I’ve continued on with reading multiple chapters a day from different books of the Bible (I’ll admit, as a lot has come up over the past week, I have fallen behind where I want to be). Even still, I found Matthew 8 interesting. In this chapter, there are multiple descriptions of Jesus healing people from physical problems as well as spiritual problems. I found 2 of the examples mentioned quite opposite to each other, as well as challenging to myself.
“When he came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.’ Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing, ‘ he said, ‘ Be clean!’ Immediately he was cured of his leprosy.” – Matthew 8:1-3
During this time period and under Jewish religious custom and law, people that had leprosy or other diseases/skin conditions were not allowed to make sacrifices in the temple. Sacrifices were a requirement of Jewish law in order to have their sins forgiven, which meant, if you had a condition or disease that you couldn’t do anything about, you couldn’t be forgiven of sins in the eyes of Jewish society. Not only that, those with leprosy and other diseases were often ostracized. If they came into public areas (or into areas with large crowds such as in this example), they had to ring bells and yell “unclean” so everyone could know and get out of their way. I don’t know about you, but I feel like that would be so incredibly humiliating and degrading- yet, this man had the faith and courage in Jesus enough to humiliate himself in front of everyone for the sake of possibly being healed.
Yet, just a few verses later in the chapter, there is a similar situation but the people have a complete opposite response to Christ and his healing power.
“When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. ‘What do you want with us, Son of God?’ they shouted. ‘Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?’ Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. The demons begged Jesus, ‘If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.’ He said to them, ‘Go!’ So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.” – Matthew 8: 28-34
Just as before, in this situation someone is getting healed from a long-time ailment…in this case, demon-possession. Everyone knew about these two guys. They were infamous enough to cause people to travel a different way in order to avoid them. Also, this presumably (although it’s not specifically mentioned in the Scripture) being a Jewish community, pigs were considered unclean animals. Jewish people were raising what they considered unclean animals, probably for their own livelihood. And yet, when these two poor men are healed, and the pigs basically sacrificed for their sake, the town would still rather keep their unclean livelihood than to see people healed and their society improved. Not to mention, they witness the power of Christ right in front of them, they witness two men’s lives RADICALLY changed, and yet they PLEAD with Christ to leave them…a man they see, a healer, that could have healed, helped, and saved so many people in their town, and they turn him away because they’re afraid of him and would have rather had their pigs that would have made them rich.
These two situations really struck me. Which person am I- the leper or a townsperson? And which person do I WANT to be? Do I give up Jesus and His will for the sake of my own comfort? Do I compromise what I do and believe for my own pleasure and livelihood? Or am I willing to humiliate myself and risk everything for the sake of God’s life-changing power in my life?
I can tell you who I WANT to be. I want to be the leper. I want to be the person that comes before Jesus humbly requesting His changing, healing power in my life…desiring Christ’s power in my life more than I care about people’s laughter at what I believe in the background. I want to be the person so tuned in to Jesus that the laughter is tuned out, the humiliation, condemnation, and derision is like white noise in the background that neither sways nor shakes me. What does it take to be that person? It takes courage, steadfastness, loyalty, focus, disciplined action, and ultimately faith. It takes faith to take the step into the humiliating or intimidating situation that God may be calling me into, knowing that He will be with me and He will be my safe-haven in the end, no matter what.
And the action of the leper reminds me of verses in the previous chapter of Matthew…
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in Heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” – Matthew 7:7-11
If I want to be the leper, I need humility, courage, steadfastness, and faith. If I lack these things, the Bible says to ask. If I need healing, or more faith, the Bible says to ask. If I am afraid or I don’t have faith at all, I probably won’t ask…then I am the townsperson. But if I abandon all fear and believe, I take the step forward into the jeering crowd and ask..then I am the leper.
The leper had nothing to lose- if Jesus said yes, he’d be healed. If he said no, he would remain the same.
The townspeople had everything to lose- they traded Jesus and His healing/transforming power for a herd of muddy, unclean, drowned pigs.
The leper or the townsfolk: which will you be?