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Despite our claim to believe the Bible, we often reject those of its teachings that violate our traditions. Although Matthew employs Jesus' past healings as a proof of Jesus' messianic claim, he spends much of his narrative presenting Jesus as healer also because he expected his audience to experience Jesus as continuing healer, as the One who now holds all authority in heaven and on earth (28:18; see also 9:35-38). Yet just as many Protestants before William Carey doubted that the Great Commission (28:19) was for today, many Christians seem reluctant to embrace Jesus' power to touch physical illness today. Their reluctance is understandable as a reaction against the many excesses of some prominent figures, but it nevertheless betrays an inadequate attention to many biblical texts. Too many of us still read the Gospels as if they were merely history without preaching, instead of hearing God's Spirit preaching through the history.
Jesus and Disciples Should Always Be Ready to Minister (8:14-15)
We should be ready to serve others wherever we encounter need, not just when "on duty." Jesus exercised God's power in regular human settings, in this case within the fairly typical living arrangements of a disciple's family.
Donald Hagner (1993:208-9) points out a minor chiastic structure in these verses, in which Jesus first ministers to Peter's wife's mother and she in turn ministers to him. This structure may make emphatic the model for discipleship: after Jesus transforms a person, the person serves him. If so, this is not the only text where Matthew chooses women disciples as a paradigm for discipleship in general (27:55-61; 28:1-10). That Jesus touches her to cure her may also indicate the way he values people over traditions, given some evidence for prejudice against touching people with fevers (Witherington 1984:67); compare 8:3; 9:20, 25.
Word Spreads, and Jesus Heals All Who Come (8:16)
Having heard of Jesus' power, those who were diligent enough to come to him at evening undoubtedly had faith, removing the primary obstacle to his healing activity (compare 13:58). As throughout the book of Acts, healing both meets people's needs directly and draws them to the One who can transform their lives. Various examples elsewhere in the Bible demonstrate that God does not always heal instantly (Job 2:7-8; Mt 25:36; Gal 4:13; Phil 2:26-27) and sometimes chooses not to heal physically at all (1 Kings 1:1; 14:14; 2 Kings 13:14, 20-21; 2 Tim 4:20), perhaps because of issues that matter more than physical healing.
Modern medicine, based much more on the empirical character of our bodies that God created than ancient medicine was, can also be a tool in God's hands to bring healing. Nevertheless, modern medicine has its limitations, and this passage demonstrates Jesus' abundant authority and compassion to heal. The passage may suggest to us that Western Christians often unnecessarily forgo healing because our heritage of rationalism has unduly prejudiced us against it.
Jesus' Power: Healing and Expelling Demons with a Mere Word (8:16)
Many of Jesus' contemporaries sought to chase away demons by means of incantations, pain compliance techniques like smelly roots, or invocation of higher spirits to get rid of lower ones (as in Tobit 6:7-8, 16-17; 8:2-3; Jos. Ant. 8.45-49; Jub. 10:10-13). (One thinks of the children's story of the king who hired cats to chase away mice from his palace, then had to hire dogs to drive off the cats, lions to be rid of the dogs, elephants to scare out the lions-and finally mice to chase the elephants from his now ruined palace.) Jesus instead expelled demons simply by his word (Mt 8:16; compare Twelftree 1986:383). Perhaps in view of the predicted nearness of God's kingdom, Satan's kingdom had initiated a counteroffensive raising the visibility of demon possession in this period (Alexander 1980:249).
Healing Is Part of Jesus' Mission (8:17)
The context in Isaiah 53 suggests that the suffering servant's death would heal the nation from its sin (Is 53:4-6, 8-9; compare 1 Pet 2:22-25), a figurative expression frequent in the Prophets (Mt 13:15; Is 6:10; 57:18; Jer 3:22; 6:14; 8:11; 14:19; Hos 14:4). But the broader context of Isaiah shows God's promise for his people's complete wellness in the era of the kingdom (Is 29:18; 32:3-4; 35:5-6), suggesting secondary nuances of physical healing in 53:4-5 as well. The servant's suffering would, after all, restore to Israel all the benefits lost through sin (compare Ex 15:26; Deut 27-28). Thus Matthew cites Isaiah 53:4 to demonstrate that Jesus' mission of healing fulfills the character of the mission of the servant, who at the ultimate cost of his own life would reveal God's concern for a broken humanity.
Matthew himself also recognizes that genuine physical healings can illustrate principles of spiritual healing (9:5-7, 12; 13:15). But we should note the correct caution of D. A. Carson (1984:207):
@BLOCK = This text and others clearly teach that there is healing in the Atonement; but similarly there is the promise of a resurrection body in the Atonement, even if believers do not inherit it until the Parousia. From the perspectives of the NT writers, the Cross is the basis for all the benefits that accrue to believers; but this does not mean that all such benefits can be secured at the present time on demand, any more than we have the right and power to demand our resurrection bodies. Because the kingdom is present as well as future, God often heals in the present, but what he does not choose to heal now he has promised to heal in the end (Blomberg 1992:145). More practically than simply quoting a few verses that address healing, we should meditate on biblical examples of healing and what we can learn thereby about how God feels about human pain. By doing so we can develop deeper intimacy in our relationship with Jesus, trusting his compassion, which is the basis for every kind of healing he graciously performs.