- I've prayed to be healed- and it doesn't happen immediately like it does in the bible. It seems like God's not paying attention.

And the only difference I can see is this: When someone came and asked Jesus IN PERSON to heal someone, he always did it. Immediately. Because what's he gonna do, he's standing right there in front of them, he has to say SOMETHING.

But I pray, and God is conveniently invisible, and gives no indication of whether he's heard my prayer.

What would have happened if the centurion went home and the servant wasn't healed? By that time, Jesus would have moved on. Would the centurion ever be able to find him again and ask him what the deal was- and DEMAND an answer?

I guess the important bit here is Jesus' statement in verse 13: "Go! It will be done just as you believed it would." That's a promise given specifically to this centurion, and people who are praying for healing nowadays have been given no such guarantee.

(So, I only trust Jesus in person, evidently. But I have a suspicion that if we take a closer look at the healings of Jesus, we'll get some reassurance on this question. Edit: Here's my follow-up post: Jesus' miracles weren't all they're cracked up to be (and why that's a good thing).)

Image source.

Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law, and others (Matthew 8:14-17)

In the next section, Jesus happens upon Peter's mother-in-law, and takes it upon himself to heal her of her fever. (The text seems to indicate that she didn't ask him for healing.)

After she is healed, she gets up to wait on him. Which brings up a good application question: What is your response to Jesus' work in your life?

(Oh also, fun fact: Peter was married.)

Next, Matthew records that a ton of demon-possessed and sick people were brought to Jesus, and he healed all of them. And Matthew links it back to Isaiah 53:4, "He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases." (Well, Isaiah 53:4 actually says "sorrows" instead of "diseases", but close enough.)

So let's talk about Isaiah 53. This is perhaps THE MOST popular Old Testament passage that Christians like to point to as a prophecy about Jesus. It talks about "the suffering servant" who is unjustly beaten and killed for our sins.

Here are a few highlights:

"But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our inequities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the inequity of us all."

So, this is taken to be a prophecy about Jesus, for obvious reasons.

But I'm really surprised to find it here, in this passage about healing people's sicknesses. Normally I think of Isaiah 53 as being all about Jesus' death, and how he took our sins. In an abstract way, not in a practical, down-to-earth, you-no-longer-have-a-fever way.

Okay, so what was Jesus' purpose in coming? Was it to save us from our sins, in an abstract and theologically complicated way, so that several decades from now, when you die, you can go to heaven? Or was it to heal the sick NOW, to bring justice NOW, to free the slaves NOW?

It's BOTH, and Christians need to NEVER FORGET that it's both. (In fact, I'd also like to challenge the idea that "the ONLY thing that matters is whether a person goes to heaven or hell- things on this earth are 100% not important- they are worthy of our attention only to the extent that they compel people towards going to heaven after death." But that's another blog post I'll write someday.)

So yes, Jesus "took up our infirmities and carried our diseases." Like, people's ACTUAL diseases were ACTUALLY healed.

Also, I have heard that in the time of Jesus, often when a verse was quoted from the Old Testament, the audience understood it to be a reference to the entire passage the quote was from. So perhaps by citing one verse from Isaiah 53, Matthew is implying that all of Isaiah 53 applies to Jesus- that Jesus IS the suffering servant who takes away our sins.

In other words, Jesus' healing of people's physical diseases points toward his healing of people's sins.


Well there's a lot going on in this passage. The centurion and the man with leprosy are examples of faith (though I have some issues with the centurion's faith...), and they reinforce a theme that was touched on in Matthew 3:9-10 and Matthew 7:21-23- that people you never expected will be in God's kingdom, and people you never expected will NOT be in God's kingdom.

Also, the passage addresses the idea of one's response to Jesus. In the case of the man with leprosy, Jesus miraculously healed him, but it was also necessary for the man to go, on his own, and see a priest. Next, the centurion's response to Jesus was to take Jesus at his word, to trust that when Jesus said the servant was healed, then the servant is DEFINITELY healed- regardless of whether the centurion is able to verify it. And finally, Peter's mother-in-law responds to Jesus' healing by serving him.

Questions for my readers: Is Jesus "all we need"? What do you think of the centurion's faith? What is your response to Jesus?


This post is part of a series on the gospel of Matthew.

Previous post: Jesus' Tips For Hurricane Preparedness (Matthew 7:24-29)

Next post: "You of Little Faith..." (Matthew 8:18-34)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Perfect Number! I found you following Emelina on Twitter and reading your blog has really made me think.

    When I discovered you, I'd just started writing a blog on the healing of the man born blind in John 9 and now that it's finished I want to share it with you. The how and why God heals is fascinating to me and I'm curious to know your opinion on my conclusions ...

    Talk soon,
    <3 Meg