Having completed our reading of the Sermon on the Mount, we turn to the next two chapters of St. Matthew’s Gospel which contain nine healing stories. Jesus cleanses a leper, cures the servant of a Roman centurion, heals Peter’s mother-in-law, casts demons out of two men in the Gerasene territory, raises up a paralytic, stops the flow of blood in a hemorrhaging woman, raises a dead girl to life, gives sight to two blind men, and drives a demon from a mute person.
There are two elements that need to be considered in these stories. First of all, each of these people is outside the boundaries of ritual purity as delineated by the Book of Leviticus. A person touching them would incur the same ritual impurity. For Jesus to heal them places him at risk of exclusion from the synagogue or the Temple.
Right in the middle of all these healing stories, Matthew includes the story of calming the Sea of Galilee as Jesus and his disciples row across it. The disciples are astounded at Jesus' power over the forces of nature because they know that only God has such power. By placing the story in the midst of these healing stories, St. Matthew raises Jesus above that of the folk healer or medicine man, of which there were many at this time. St. Matthew tells us that this power comes from God, not from human skill or knowledge.
Because we read each of these stories as separate incidents over the next few days, we could easily lose sight of how St. Matthew is using these stories to make a statement about Jesus. It is important that we see these stories as a unit that establishes Jesus as someone sent by God.
At the end of chapter nine, after all of these stories have been told, Matthew tells us that Jesus is filled with pity for the people because they are like sheep without a shepherd. It is clear that he is saying this to his disciples because in the very next chapter of the Gospel he sends them out to the lost sheep of Israel. As Jesus has acted with compassion, so now all of his disciples, including us, are sent to do the same.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M.