Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Matthew 8: The Passion and Love

Chapter 8 and 9 function together as a "Hey, y'all, check out what our Lord can do" unit.  We have healings at the top of Chapter 8, followed by even more awesome acts of divine power, followed by more healings (including a resurrection!), after which the apostles are called and sent forth with similar powers.  So, in large part it's all about knocking our socks off with Jesus' amazing powers.  Just in case you thought he was just a good speaker and a pretty pair of sandals -- BAM!  The dead live. The blind see.  Think again.

Within these miracles are lots of neat little insights.  For instance, both in 8:15 where Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law -- no, the miracle was not that a son-in-law prayed that his mother-in-law would get better! -- and then again when healing the dead girl in 9:25, Matthew uses variations on the Greek word "egerthe" to describe the women getting up, becoming well.  That word, translated sometimes as "arose" or "raised up", is the very same word used to describe Jesus' resurrection at the end of the Gospel!

That's a nice little piece of foreshadowing. It's also a way for Matthew to argue that this Kingdom of God entering into and transforming our reality through Jesus thing that Jesus preaches is not something reserved for the big finish of the Jesus-on-earth show, it's something going on right now.

So many captions present themselves, but all of them involve tufts of lamb wool found in the lion's teeth...

Or, flipping it around, the Passion is not just this horrible/amazing sequence of events and self-sacrifice that happens to Jesus at the end of his life in Jerusalem, it's something going on all along in his ministry. If you read Chapter 8, you might notice that halfway through, Matthew describes Jesus' healing deeds using this quote from Isaiah: "He has taken our sicknesses and borne the diseases." That verse comes from a section of Isaiah known as the suffering servant text; and that text, which describes a servant who remains faithful to God despite all consequences to himself, became a key for early Christians trying to understand who this Jesus was and what the crucifixion meant.

The weird thing here is, the healings here don't seem to have any sort of adverse affect on Jesus, right? He seems just fine. So why did Matthew use this quote?

One possibility: Matthew is tying Jesus' miracles to the Passion and saying, hey, that Passion you've heard about, it's not just about sacrifice and blood and death. Rather -- in fact, fundamentally -- it's about faithful love.   In other words, Jesus isn't primarily "guy who dies on the cross", but crazy cat who loves us top to bottom and front to back no matter whether we're well or sick or gone mad or bad or even that it's going to cost him.  The persecution, suffering, death are part of a much bigger dynamic of love.

The season of Lent is usually packaged around giving things up, feeling the pinch.  But read the Gospel, and you don't see Jesus fasting or hiding in some cave for years to pray.  He's out there loving people; and so maybe we should, too.

A couple months ago I wrote a little piece here about finding God through Facebook.  Someone in my province of the Jesuits saw that article and asked me to recraft it as this piece for Lent.  A lady named Pam Wright saw that article and wrote me to say that during Lent she does a good deed for someone every day -- makes a phone call, writes a note, cooks dinner for someone, bakes cookies.

If you're still looking for a Lenten observance that suits you, you might consider that...

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