First Mennonite Church
July 16, 2017
Jesus Meets the Leper and the Blind
Texts: Matthew 8:1-4; 20:29-34
Today I would like for us to see Jesus performing his first and last acts of healing during his public ministry according to the Gospel of Matthew. I must say that the very last healing act Jesus did is the healing of the slave of the high priest whose ear Peter cut off. Jesus healed many people during his ministry. His power to heal attracted many. In the gospel of Matthew alone, there are five summaries of Jesus’ healing ministry. Although we are not told in detail, chapter four, verse 23 says that Jesus went through Galilee “healing every disease and sickness among the people.” Again in eight, verse 16, we read that Jesus “drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick.” Summaries of his healing ministry are also found in chapter nine, verse 35, 10:1 and 14: 14. Wherever Jesus went his preaching was complemented with signs of power through healing and casting out demons.
As I said at the beginning of this series, the stories in the gospels were written to keep alive the memory of Jesus, but more importantly, they were written to shape the faith and guide the practice of the emerging Christian communities. I also said that beyond the accounts about Jesus, his life and ministry, the stories raise issues and themes important in every context. The themes raised in these stories should throw light on how we should see and participate in our changing and complex world. They should also illuminate our understanding of the ways God works in us, for us and the world. These stories should also illuminate our understanding of what faith is, especially when it comes to our physical healing.
I am sure you have heard sermons on these passages, therefore I will be leaning towards the themes that arise from them.
The first actual account of Jesus healing someone is found in chapter eight.
When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. 2 A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
3 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. 4 Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
29 As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. 30 Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”
31 The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”
32 Jesus stopped and called them. “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
33 “Lord,” they answered, “we want our sight.”
34 Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.
In the first account, a leper comes to Jesus from among the crowd. It is rather interesting that this man with leprosy does not announce his presence with the warning cry as dictated by the Levitical command. In Leviticus 13:45-46, Moses prescribes that a person with leprosy “shall wear torn clothes . . . and shall cover his upper lip, and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ And he shall live alone.” The man with leprosy comes and asks for help. He does not say, “Lord if you can, please heal me.” He says, “Lord if you are willing, you can make me clean.” His words reflect both his conviction about the identity of Jesus and his complete trust in Jesus’ power to heal. This man does not see Jesus as a magician nor simply as a miracle worker. He sees Jesus as Lord, the proper confession of a believer. Jesus is Lord. This man acknowledges the sovereignty of Jesus as Messiah. As Lord, Jesus is above everything, including sickness and diseases. Thus, the leper also knows that healing is one of the prerogatives of Jesus. The leper does not doubt Jesus has the power to heal him. Yet, it was a matter of Jesus’ choice and this man willingly submits to Jesus as Lord and depends on his willingness to make him clean. If you will, you can make me clean.
There are a couple thought-provoking questions that this story raises. Faith for healing. Is healing dependent on our having “enough” faith? Is faith our ability to trust God for what we cannot do for ourselves? In this story, healing is not dependent on the leper’s capacity to believe, because he was a believer. For the man with leprosy, being made clean was left to Jesus’ will. “If you choose, you can make me clean,” said the leper. How often we pray for healing without much thought regarding the will of God for what we ask. We pray expecting to be healed. I have heard some say God’s power to act on our behalf is ours to claim, not only to pray expecting, but almost demanding God to heal us. To others, faith is dependent on our ability to visualize or articulate our wants.
Jesus expressly declares his desire to clean the leper. “I am willing. Be clean!” declares Jesus. Jesus then gives the man instructions about going to get certification of his healing from the priests. This is in accordance with the Levitical law. The priest must give witness when someone has been cured of leprosy. The priest’s acknowledgment serves to certify the person who previously had leprosy can join society once again.
In the second passage, we find Jesus at the head of a large crowd of followers. As Jesus and followers were leaving Jericho, they came to a place where two blind men were sitting by the roadside. It seems they knew who Jesus was. Although they could not see, they knew it must be Jesus who was passing. The commotion was not a common occurrence on that road. They began to cry out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” They raised their voices; they needed to overcome the noise of the boisterous crowd. Their voices did call the attention of some from among the crowd because the blind men were commanded to keep quiet and to shut up. But Jesus stopped his journey and called them. He refused to be carried away by those who preferred these men to stay quiet and to stop bothering the Lord
These two stories raise some important themes. Jesus is healer. James writes:
Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective (5:14-16).
We are called to pray for each other when our health fails. Yet, we should be mindful of two important factors in this shared responsibility of praying for one another. Prayer is like entering an open door at the invitation of the Lord to bring before him our heart. When we pray for one another, we accompany our fellow brothers and sisters into the presence of the Lord, sharing with them their personal concerns. When we pray for one another, we not only join our fellow members in trusting the Lord for their healing, but we also walk with them in their time of need of support and affirmation. It is for those reasons we should remember our brothers and sisters in our daily prayers. It is for those reasons we should let the sick among us know that we are praying for them.
But beside this often heard exhortation, these two stories raise a contemporary public issue: health care. I am complete aware of how divisive this topic is, but let us take based on the spirit of these two stories. Does God care that we should be healthy? Are diseases and illnesses the result of self-inflicted neglect? Some might be but some are not. When we came to Paso Robles almost 12 years ago, Emmanuel started suffering from asthma the very week we arrived. He never had had respiratory problems of this kind before. I still remember one night when this little boy was so out of air. We had to take him to the doctor. Did he do something to cause his asthma? No. But what was worse was when we tried to get him medical insurance. Deafness was considered a pre-existent condition. No private insurance provider accepted him. Did he do something to cause his deafness? No. But because of it he could not get even private insurance. Our only option was a state sponsored health insurance. It was a great relief for us as parents.
Let us go back to our stories. If Jesus came to reveal the will of God, it was very clear that he wished and he willed to heal the man with leprosy. “I will and I choose to heal you; be healed,” Jesus said. God desires that we should enjoy good health. Jesus performed many miracles of healing because he is God. Today we get help when we are sick. We go to the doctor or specialist if our condition is beyond a cold. But what happens when people cannot go to the doctor? And it is here where the second story can illumine us. Remember the two blind men shouting with all their might, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us?” Regardless of how and why, when we get sick, the only thing we all desire is to get well again. Being well is a God-given desire in all humans. Nobody wants to be sick. We’d do anything within our capacity to get well. If we have to empty our savings account we’d do it. People even sell or mortgage their homes in order to get help for their loved ones. As for the blind men, they were not dissuaded even if they were angrily reprimanded and asked to shut up.
Interestingly also, is that those who called the blind men to shut up were healthy, abled-bodied people. Those who called these blind men to not bother the Healer, could fend for themselves. They could leave their homes and go for a day or two following Jesus and come back home again. The blind did not have homes.
Who are those who oppose the poor, the sick, the disabled, and the elderly from getting health care today? Are they poor? Are they not often the abled-bodied, healthy and wealthy? If we were to participate in the crowd following Jesus in the outskirts of Jericho, on whose side would you be? Would you be on the side of Jesus who compassionately allowed himself to be bothered to help and heal the blind? Or would you be one of those scolding the blind to shut up and continue in their blindness?
One last theme. Blindness. Let us pray to God that we would be able to see the world around us with the eyes of Jesus. Blindness is not only the physical impairment of the eyes, but the deeper darkness of the soul when the values of the world displaces the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. But to us like the leper Jesus is telling us, “I choose to make you whole.” And to us like the blind men, Jesus stops, calls and asks us, “What do you want me to do for you?” Let us bow before him to tell him that in prayer. Let us pray. Amen!