27 August 2016

Matthew 8:1-4

“When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; and there was a leper who came to him and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.’” (vv. 1-2)

Psalm: Psalm 143


At the end of this period of teaching, Matthew's Gospel records that Jesus came down from the mountain. However, this is more than a statement of geographical or physical fact: in Jesus' time and earlier, mountains were where God's presence was particularly focused, where people went to meet with God. Abraham went up Mount Moriah when he believed he was to sacrifice his son, Isaac (Genesis 22); Moses went up Mount Sinai to receive the tablets of the Law (Exodus 19); Elijah defied the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18), after which he encountered God in the 'still small voice' on Mount Sinai (1 Kings 19). The Psalmist lifted his eyes to the hills, from where he expected to receive help (Psalm 121). Jesus was transfigured on a mountain, possibly Mount Tabor (Matthew 17; Mark 9; Luke 9).

From the mountain-top experience of teaching, Jesus came down to the plain - and was immediately confronted with a critical situation. 'Behold' a person suffering from leprosy came requesting healing. In the Bible narrative, the term 'leprosy' does not necessarily mean Hansen's disease (modern leprosy), it might signify any chronic and apparently intractable skin complaint. There were strict rules and regulations surrounding such complaints, resulting in the ostracising of the sufferer and their being forced to move to isolated places away from human habitation. And should such a sufferer recover, there were equally strict regulations concerning their reception back into the community.

In recording this incident, Matthew's Gospel reinforced the principle that not only is the word of God to be heard, it is to be enacted. This is the first of a series of healing stories - of a centurion's servant (Matthew 8:5-13), of Peter's mother-in-law (Matthew 8:14-15), of two demoniacs (Matthew 8:28-34), of a paralytic (Matthew 9:2-8). The gospel, the good news, is to be worked out as well as proclaimed. There is no one who cannot be touched by the hand of Jesus, by my hand, by your hand…

To Ponder

  • Reflect on an occasion when you have had a profound spiritual experience, and have then immediately had to deal with an 'earthly' problem. How did you feel?
  • Think about your 'mountains' - the places where you feel nearest to God. Do you get to them as often as you would like? How might you improve this? Or how might you find new mountains that are easier to access?

Bible notes author

Gillian Kingston

Gillian Kingston is a local preacher on the North Tipperary Circuit of the Methodist Church in Ireland and a part-time university chaplain. She is interim Vice-President of the World Methodist Council.