This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectinary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS)
5-6 Then as he was coming into Capernaum a centurion approached. “Sir,” he implored him, “my servant is in bed at home paralysed and in dreadful pain.”
7 “I will come and heal him,” said Jesus to him.
8-9 “Sir,” replied the centurion, “I’m not important enough for you to come under my roof. Just give the order, please, and my servant will recover. I’m a man under authority myself, and I have soldiers under me. I can say to one man ‘Go’ and I know he’ll go, or I can say ‘Come here’ to another and I know he’ll come—or I can say to my slave ‘Do this’ and he’ll always do it.”
10-12 When Jesus heard this, he was astonished. “Believe me,” he said to those who were following him, “I have never found faith like this, even in Israel! I tell you that many people will come from east and west and sit at my table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of Heaven. But those who should have belonged to the kingdom will be banished to the darkness outside, where there will be tears and bitter regret.”
13 Then he said to the centurion, “Go home now, and everything will happen as you have believed it will.” And his servant was healed at that actual moment.
14-15 Then on coming into Peter’s house Jesus saw that Peter’s mother-in-law had been put to bed with a high fever. He touched her hand and the fever left her. And then she got up and began to see to their needs.
16-17 When evening came they brought to him many who were possessed by evil spirits, which he expelled with a word. Indeed he healed all who were ill. Thus was fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy—‘He himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses’.
The quotation from Isaiah which Matthew puts at the end of this passage is very interesting. It comes from Isaiah Chapter 53 which was much used by the first Christians as a prophecy of Jesus, the servant of God. Isaiah imagines a chorus of gentile rulers bearing witness that ” a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” has suffered for their sins. Isaiah means this figure to be God’s true servant Israel, whose defeats and disasters have “carried” the sins and diseases of all nations. Although perhaps Israelis never believed this about themselves, followers of Jesus believed it of him.
In Mark’s gospel Jesus’ acts of healing are presented as a battle against the Evil One; whereas Matthew presents them as Jesus’ way of taking the burden of human illness upon himself. It is a very literal sort of com-passion. And we can’t ignore that in the case of the Centurion’s servant, Jesus is dealing with a gentile who has invaded his country. Maybe Matthew saw in this a specific fulfillment of the “gentile” mission of God’s servant in Isaiah.
It is a very bold instance of Jesus’ readiness to set aside ethnic and political concern to deal with a human being. He doesn’t go on about how these immigrants are putting a strain on his national health service, he just says he’ll come and heal the sick man. The response of the centurion is also very remarkable, because it shows a deep understanding of Jesus’ power by comparing it with his own power which comes from being “a man under authority”. The centurion’s power comes from his obedience to Caesar, Jesus’ power by implication from his obedience to God. That is, he sees Jesus’ authority as derived rather than as the power of a local superman.
Matthew suggests that the compassion of God, exercised through his servant Jesus, shares and heals the sufferings of humanity.
The domestic healing of Peter’s mother-in-law and the village healings in the evening are taken from Mark’s gospel. Matthew blends them into his picture of Jesus’ calm and transforming compassion, communicated by his “word” of command, which is effective because it is the command of God.
Of course these are community stories treasured in speech and writing by people who believed in Jesus. They are used by the gospel writers to make a an image of Jesus which can be transmitted across space and time. They are not “what Jesus did as it might have been recorded in Israeli CCTV” but “what Jesus really did now that we have reflected on it and tried to live by it.” This sort of storytelling annoys people who imagine that CCTV tells the whole story. But I think it’s a great bonus to be given a communal memory of Jesus which has been enriched by the understanding and experience of his followers. It encourages me to “live in the light of Jesus” not as a vague spiritual presence, but as the one who healed an enemy soldier’s servant.