Lectio Divina: Matthew 8:5-17
1) Opening prayer
guide and protector of Your people,
grant us an unfailing respect for Your name,
and keep us always in Your love.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2) Gospel Reading - Matthew 8:5-17
When Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion approached him and appealed to him, saying, "Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, suffering dreadfully." He said to him, "I will come and cure him." The centurion said in reply, "Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come here,' and he comes; and to my slave, 'Do this,' and he does it." When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, "Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I say to you, many will come from the east and the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the Kingdom of heaven, but the children of the Kingdom will be driven out into the outer darkness, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth." And Jesus said to the centurion, "You may go; as you have believed, let it be done for you." And at that very hour his servant was healed. Jesus entered the house of Peter, and saw his mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. He touched her hand, the fever left her, and she rose and waited on him. When it was evening, they brought him many who were possessed by demons, and he drove out the spirits by a word and cured all the sick, to fulfill what had been said by Isaiah the prophet: He took away our infirmities and bore our diseases.
• The Gospel today continues the description of the activity of Jesus to indicate how He put into practice the law of God, proclaimed on the mountain of the Beatitudes. After the cure of the leper in the Gospel of yesterday (Mt 8:1-4), it now follows the description of other cures.
• Matthew 8:5-7: The petition of the centurion and the answer of Jesus. When analyzing the texts of the Gospel, it is always good to be attentive to small details. The centurion is a pagan, a foreigner. He does not ask for anything, he only informs Jesus, telling him that his servant is sick and suffers terribly. Behind this attitude of people in regard to Jesus, there is the conviction that it was not necessary to ask things of Jesus. It was sufficient to communicate the problem to Him, and Jesus will do the rest. An attitude of unlimited trust! In fact, the reaction of Jesus is immediate: “I will come Myself and cure him!”
• Matthew 8:8: The reaction of the centurion. The centurion did not expect such an immediate and generous gesture. He did not expect that Jesus would go to his house. Beginning with his own experience of “head” he gives an example to express his faith and the trust that he had in Jesus. He tells Him: “Lord, I am not worthy to have You under my roof, just say a word and my servant will be cured. For I am under authority myself and have soldiers under me; and I say to one man, ‘Go’ and he goes, to another, ‘Come here’ and he comes, to my servant, ‘Do this’ and he does it”. This reaction of a foreigner before Jesus reveals what the opinion of the people was in regard to Jesus. Jesus was a person who could be trusted. He would not have driven away those who would go to Him to tell Him their problems. This is the image of Jesus which the Gospel of Matthew communicates to us even now that we read it in the XXI century.
• Matthew 8:10-13: Jesus’ comment. The official admired the reaction of Jesus and Jesus admired the reaction of the official: “In truth I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found faith as great as this”. Jesus already foresaw what was happening when Matthew wrote the Gospel: “And I tell you many will come from east and west and sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven, but the children of the Kingdom will be thrown out into the darkness outside where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth”. The message of Jesus, the new law of God proclaimed from the top of the mount of the Beatitudes is a response to the deepest desires of the human heart. The sincere and honest pagans like the centurion and so many others coming from the east and the west saw in Jesus the response to their yearning and they accepted it. The message of Jesus is not, in the first place, a doctrine or morals, nor a rite or a series of norms, but a deep experience of God which responds to what the human heart desires. It is this experience of God that people look for in the Church, or in their seeking through other religions, and we should live and radiate this way of God to others and to seekers.
• Matthew 8:14-15: The cure of Peter’s mother-in-law. Jesus goes to Peter’s house and cures his mother-in-law. She was sick. In the second half of the first century, when Matthew writes, the expression “Peter’s house” evoked the Church, constructed on the rock which was Peter. Jesus enters into this house and cures Peter’s mother-in-law. “He touched her hand and the fever left her and she got up and began to serve Him”. In Greek, the word used is diakonew, to serve. A woman becomes deaconess in Peter’s house. This is what was happening in the communities of that time. In the letter to the Romans, Paul mentions the deaconess Phoebe of the community of Cenchreae (Rm 16:1). Service was a hallmark of the first Christians.
• Matthew 8, 16-17: The fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah. Matthew says that “when evening came”, they brought many people to Jesus who were possessed by the devil. Why only at night? Because in Mark’s Gospel, from where Matthew takes his information, it was a Saturday (Mk 1:21), and Saturday ended at sunset. Then people could go out of the house, carry a burden and take the sick to the place where Jesus was. “Jesus, with His word, cast out the evil spirits and cured all the sick! Using a text of Isaiah, Matthew throws light on the meaning of Jesus’ actions: “So that which Isaiah had said would be fulfilled”. “Ours were the sufferings He was bearing, ours the sorrows He was carrying”. In this way, Matthew teaches that Jesus was the Messiah-Servant, announced by Isaiah (Is 53:4; cf. Is 42:1-9; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12). Matthew was doing what our communities do today: to use the Bible to enlighten and interpret the events and discover the presence of the creative word of God.
4) Personal questions
• Notice how Jesus didn’t wait to be asked. In our imitation of Him, do we wait to help others until we are asked? Why?
• The Good News of Jesus is not, in the first place, a doctrine or morals, nor a rite or a series of norms, but it is a profound and authentic experience of God that responds to what the human heart yearns for, and contained in the summation of the two greatest commandments. However, how can Church doctrine, morality, and instruction work in bringing us this profound and authentic experience of God? What spiritual practices help to bring this experience?
• Many people and religions claim to offer a profound experience of God. This is also an area where Satan, the deceiver, is expert in. How do we discern authentic experience from one that is just “feel good” or one that merely satisfies our earthly desires at the moment?
• Two thousand years ago there was no Internet, no shopping malls, no television or movies, no printing presses, etc. Religion filled peoples’ lives. Is the experience of the centurion possible today with so many doubts, alternatives, and distractions? How can we move to make God central to our lives again?
5) Concluding Prayer
Proclaim with me the greatness of Yahweh,
let us acclaim His name together.
I seek Yahweh and He answers me,
frees me from all my fears. (Ps 34:3-4)