Scripture: Matthew 9:27-34
Key verse: (33) “the crowds marveled, saying, ‘Never was anything like this seen in Israel.’ But the Pharisees said, ‘He casts out demons by the prince of demons.’”
Reflection: For the past week, the Gospel readings have taken us through a series of healings Jesus performed immediately after preaching the Sermon on the Mount. He has healed a leper, a paralyzed servant of a Roman Centurion, and Peter’s mother-in-law. He cast out a legion of demons possessing a Gentile man into a herd of pigs. He healed a woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years, and raised a community leader’s daughter from the dead. To top it off, in today’s reading he heals two blind men, (who ironically see him for who he really is,) and frees a man possessed by a demon that prevents him from speaking. He heals and heals and heals; gives and gives and gives. His generosity of spirit is unparalleled. No wonder the crowds say, “Never was anything seen like this in Israel.” I’ve never seen anything like that in my years in ministry. It’s amazing.
But the religious leaders have a different response. They equate Jesus’ actions to demonic power. Why on earth would religious leaders have a problem with Jesus healing so many hurting people? Because in the process, Jesus has violated numerous holiness codes. He has engaged lepers, Gentiles, and been in the company of a herd of pigs. He has had contact with women who are not his family members, and in one case with a woman who has been bleeding for years. To top it off, he has touched a dead body. None of this is acceptable according to the Levitical code. As Tom Long puts it in his commentary on Matthew, “Jesus has stepped over every boundary separating the holy from the unholy, the clean from the unclean, and, in the Pharisee’s view, only a servant of demons would so trample down the fences in the holy garden.” They cannot abide by this. He threatens the institutions they are charged with protecting. In fear, they wall themselves off to the presence of God in their midst.
So what’s going on? According to Long, “In Jesus, the framework of holiness has been changed; in him ‘the kingdom of heaven has come near’ (Mt.4:17). Jesus’ ministry is one of mercy, not of judgment and ritual purity.” Mercy, not judgment. That’s what Jesus is about. Is that what the church is about? Mercy? It’s not what those outside the church think we’re about. In fact, according to a recent Barna survey, 87% of non-believers see Christians as too judgmental. What’s gone wrong? Do we have more in common with the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, then with Jesus? Does our investment in the preservation of our own institutions lead us to an idolatry of our own righteousness that blinds us not only to those who are hurting in our world, but also to the very presence of God in our midst?
How do we keep our focus on Christ? By focusing on mercy, not judgment; by opening ourselves to others, not closing ourselves off; by living into a generosity of spirit, not a piety devoted only to preservation. By so doing, we live into our calling to be the body of Christ in and for the world.
Prayer: Open us, O God. Open our eyes to see your presence in our midst. Open our ears to hear your call to us. Open our mouths to speak of your love. Open our hearts to all those who hurt in our world. Then fill us with your Spirit that we might be your healing presence, sharing your mercy and love with the abundant generosity of Christ our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Author: Joe Clifford
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].