Teaching the Church Year: Cycle A - The Gospel of Matthew (with a touch of John)

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This exploration of the healing narratives in Matthew 8 and 9, guided by current scholarship in the fields of medical anthropology and social-scientific study of ancient Mediterranean culture, shows that when viewed in their historical and cultural context these biblical narratives point us toward a more holistic understanding of healing that may encourage contemporary movements in this direction. The goal of restoring persons to a state of well-being and social reintegration into their families and communities requires attention to the emotional, social and spiritual well-being of persons as well as their physical health.

In part I of this article, we developed a methodological approach to the healing narratives in the Gospel of Matthew, drawing from work in the fields of medical anthropology, Second Temple Judaism, narrative criticism and implied ethics. In this part, we turn to the concentration of healing stories in Matthew We will look in particular for ways they contribute to major Matthean themes, the didactic function of these stories and their implications for bioethics. Before turning to the healing stories, we must note the importance of two further elements of the gospel narrative that guide our reading: the virtues that are explicitly introduced in these chapters, and the location and structure of this collection of healing stories.

Indeed, the values named throughout the Gospel are relevant, but for this inquiry we will limit our attention to the ethical norms and virtues that appear in these two chapters. The quotation is from Hosea LXX. The structure of the material in Matthew provides further clues to its emphases. These chapters contain three units of miracle stories with two, three or four healings in each one with teachings on discipleship interspersed between the three triads:.

He also heals persons with various illnesses: leprosy, paralysis, fever, demons, haemorrhage, blindness and muteness. He even restores a dead girl to life. His compassion crosses social boundaries and his power to heal is effective with even the most debilitating illnesses blindness and paralysis-conditions that made one totally dependent on others , the most socially alienating leprosy and haemorrhaging , the most powerful demons the Gadarene demoniac and the most extreme condition death. Baxter ; Carter The healing of the sick confirms the coming of the kingdom of heaven that Jesus announced.

We can now turn to the individual healing accounts in Matthew , paying particular attention to their implications for bioethics. An accurate diagnosis of the disease, however, is not important to understanding the healing narrative and may even distract us from the dynamics of the story. The flaky skin and underlying redness begin to make one stand out from the crowd. If declared unclean, such persons must remove themselves from the community and should be shunned Lev In collectivistic, that is group-oriented societies, such excommunication is devastating.

It is the equivalent of a death sentence.

The words leprosy and leper , as used in the Bible, certainly carries [ sic ] these meanings above all. The rabbis devoted an entire tractate of the Mishnah to leprosy m. It is not that he is contagious, but that he is defiled. The practice of ostracism of lepers was not peculiar to Hebrew law, as the following report in Herodotus The Histories confirms: The citizen who has leprosy or the white sickness may not come into a town or consort with other Persians. They say that he is so afflicted because he has sinned in some wise against the sun.

Contact with him or with any of his bodily fluids might not make another person sick, but it would certainly render them unclean m. Therefore, it is also noteworthy that, although in other instances Jesus heals by a word or by sending the person to wash, in this instance he extends his hand and touches the leper. But perhaps in these instances the touching draws significance not so much from showing no fear of pollution but from physically symbolizing an acceptance back into the community.

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The exercise of power is always significant in healing stories. He prostrates himself before Jesus and affirms his certainty that Jesus can make him clean.

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He forbids the man to tell others; he does not want the attention or acclaim that will come from such notoriety. On the other hand, he orders the man to complete the process of his restoration to society by showing himself to the priest so that his return to cleanness can be verified and he can be accepted back into the community Lv ; Viljoen a The leper, now clean, will offer the prescribed offering that underscores in yet another way how Jesus has come not to abolish, but to fulfill the Law Ps Purity rituals were exceedingly important among Jews in the Second Temple period — perhaps as an effort to maintain identity and reinforce boundaries in response to the cultural upheaval brought about by Hellenization and Romanization, oppression and the introduction of foreign religious cults during this era.

Jesus as Healer in the Gospel of Matthew, Part II: Jesus as Healer in Matthew 8–9

Issues of purity divided Jews e. Pharisees and Essenes and were maintained not only by priests, but also by many laity Harrington In this highly charged context, Jesus illustrates the coming of the Kingdom and its transformation of ritual purity into ethical purity of heart Viljoen a The centurion, as a man with authority, expects Jesus to use his power in the same way: simply give an order.

Jesus offers to come with the centurion and heal his servant, or as some read the Greek syntax, he questions whether he should do so Wilson ; Boring ; Evans The centurion demonstrates compassion and mercy, seeking help for his servant, and has faith that Jesus can heal him.

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Moreover, he is the first of many Gentiles who will eat with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven The boundaries between Jew and Gentile will be overcome and the excluded will be included. Then, Jesus grants the healing in the manner the centurion requested. Not only does Jesus not withhold healing from a Gentile and a soldier cf.

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He does so by giving it supremacy over any response he has encountered in Israel. By implication, compassion, mercy and the work of the kingdom in restoring health supersede the boundaries of Israel and any ostracism of Gentiles or hatred of Roman soldiers. One kingdom has bowed to the supremacy of another, the kingdom of heaven, and the agent of that kingdom has responded graciously, granting the request of the Roman centurion. The story of the centurion and his servant is the first of these, followed by the leader and his daughter , , the Canaanite woman and her daughter , and the father and his son Each develops a pattern of three exchanges: a locational, a healing and a conflict exchange.

For example, the centurion comes to Jesus locational exchange. In contrast to the previous healings, which occurred in public space, this one occurs in a private venue. Fever was not understood as a symptom of an infection, but as the disease itself. In this instance, in the home of one of his disciples, there is no request for healing and no expression of faith. Walter Wilson notes that this is the only healing story in Matthew in which no dialogue occurs. The healing occurs by means of touch and the fever leaves her immediately. In other words, she was able to resume her role in the home and the community.

The Greek terms, however, open further nuances. Recovery from illness should be understood in terms of divine power and it signals the coming of the kingdom. It will also be the norm by which the eschatological judgement occurs ; Hagner The first triad of healing stories ends with a summary report and a quotation from Isaiah. The gossip network functioned efficiently and word of her healing spread through the community with the result that neighbours brought demon possessed and sick people to him to be healed that evening.

Therefore, they waited until the Sabbath had ended before carrying people to Jesus for healing. The report is a summary of healings, similar to , and The demon possessed were debilitated in various ways, becoming fierce , mute and blind and mute The area of the Gadarenes was in the Decapolis, the loose federation of Gentile cities east of the Jordan River. Separate yourself from the gentiles, and do not eat with them and do not perform deeds like theirs.

And do not become associates of theirs. Because their deeds are defiled, and all of their ways are contaminated, and despicable, and abominable. They slaughter their sacrifices to the dead, and to the demons they bow down.

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And they eat in tombs. And all their deeds are worthless and vain. Jub ; Boring et al. There Jesus is met by two fierce demoniacs who come out of the tombs and prevent anyone from passing that way. The details underscore the wildness of their demon possessed state, their uncleanness and the danger they presented to others. The theme of crossing boundaries that we have seen in the earlier healing stories is exaggerated in this one.

Jesus crosses to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, where he encounters two demon possessed, unclean and violent men who live in tombs not far from swine.

Jesus does not enter into conversation with the demons as in Mark, nor does the exorcism require any magical rites or incantations. The parody at the expense of Gentiles continues as the swine rush down the bank into the sea and are drowned — just as the Egyptian soldiers were drowned in the sea when the Israelites crossed to the other side Ex ; see Wilson The swineherds then become witnesses, going into the city and reporting everything that happened to the demoniacs.

The whole city came out to meet Jesus, but they begged him to leave their area. Although Jesus has the power to deliver men from the demons with one word, he accedes to the request of the townspeople and crosses back to the other side Therefore, this story is as much about the power of the gospel, which was being preached among Gentiles by the time the Gospel of Matthew was written, as it is about healing. Back in his own town Capernaum , Jesus heals a paralytic. Like the preceding healing stories, this one carries extra freight and advances the themes of these two chapters in Matthew.

In this instance, the pericope is a hybrid of a healing miracle and a controversy dialogue or pronouncement story. The paralytic is presumed to be a sinner, and Jesus both forgives his sin and heals his paralysis. The conflict is not between Jesus and the demonic here, but rather between Jesus and the scribes who accuse him of blasphemy. The plot of the story is driven by this conflict and by the opposition between what Jesus knows and what the others, especially the scribes, do not know.

He poses to them the question: Which is easier, to say his sins are forgiven or to heal the man? Jesus has demonstrated the power of the kingdom both to restore and forgive, and to defeat the illness and turn aside the accusations of his opponents.

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Moreover, the healing occurred both to restore the paralytic to health and so that the scribes might know the authority of the Son of Man. The power to still storms and vanquish demons is also able to bring forgiveness for sins. In the traditional view of illness and healing, illness was due to sin and thus healing is also a sign of forgiveness.

Forgiveness and healing, moreover, are the other side of vanquishing evil. In this regard, Jesus is again portrayed as the agent of the kingdom of heaven in whom the eschatological powers are already at work on earth. There is also a corporate dimension to this story. This inclusive, plural reference is striking. Walter Wilson therefore comments: This means that the announcement of forgiveness is not the end of the story but the beginning.

The previous healing story, after all, made the connection between healing and forgiveness of sin and thus the double entendre appears to be deliberate. Luz points out that: the saving is more than the healing. Matthew expresses that first by relating that Jesus grants salvation to the woman because of her faith and only then by telling her about the healing.

Matthew construes the healing differently than Mark. Then, but only then, is she healed. They laughed at him. The miracle is so great that there is no need to embellish it in any way. Both actions brought uncleanness Lv ; Nm ; cf. Keener ; Viljoen b. Nevertheless, although Jesus has declared that he did not come to abolish the Law, there is no indication that he performed the required ritual of purification.

Viljoen b , a practice that reminded Jews to live in obedience to the Law Nm ; Dt With his coming, the purity laws are fulfilled. The seasons of the Church Year reflect the life of Christ. Consequently, the gospel lections for each Sunday provide the focus for that day. The other lections for a given day generally have a thematic relationship to the gospel reading for that day, although this is not always the case.

One set proceeds mostly continuously, giving the story of the Patriarchs and the Exodus in Year A, the monarchial narratives in Year B, and readings from the Prophets in Year C. In the other set of readings for Ordinary Time shown in italics on this site the readings from the Hebrew Bible are thematically related to the gospel lections. Denominations or local churches generally use either the semicontinuous readings or the thematic readings during Ordinary Time. They do not typically move back and forth between the two over the course of a single season.

The gospel readings for each year come from one of the synoptic gospels according to the following pattern:.