Today’s reading drops in for the final third of the Sermon on the Mount. The sermon began with Jesus ascending a mountain, presumably to escape the crowds, to speak with His disciples. What Matthew hides from us until the end is that the crowd has followed, as eager for Jesus’ teaching as they were for His healing.
Their response to Jesus’ teaching comes in three parts. First, they were astonished, blown away by what they heard. Matthew then qualifies this by describing what astonished them: it wasn’t just the message; it was the authority with which He spoke. And finally, Matthew tells us that these crowds were making a comparison: Jesus was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.”
Jesus continues to be followed by these crowds when he descends the mountain in chapter 8. Among these crowds Jesus performs a series of healings: the leper, the centurion’s servant, the demon-possessed, the sick, and even Peter’s mother-in-law.
The story of the centurion in chapter 8 creates an early thematic climax for Matthew’s book. The story is an ordinary healing (if there is such a thing) of a centurion’s servant, but the dialogue pushes way beyond the events. Jesus telling the Roman “I will come and heal him.” The centurion’s understanding of authority, and recognizing it, as the crowds do, in Jesus. And Jesus marveling privately to His followers: “Truly, with no one in Israel I have seen such faith…”
Jesus didn’t need to say this to perform the healing. Nor did He need to add that “many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness.” This is a clear shot at the very foundations of His countrymen’s faith: that being a child of Abraham would not guarantee security in the kingdom of heaven. This adds another layer to Matthew’s preoccupation with connecting Jesus’ story to Abraham’s, and is worth remembering in future chapters.
Our verse for this week is Isaiah 40:31: “But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
Matthew chapters 7 and 8. Now let’s read it!
but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.