Day Eleven: Monday, June 22th, 2020
Bible Lesson: Matthew 8:1-34
Reflection from Pastor Wayne Eberly:
“Preaching, teaching, and reaching”
“Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.” The man Jesus touched was a leper. To gain a complete understanding of what it meant for Jesus to touch a leper requires an in-depth study of the holiness code in Leviticus, rules about what was clean and unclean, requirements and restrictions for those with infectious diseases. But one single passage from Leviticus helps us appreciate the deep significance tied to the action of Jesus.
“The person with such an infectious disease (like the disease of a leper) must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face, and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live outside the camp.” (Leviticus 13:45, 46)
This man, this man deemed unclean by the very laws of the Old Testament, recognizes that if he is willing Jesus can make him clean. Jesus said, “I am willing.” Jesus showed just how willing he was when reached out his hand and touched the man.
Already in our readings we have witnessed the power and authority Jesus has as he preaches and teaches. Matthew 8 now brings into full view the reach of Jesus, how Jesus literally touched the lives of human beings, many who had been pushed to the fringes of society, to the shadows, even to places of shame.
In reaching out, Jesus does two things. He goes to the margins. He goes to the edge. He goes to where the outcasts and the excluded live their lives. Jesus goes to where people are. He enters their world. But that is not all Jesus does. Jesus goes to these ones who have lived on the margins, on the fringes, as outcasts, on the edge of society, and he begins to draw them together into a community. The community Jesus is establishing is directly related to his announcement that the kingdom of heaven is near.
This community will be comprised of ones who represent the full reach of our Lord Jesus. Yes, in the kingdom of heaven people will come from east and west and north and south. Tax collectors and sinners will find a place. Lepers, the lame, the deaf, and the blind will no longer be excluded because of a physical condition. A centurion, a Roman soldier, becomes the model of faith.
The reach of Jesus extends to all those who have been cast out and pushed to the margins. I continue to find great hope in a phrase from our Disciple Bible Study, that Jesus came for the least, the last, and the lost. Jesus is willing to make the leper clean. Jesus is willing to make all clean.
Matthew wants us to know that the far-reaching love of Jesus will come at a cost. We will not bear that cost. For us the love of Jesus is a free gift. But there is a cost, and it is a cost Jesus bears all by himself. As chapter eight reveals the far-reaching impact of the life of Jesus, Matthew also serves notice that the life Jesus brings to all people is directly related to the death Jesus will die for all people. When Matthew quotes from Isaiah, he is bringing into play a passage fraught with meaning. “He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.”
It would be worth your while to read the stories of healing, stories that describe the far-reaching love of Jesus found in Matthew eight in tandem with the chapter Matthew quotes from Isaiah, the 53rd chapter. Isaiah 53 is often called, “The Suffering Servant.” There you will find the passage Matthew has used, “He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.” There you will find these words. “By his wounds we are healed.”
Let us never lose sight of what a great gift we were given when Jesus reached out his hand and touched us.
“In the Law, the touch of the leper was contagious, but as there is such purity in Christ he absorbs all uncleanness and pollution, he does not contaminate himself by touching the leper, nor does he transgress the Law. For in assuming our flesh, he has granted us more than the touch of his hand, he has brought himself into one and the same body with us, that we should be the flesh of his flesh. He does not only stretch out his arm to us, but he comes down from heaven, even to the very depths; yet catches no stain thereby, but stays whole, clears all our dirt away, and pours upon us his own holiness. Now, while he could heal the leper by his word alone, he adds the contact of his hand, to show his feeling of compassion: no wonder, since he willed to put on our flesh in order that he might cleanse us from all sin. So the reaching out of his hand was a sign and token of his vast grace and goodness. Here is a thing which we pass over without much impression at an idle reading, but must certainly ponder, with much awe…that the Son of God, so far from abhorring contact with the leper, actually stretched out his hand to touch his uncleanness.” (John Calvin, “A Harmony of the Gospels”, volume I, 244)