08 November 2007

Gospel of St. Matthew Bible Study - Lesson 8

Picking up with Chapter 8. We are finally through with the Sermon on the Mount, which happens to be my favorite part of the bible. I have am antique bible on a stand in my sun porch that is perpetually open to the Sermon on the Mount.

Prefigurement fulfilled
Father started out this chapter by talking about how Jesus is the fulfillment of several prototypes we see in the Old Testament. He mentioned David, Jonah, Moses, etc., but really emphasized Moses. Moses brought the Israelites through the desert while feeding on manna, and then crossed the Red Sea (prefiguring baptism) and then got the commandments on Mount Sinai before "getting on with it." Here in Matthew's gospel, Jesus is the manna who was baptized in the Jordan and then gave some commandments that perfect (and supercede in a sense) the old before "getting on with it."

Getting on with it refers to showing and living what the covenant is about. Moses had been the lawgiver and now Jesus is. Jesus is establishing his kingdom on earth and displacing the kingdom of Satan. Father has mentioned this several times. He said we have been in bondage since the sin of Adam. Jesus is now going to start displacing Satan, although this will not be complete until the end of the world.

Leprosy - an outward sign
The first thing Jesus does to "get on with it" is cure a leper. "When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; and behold a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean." And he stretched out his hand and touched him, saying,"I will; be clean." And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to the people." (Matthew 8:1-4) Leprosy was often a punishment for sin (eg: Moses' sister was afflicted with it when she was griping about Moses being in charge). All suffering is a consequence of (original) sin. Leprosy is a symbol of sin because what leprosy does to the body, sin does to the soul, bringing about its eventual death. It makes you ritually unpure and excluded from the community, much like sin makes you unworthy to receive Christ in the sacraments and mortal sin cuts you off from God.

Jesus could've just willed the leprosy to be gone, but instead He touches the man, which would make Him ritually unpure. But, this shows that the time for separation from uncleanliness is over, the "flow of power is reversed" and Jesus is not made unclean but His holiness is purified.

Jesus then tells the man to say nothing about the miracle and to present himself to the priest. Back then, only a priest could declare someone "cured" of leprosy and then begin the process to readmit them back to the community and ritual purity. Father mentioned that Jesus' curing the leprosy could be seen as a form of baptism.

Messianic secret
Why did Jesus tell the man to say nothing? This "Messianic secret" has several possible explanations. Jesus could be asking for discretion and teaching humility. Possibly Jesus didn't want to be known for what He had done more than for His message. If word got out about the miracle, He may have a hard time preaching because of large crowds. Jesus doesn't want a miracle based faith. And, he wanted the man to follow current protocol and present himself to a priest to be examined so that he could officially be declared clean and readmitted to society.

The Centurian
If the centurian isn't one of your favorite people from the bible, he should be! The centurian was a Roman citizen and military man. Father said that there was no separation of Church and State back then and all citizens were expected to make sacrifices to idols and even the emperor to show their loyalty and "patriotism." A soldier was even held to a higher standard because of his profession. Here we see the humility and great faith of this supposed pagan. "Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed." (Matthew 8:8). To which Jesus responds, "Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith." The Church uses this in the liturgy with slight modifications. And, the English translation is in the process of being "corrected" at the behest of the Vatican to be a closer translation of the Latin: "Domine, non sum dignus ut inters sub tectum meum, sed tantum dic verbo, et sanabiur anima mea." Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my SOUL will be healed.

Not everyone is going to the party
Jesus uses the example of the centurian to show that those who may assume they are saved are not and that the kingdom is open to all, Gentiles and Jews alike. "I tell you, many come from east and west and sit 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; there men will weep and gnash their teeth." (Matthew 8:11-12)

At Peter's house - married priests
Here we see Jesus healing Peter's Mother-in-law who is lying sick with a fever. It is a symbol of resurrection. Father then went on to briefly discuss married priests. He said that it is widely held that all the apostles were married except St. John. Father said that St. John may have been the beloved apostle because his heart was undivided and he was filled with celibate love. The Church, at this stage, was just being established and this was a transitional period from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. The apostles either left their families or had their wives travelling with them as celibate friends. Even back then, priests were expected to refrain from relations when they were performing their priestly duties, which was more sporadic than it is today. Priests are expected to give all their time, energy and attention to their vocation, which is MUCH more demanding today than it was at the outset. The congregation (and Church at large) becomes the priest's family and his duty is to shepherd his flock, serve and administer the sacraments to them. This is how the priestly vocation reflects the covenant.

Demonic possession
Father mentioned that demonic possessions were much more prevalent then because we are radically better protected in the New Covenant than in the Old Covenant. It still happens though.

Burying the dead
Even though burying the dead is a corporal work of mercy, Jesus tells his disciples to, "Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead." (Matthew 8:22) This is an example of the radical new nature of what is needed to follow Jesus. Follow Him for eternal life or be spiritually dead. Previously, Elijah allows Elisha to first tend to family matters before following him (1 Kings 19:19-21), which shows that the New Covenant has higher demands than the Old.

Son of Man
Jesus refers to Himself as the Son of Man, showing that He is the Messiah. Others, even the possessed, refer to Him as the Son of God.

Healing the sick
Why doesn't Jesus heal all of the sick in the world? From the Catechism 1505:
Moved by so much suffering Christ not only allows himself to be touched by the sick, but he makes their miseries his own: "He took our infirmities and bore our diseases." But he did not heal all the sick. His healings were signs of the coming of the Kingdom of God. They announced a more radical healing: the victory over sin and death through his Passover. On the cross Christ took upon himself the whole weight of evil and took away the "sin of the world," of which illness is only a consequence. By his passion and death on the cross Christ has given a new meaning to suffering: it can henceforth configure us to him and unite us with his redemptive Passion. The healings that Jesus does perform foreshadow how we will be healed and made perfect.

The storm
There are many parallels between the disciples being in the boat on the stormy sea and the story of Jonah: both in a storm in a boat, both found asleep, there are frightened companions in the boat who ask God for deliverance, Jonah and Jesus bring about a great calm and the companions marvel at what happened. Jesus is the new Jonah who has been resurrected back to life (three days in the belly of the whale, three days of the death and resurrection.


Anonymous said...

Hey Swiss Miss,

I am in the bible study too. Don't worry because I do not know what you look like and I could not pick you out of crowd of one. Today,I thought Father E was particularly good. It was so interesting about the Centurian.



swissmiss said...

I just wish Father Echert had five minutes each time for questions because I have a hard time fitting in the Fellowships.

It's OK if you could pick me out of the crowd...most local bloggers know who I am :) If you read Terry's blog (Abbey Roads 2), you know it's the priests who are the real stalkers ;}

Terry Nelson said...

Katie, Monica is the one with the really high hair and spray-can hi-lights, she usually wears really big hoop earings. ;)

swissmiss said...

Today I also had the bright blue eye shadow. I typically didn't wear it before the remodel...it used to clash with the red shag carpet.

Terry Nelson said...

I see you have been hanging around Cathy. LOL!