This is day three of a 90-day journey of reading through the New Testament. Today’s reading is Matthew 7 through Matthew 9. If you’ve been following this blog along the way, thank you.
After reading this passage, my first thought was of this song:
It is, simply, an amazing story song of people compelled by circumstance to the fringe. They are the outsiders. The song takes us from their own hurt, to their own freedom, all found on the “outside.” Hold on to that for just a moment.
In Matthew 7:28, 29, there is a remarkable statement made by Matthew. The crowds, though not initially invited to hear Jesus’ discourse, have followed Jesus, and listened to him as outsiders. The “Sermon on the Mount”, as we call it, was intended only for his disciples, but Jesus was never any good at keeping the crowds away.
Anyway, at the end of Matthew 7, the crowds remark that they were “amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”
Their teachers were ordained with authority. Their education and training gave them a substantial amount of power in decisions. Yet the crowds found something different in Jesus: authority and education are not the same thing. Actually, there is a substantial difference between having authority and having education.
People are amazed at teaching from authority. Education matters very little when penetrating people’s hearts.
It is with this statement, then, that Matthew leads us on a journey into chapter 8, where Jesus comes down from this mountain of teaching, and begins an astonishing healing ministry. Chapters 8 and 9 contain half of the healing stories in the gospel itself. Matthew wants us to learn something.
Let’s take a look at just the first three stories, in chapter 8. These healings — these first three healings after Jesus’ “sermon on the mount” — are healings of outsiders.
First, Jesus heals a man with leprosy (8:1-4). For a Jewish audience, and for the crowds of people who had assembled to hear Jesus, a man with leprosy was, indeed, an outsider, removed from society because of his communicable, and very unclean, illness. And it is this man Jesus heals first. It is no surprise, either, that this unclean outsider came to Jesus. Not the other way around.
Second, Jesus heals a servant of a Roman centurion, an obvious outsider. He isn’t even Jewish. And he wouldn’t let Jesus even come in his house, probably because he knew a Jewish man inside a Gentile home would cause a bit of an uproar. He was smart, and knew that Jesus could heal, even over such a distance.
The third healing is from 8:14, 15, and involves Peter, and Peter’s mother-in-law. While she is, without doubt, a Jew, she is also a woman, and, like the previous healings, an outsider in the Jewish world. In the Jewish culture, women had very little prominence, and were all but excluded from religious leading. She was an outsider.
For the crowds, and for the intended audience, these stories probably hurt some. The Jewish people were the great inheritors of a rigorous law that must be kept, for the sake of holiness. Rigid and intense, these laws also formed an identity for them. God was only accessible to the insider. His Word was only spoken to the insider. And it was only taught by an insider. These three not only were on the outside, but they would never have the ability to be on the inside.
Which meant they would never have full access to God.
Yet Jesus goes to these outsiders. He broke a sacred trust, and, as he did, The Word changed the lives of people abandoned by the Jews. The leper, the Roman, and the woman now had insider access to God.
These first three healings, then, were all to create a very inclusive kingdom for Jesus. As one with authority, who attracted crowds as he spoke, Matthew moves us from the mountain, into the valley, into the lives of people who were excluded from normal life. Where before, these three people found hurt on the outside, now they find freedom there.
And these are the people Jesus heals first.
Make no mistake here. Jesus loves the outsiders.