The Word Made Fresh
1When Jesus came down from the hillside, crowds of people began to follow him. 2One of them, a man with leprosy, came and knelt in front of him and said, “Lord, I know you can heal me if you want to.” 3Jesus reached out and touched him and said, “I want to. Be well!” The man’s leprosy suddenly disappeared. 4Then Jesus told him, “Don’t say anything to anyone. Just go and show yourself to a priest. Take a testimonial offering with you as Moses commanded.”
5Jesus came to Capernaum, and was met by a centurion, 6who said, “Lord, my servant is at my home. He has become paralyzed, and is in a lot of pain.”
7Jesus said, “Take me there, and I will heal him.”
8The centurion replied, “Lord, I don’t deserve to have you under my roof. But if you will only say the word, my servant will be healed. 9I am also a man with some authority – there are soldiers under me. If I say to one of them ‘Go,’ he goes. If I say ‘Come,’ he comes. If I tell my servant, ‘Do this,’ he does it.”
10When Jesus heard him say this, he was impressed, and said to his followers, “I tell you truthfully that not even among Israelites have I seen such faith! 11A lot of people will come from east and west and dine with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12while those who inherit the kingdom will be cast into oblivion where there is much weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13Then he turned again to the centurion and said, “Go home; your faith will result in your receiving what you have asked.” And the man’s servant was healed immediately.
14Jesus entered the house of Peter and saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed, suffering from a fever. 15He took her hand and the fever was gone! She got up and began to attend to him. 16Later that evening the people brought to him others who were demon-possessed. He cast out the demons with a word, and healed many others who were sick. 17This incident was foretold by the prophet Isaiah, who had said, “He took our problems and carried our sicknesses away.”
18Great crowds had begun to follow him, and when Jesus saw it he ordered his disciples to row across to the other side of the lake. 19A lawyer came up to him and said, “Teacher, I’ll follow you wherever you go.”
20Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to call home.”
21Then one of his followers said, “Lord, I’ll go with you after I have buried my father.”
22Jesus said, “Follow me. Let those who are dead bury their own dead.”
23Jesus’ disciples got into the boat with him. 24A storm came up while they were at sea. The winds were so strong that the boat was beginning to be swamped by the waves. But Jesus was asleep. 25They woke him up, crying out, “Lord, help us! We’re going to die!”
26Jesus asked them, “What are you afraid of? Have you no faith?” Then he arose and called out to the wind and waves and the sea became calm. 27They were all amazed. They said, “What kind of man is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
28They arrived at the other side of the lake which was Gadarene territory, and two men who were demon-possessed came out of the tombs there and met him. They were so frightening that no one dared pass that way. 29But suddenly they began to shout, “What do you want of us, Son of God? Have you come to terrorize us before we die?”
30There was a large herd of pigs feeding a little ways off, 31and the demons begged Jesus, “If you must cast us out, send us into the pigs.”32Jesus said, “Go!” They came out of the men and entered the pigs, and the entire herd suddenly raced down the steep bank into the sea and all of them were drowned.
33The men who were keeping the herd ran to the town and told everybody what had happened to the demons. 34The whole town came then to see Jesus and when they found him they begged him to go away.
1-4: Chapter 8 will present five miracle stories, interrupted by an account of would-be discipleship. The first miracle, which may not be a miracle, has to do with the cleansing of a leper. There is some debate about whether Jesus healed the man of the disease. It may be that the man had been pronounced unclean, but his condition proved to be temporary, and he sought Jesus to pronounce him clean. If Matthew meant to present it as a miracle of healing the point would simply be that Jesus was possessed of uncommon powers. If Matthew meant it as an incident of ritual cleansing the point would be that this inflicted man believed that only Jesus had the authority to restore him to a right relationship with God.
5-13: We are back in Capernaum where Jesus is known to some degree (see 4:13). This appears to be an incident in which Jesus does cure a serious ailment, although we are at a loss to know exactly what illness the unnamed servant (or son) might have had. The main point to this story is that the centurion, a Gentile military official, has enough faith in Jesus to ask him to heal the servant, and Jesus exceeds his expectation by doing so without even seeing the ailing servant.
14-17: Peter was the first disciple Jesus called (4:18). Jesus heals his mother-in-law of a fever, and that act combined with the healing of the centurion’s son generates enough interest that people begin to line up at the door, and Jesus casts out demons and heals diseases. The casting out of demons is first mentioned here. Note that Matthew again cites a prophecy, this time specifying the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 53:4).
18-22: The scene changes to the lakeside, where Jesus has given orders (apparently to Peter, Andrew, James, and John, who were fishermen) to go to the other side of the lake. He is approached by a scribe who declares that he will follow Jesus anywhere, but is rebuffed. Jesus is not a rabbi who takes on students, but calls those whom he wishes to teach. He chooses who will be his disciples, not the other way around. The second confrontation is with someone who is already a disciple, though otherwise unidentified. This one asks to leave to bury his father before they head across the lake. Clearly his father’s death has just occurred. Jesus’ reply is brusque. The call to discipleship is more important than any other responsibility, even the duty of a son to bury his father in a timely manner. Of course, there is the possibility that the man’s father hasn’t died yet, and he is telling Jesus he will follow, but only after his father has passed. He may be worried about his share of his father’s estate if he is not present.
23-27: At sea a storm blows in and the boat is threatened. Jesus, who has fallen asleep, is awakened and orders the storm to abate, which it does. The disciples are amazed, but they obviously thought he had the power to save them because that’s why they awakened him. Perhaps they thought he would save them by giving the order to turn back.
28-34: The exact location is unknown, but clearly they are on the Gentile, or western, side of the lake. When they beach the boat they are met by two men who are said to be demon-possessed. They, unlike the disciples, immediately recognize Jesus as the Son of God. Their question implies that there will be a time when all the forces of evil will be overthrown, and so their healing represents the breaking in of the Kingdom of God. The demons are cast into a herd of swine and destroyed when the herd plunges headlong into the lake. There is a sense in which the lake represents the common belief that the waters of chaos that were there before creation are waters that Jesus has just brought into order. In the new order that which is unholy is destroyed. The Gentile citizens of the area have the opposite response to Jesus’ power. Instead of bringing him others to heal they beg him to leave.
Jesus will often lead his followers to places and into situations they would never have chosen for themselves. Do not be afraid; if God asks it of you, you can be assured that God has your back.