Lectionary blogging: Was it only for the healing?

The gospel lectionary reading stops at Matthew 4:23 this week. I find myself reading beyond that verse though. It seems to me that the next two verses raise important questions.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed,those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.(Matthew 4:23-25, NIV)

Jesus did three things in Galilee in the opening days of his public ministry: He taught, he proclaimed the good news, and he healed.

It was the third of these that drew the crowds.

They did not come because they were longing to be taught or to hear the good news of the kingdom. They came because they were sick and they had heard that he could heal them. And when he stopped being able to do things for them they abandoned him or joined the crowds calling for his death.

What is the relationship between the teaching, the proclaiming, and the healing?

Does the gospel ride in on the back of the stuff that people want more? We want healing. We want economic security. We want better family relationships. We want justice in the face of oppression. We want “meaning” in our lives. These things we will show up for. If Jesus talks about the kingdom of God in the process, we’ll listen if we have to.

Is that the meaning of the crowds?

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2 thoughts on “Lectionary blogging: Was it only for the healing?

  1. This reminded me of a similar sort of episode later on in Matthew 9:35-38–“The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” This bit is spoken in the midst of the exact same circumstances of teaching, proclamation, and healing. Will I be a laborer, assisting in gathering the harvest? Or deep down, does this kingdom-business really not interest me?

  2. Jesus’ focus is clearly on teaching and proclaiming repentance and his new kingdom (Mt. 4:17,23), and on calling disciples to become part of his kingdom (that hears and does what the king says). And the focus of the crowds is indeed on his healing.

    In Mt. 4:23, the crowds in all Galilee are first referred to with the pronoun “their” (Jesus was teaching in “their” synagogues). After Jesus does much healing, in 5:1 Jesus, seeing the crowds, goes up the mountain and sits down and “his” disciples come near to him. Yet at the end of this teaching focused on his disciples, it turns out the crowds have come close enough to hear Jesus, and are amazed at his authority, an authority unlike that of “their” scribes (who teach in the synagogues) (7:28-29). So the crowds really belong to “their” synagogues, where “their” scribes teach; in contrast, Jesus’ disciples are “his” disciples.

    I think Jesus’ healing reveals the great power and widespread mercy of his new kingdom, again in contrast to the less authority and mercy shown in the kingdom of Israel (and its ruling authorities, like the scribes in the synagogues). Jesus’ mercy spreads out even to those not in his kingdom. And in “Galilee of the Gentiles” (4:15), the crowds that flock to Jesus include Gentiles from Syria and the Decapolis (4:24-25). Jesus shows mercy even on their (national) enemies. So Jesus is demonstrating what he teaches–about showing mercy and love even to enemies (as in 5:7,43-48); his disciples are to do likewise.

    Because the crowds include many Gentiles, this activity of Jesus also foreshadows his command to his disciples at the climax of Matthew (28:18-20), to go out among all the nations and make new disciples, teaching them to do everything Jesus commanded.

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