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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Today’s Reading | Matthew 8:1–17

When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; and there was a leper who came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” He stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Then 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.”

When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to himand saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.” And he said to him, “I will come and cure him.” The 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. For 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.” When 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. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.” And the servant was healed in that hour.

When Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever; he touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she got up and began to serve him. That 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. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah, “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.” (NRSV)

There are wonderful things about this passage—the faith shown by the leper and the centurion, Jesus’ humility, Jesus calling the entitled to account, Peter’s mother-in-law returning service for healing—all wonderful things. But the section that catches my attention comes when the writer says, “This was to fulfill what was written by the prophet Isaiah, ‘He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.’”

Now, just a minute. Isaiah 53 is not a reference to making things disappear; it’s about the Suffering Servant bearing those conditions himself; and while that is beautiful, that is not what happens in Matthew 8. Jesus doesn’t get leprosy or become paralyzed or get a fever or anything else. He simply makes these conditions nothing.

That miracle of transformation was not enough for the author of this Gospel, who compiled this account from a number of sources decades after the death of Jesus. This author was creating a prophetic context and indulged in a bit of rhetorical gymnastics to make the actions of Jesus serve his point. And not only did he do that, the author also suggested that this is why Jesus helped people, to fulfill a prophecy and establish his credentials.

How often do we do this today, take a word or an act and bend it to our previously determined purposes? How far do we have to look to see it done? We all have systems of self-justification, and it’s just more convenient to have God act in accordance with our systems, even if we have to try to force him into it.

But God is not the servant of the Word, and when it came to caring for people, Jesus did not think about his context in some prophetic structure. He just helped people in need. He acted for their benefit, not his own. That’s what selfless love is. It serves people, not systems.

Lord, how often we forget that you do not serve the Word, you are the Word. Shake our systems, confound our orthodoxies, and bring us to the simple service of love. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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