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MATTHEW - Chapter 8

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Matthew 8

Supplemental Commentary:

I.  THE PUBLIC MINISTRY OF JESUS  3-25 (continued)

3.  Second Period of the Ministry in Galilee and Across its Lake  5, 1 -- 15, 20 (continued)

8, 1-4:  A Leper.  Parallels in Mark 1, 40-45 and Luke 5, 12-16.  Many of the events in 8-9 took place before the Sermon on the Mount.  The arrangement of this section in the First Gospel is largely artificial (see Introduction).  Our Lord probably worked this miracle during His missionary journey in Galilee that followed His first ministry in Capharnaum (cf. Mark 1, 39 f).  The place was some town of Galilee other than Capharnaum (cf. Mark 2, 1; Luke 5, 12).    2.  The leprosy for which Moses gave detailed regulations as well as the affliction of the lepers mentioned in the Gospels need not always be identified with the disease now known as leprosy.  Apparently several diseases of the skin of a more or less serious character were called by this name in the Bible.  But the immediate cure of these afflictions that Jesus achieved simply by His command was in any case certainly miraculous.    3.  Jesus touched him: some such physical contact was the usual procedure in most of the miraculous cures worked by our Lord.  He acted in this way probably to show His sympathy for the afflicted person and more particularly to conceal the entirely miraculous nature of these cures by using certain customary remedies (e.g. spittle or mud on sore eyes) or ceremonies.    4.  See thou tell no one: most of the miracles of Jesus were not done primarily to prove to His immediate audience that He was the Messias and the Son of God but rather out of sympathy for the afflicted.  On the other hand, during most of His ministry, at least in Galilee, He endeavored to conceal His miracles.  For He did not wish to be proclaimed the Messias as long as the people had a false idea of the Messias as a mighty temporal prince (cf. John 6, 14 f).  For similar instances of our Lord's efforts to conceal His true nature until the proper time cf. Matt. 9, 30; 12, 16; Mark 1, 34; 3, 12; 5, 43; 7, 36; Luke 4, 41.  By commanding the leper to carry out the prescriptions of Lev. 14, 2-32 for cured lepers Christ wished to show His compliance with the Mosaic Law and to avoid all unnecessary hostility with the priests.  The same command in Luke 17, 14.  Offer the gift . . . for a witness to them: the leper is to bring his sacrifice to the priests so that they, in accepting it, would be witnesses of his cure and he in turn would receive a testimonial from them guaranteeing the genuineness of his cure.  This seems more probable than the opinion which holds that the priests are thereby to have a proof that Christ worked a miracle.  For this would hardly be in conformity with our Lord's command, which is still more strict as given in Mark 1, 43, that the cured leper should conceal the miracle.  Moreover, the priests need not have seen anything miraculous in the cure, for the prescriptions of the Mosaic Law evidently presuppose that the cure of some types of so-called leprosy is fairly common and entirely natural.

8, 5-13:  The Centurion's Servant.  Parallel in Luke 7, 1-10, where this event is also placed in connection with the return to Capharnaum after the Sermon on the Mount.  A centurion was a Roman military officer of inferior rank in command of a "century," a company of one hundred soldiers; hence the title.  But because the Roman legions were seldom kept at the maximum strength of six thousand men, the century often consisted of only fifty or sixty men.  A centurion may therefore be compared to a captain in modern military terminology, although he rose from the ranks and would properly be considered a non-commissioned officer.  It is uncertain why this centurion resided at Capharnaum.  Possibly there was a Roman garrison there; or perhaps he belonged to the little army of Herod Antipas, if we may suppose that Herod's soldiers used Roman titles.  In any case he was a Gentile (cf. 10).    5.  There came to him a centurion: not personally but by means of the Jewish elders who came as his intermediaries, as we learn from Luke.    8.  Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof: these words, made memorable as the Christians' humble prayer before Holy Communion, show the centurion's understanding of the Jewish custom of not entering the house of a Gentile (cf. John 18, 28).  But only say the word: the centurion believes that Jesus has such supernatural powers that He can work miracles at a distance.    9.  The general sense is clear: just as the soldiers who are subject to the centurion obey him, so also must nature obey the command of Jesus.  But the exact meaning of the first part of the sentence is somewhat doubtful: either, (a) Even though I myself have higher superiors, still I can give commands; how much greater right hast thou to command who hast no higher superior; or (b) Just as my right to give commands rests on my own obedience to higher superiors, so also thou canst command nature, for thou also art obedient to thy higher Superior, thy heavenly Father; or (c) I also am a man placed in authority, etc.  It is doubtful whether the centurion would have known enough of the nature of Jesus to conceive the ideas expressed in the first two opinions.  According to the third opinion, subject to authority means "set in an authoritarian system."    11 f.  This marvelous faith of the centurion, which was so much greater than that of the Jews, prompts Jesus to prophesy the great spread of the Faith among the Gentiles as well as the reprobation of the Jews for their lack of faith in Him.  Luke has this prophecy in a different context (13, 28 f).  Faith, not merely carnal descent, entitles one to share in the promises made to the Patriarchs.  The blessings of the Messianic kingdom are pictured here, as frequently, under the image of a banquet.  The figures of the weeping and the gnashing of teeth and the darkness outside to represent eternal perdition, are frequent in the First Gospel (cf. 13, 42.50; 22, 13; 24, 51; 25, 30), and with the exception of Luke 13, 28 occur only in this Gospel.

8, 14 f:  Peter's Mother-in-law.  Parallels in Mark 1, 29-31 and Luke 4, 38 f, where this event is told with more details.  It took place during Christ's first ministry at Capharnaum on a Sabbath (cf. Mark 1, 21) after He and His disciples had returned from the synagogue.  Peter is called "Simon" here by the other two Evangelists and with greater exactness, for our Lord had not yet given him his new name.  According to John 1, 44 Bethsaida was "the town of Peter and Andrew."  Either this means merely their birthplace or they had a second residence at Capharnaum.  Since Peter had a mother-in-law he was certainly married.  That she began to wait on them at table would hardly imply that his wife was already dead.  This item is added to show the completeness of her miraculous cure.

8, 16-17:  Other Miracles.  Parallels in Mark 1, 32-34 and Luke 4, 40 f.  The people waited until it was evening before they brought to him their sick, because the Sabbath was over at sunset.  In keeping with the teaching of the Scribes they would not ask Him to cure the sick on the Sabbath, or perhaps they considered the carrying of the sick a forbidden work.    17.  Only in Matthew.  The words of Isa. 53, 4 which are cited here by the Evangelist, refer directly to the Passion of Christ and are so understood in 1 Pet. 2, 24.  The literal sense of the prophecy is that Christ took upon himself the guilt of our mortal infirmities and bore the punishment for our sins.  Matthew takes the words infirmities and ills in the physical sense.  Some would therefore conclude that the Evangelist is using this text merely in an accommodated sense.  But it is difficult to see how he could say of a merely accommodated sense, that it might be fulfilled.  He could, however, say this rightly of a prophecy in the consequent or extended sense.  That is, Matthew argues thus: Isaias prophesied that Christ would bear the punishment of our sins and would take away our sins and their consequences; but one of the punishments and consequences of sin is sickness; therefore, concludes the Evangelist, Isaias also prophesied that Christ would take away our corporal infirmities and would bear away the burden of our physical ills.

8, 18-22:  Sacrifice to Follow Christ.  These sayings of Christ on the sacrifices that are demanded of His followers are placed by Matthew in connection with the first crossing of the Lake of Genesareth and the subsequent storm; Luke places them on the last journey to Jerusalem.  On general principles the order of the Third Gospel is usually preferred here.  Both Gospels certainly narrate the same events.    18.  Mark (4, 35) and Luke (8, 22) place this crossing of the lake after Christ's discourse in parables.  According to Mark it was on the evening of the same day on which Jesus spoke in parables.    19-22.  Parallel in Luke 9, 57-60.  We may rightly suppose that the dispositions of these men who asked to follow Christ were good.  Nothing in the text can help us decide whether these aspirants found the conditions too hard or not.    19.  This Scribe, since he belonged to an influential and respected class, would no doubt have been a valuable asset to the group of Christ's disciples; but our Lord is in no hurry to accept him.  His rank connoted a certain amount of wealth and therefore Christ reminded him that His followers were expected to share the poverty and homelessness of their Master.  Out of respect the Scribe addresses him as Master, literally in Greek, teacher, the equivalent of the Hebrew title Rabbi.    20.  This is the first time in this Gospel that the expression Son of Man is used.  Our Lord used it often in speaking of Himself.  One reason for this was probably the Semitic custom of polite speech which discouraged the too frequent use of the first person singular.  But the reason why Jesus chose this specific title for Himself was because it was definitely Messianic yet at the same time not clearly understood by the people as a synonym for Messias.  An examination of the numerous places where it is used (not only in the Synoptic Gospels but also in John) shows that Jesus used it of Himself in His office of Messias but with special emphasis on His human nature.  No doubt it is ultimately based on Dan. 7, 13-14, for even the enemies of Jesus understood this passage as Messianic (cf. Matt. 26, 64 ff; Mark 14, 62 ff).  But that it was ordinarily not understood as such by the people seems clear from John 12, 34.  Therefore by calling Himself the Son of Man Jesus both proclaimed Himself the Messias and at the same time concealed this truth from the people because He did not wish to be taken for such a Messias as the people were expecting.  (See Commentary on 8, 4).  Since this humble title seemed to stress the humanity of Jesus at the expense of His divinity, with the exception of Acts 7, 56, where there is a reference to the prophecy of Dan. 7, 13 it is never used in the New Testament by any one but Jesus Himself.    21.  In Palestine at this time the dead were ordinarily buried on the same day on which they died.  This man therefore wished to postpone his following of Jesus until the conclusion of the lengthy period of mourning, the settling of the estate, etc.  Or perhaps his father was not yet dead but was expected to die soon.    22.  The exact meaning of these words of Christ is somewhat disputed.  (a) Some hold that the dead is to be taken in the same sense in both instances, i.e., let the dead take care of themselves for it is better that thy father remain unburied that thou shouldst fail to follow me.  (b) Others take the first dead to mean the spiritually dead, i.e., let thy relatives who have not received the life of divine grace through faith in me, bury thy father.

8, 23-27:  The Storm on the Lake.  Parallels in Mark 4, 36-40 and Luke 8, 22b-25.    23.  His disciples followed him: i.e., accompanied Him in the same boat, as is clear from the context and from the parallel passages.    24.  This great storm on the sea of Galilee was undoubtedly of the same nature as those storms which often rise on this inland sea even today.  The surface of this lake is about six hundred eighty-two feet below sea-level, while the mountains which surround it on almost all sides tower from one thousand to nearly two thousand feet above it.  Consequently, the air near the water becomes much warmer than that on the mountains only a few miles away.  Sometimes, especially towards evening, this warm air begins to rise very rapidly and the cool air, rushing down from the mountains, causes sudden and extremely violent storms.    25 f.  The disciples really showed faith in Jesus by calling on Him to save them from danger, but He tells them that they had but little faith in Him or they would not have become afraid in the first place; for even though He was sleeping.  He knew of the danger.    27.  The men can only be the disciples mentioned in the preceding verses.  This is certain from the parallel accounts, nor is there reference anywhere to an additional crew.  They marvelled because they knew that only God can rule the wind and the waves (cf. Pss. 17, 16; 88, 10; 106, 23-30).  The Fathers of the Church see in this episode a picture of the Church and of individual souls on the stormy sea of persecutions and trials.  But Jesus is in the ship and therefore they should trust in Him without fear.

8, 28-34:  Expulsion of the Devils in Gerasa.  Parallels in Mark 5, 1-20 and Luke 8, 26-39, where this event is told with many more details.  All three Gospels agree in placing this episode immediately after the first storm at sea.  But while Matthew speaks of two demoniacs, Mark and Luke mention only one.  Probably the second one in Matthew's account was rather unimportant and was therefore passed over in silence by the other two Evangelists.    28.  Gerasenes: the people of Gerasa.  From the whole context it is certain that this event took place somewhere quite near the shore of the eastern side of the lake.  But there is much confusion in the manuscripts concerning the name of this site.  For each of the three Gospels there are manuscripts reading Gadarenes or Gerasenes or Gergesenes.  The last variant is generally explained as a mistaken emendation of some early scholar, possibly Origen.  The testimony of the best Greek manuscripts favors as the original reading of the First Gospel "Gadarenes," of the Second and the Third Gospel "Gerasenes."  Gadara was an important city of Decapolis about six mile southeast of the lake of Galilee and its suburban territory probably included the southeastern segment of the shores of the lake.  Gerasa was the most famous city of Decapolis and its great ruins still testify to its former magnificence.  But it was some twenty-six miles southeast of the lake.  Since this seems too far for it to be mentioned in connection with the shores of the lake, it is generally assumed that there was an otherwise unknown village by the same name on the eastern shore of the lake.  Some identify this village with the modern site of Kursi, directly opposite Magdala; others with modern Geradi, about five miles further south on the same shore; still others think that just as Matthew seems to name the site from its nearest city, Gadara, so the other two Evangelists seem to speak of the whole eastern shore of the lake as "the country of the Gerasenes" from the most important city in Decapolis, Gerasa.

29.  These words were spoken by the demons who used the possessed men as their mouthpiece.  What have we to do with thee: literally "What to us and thee," a Hebrew idiom which here signifies the demons' displeasure at being told to leave the possessed men.  Son of God in the mouth of the demons probably signifies no more than Messias, for they would hardly dare to oppose Him at all if they had known His full divinity.  The same title is given Him by the demons in Mark 3, 11.  To torment us before the time: to confine us in hell (cf. Luke 8, 31) before the Last Judgment.  Till then they have a certain liberty to roam about the world (cf. 2 Pet. 2, 4 with 1 Pet. 5, 8).  For all the words spoken here by the demoniacs cf. the demoniac in the synagogue (Mark 1, 24; Luke 4, 34).    30.  Even though the Jews were not permitted to eat pork, it should cause us no difficulty to read here of a herd of many swine, for this region was inhabited mainly by Gentiles.    32.  Down the cliff into the sea: almost the whole eastern shore of the Lake of Galilee consists of high precipitous banks.  There was no injustice done to the owners when the whole herd . . . perished in the water.  For in allowing the demons to cause this damage, Christ as the God-Man exercised His sovereign rights of dominion for some higher purpose known to Himself.    34.  They entreated him to depart from their district because they stood in awe of the power of Jesus (cf. Luke 8, 37) and probably also because they feared more temporal losses.

Confraternity Bible:

A Leper Cured  1 Now when he had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him.  2 And behold, a leper came up and worshipped him, saying, "Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean."  3 And stretching forth his hand Jesus touched him, saying, "I will; be thou made clean."  And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.  4 And Jesus said to him, "See thou tell no one; but go, show thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a witness to them."

The Centurion's Servant  5 Now when he had entered Capharnaum, there came to him a centurion who entreated  him, 6 saying, "Lord, my servant is lying sick in the house, paralyzed, and is grievously afflicted."  7 Jesus said to him, "I will come and cure him."  8 But in answer the centurion said, "Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.  9 For I too am a man subject to authority, and have soldiers subject to me; and I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come,' and he comes; and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it."

10* And when Jesus heard this, he marvelled, and said to those who were following him, "Amen I say to you, I have not found such great faith in Israel.  11 And I tell you that many will come from the east and from the west, and will feast with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 but the children of the kingdom will be put forth into the darkness outside; there will be the weeping, and the gnashing of teeth."  13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, "Go thy way; as thou hast believed, so be it done to thee."  And the servant was healed in that hour.

Peter's Mother-in-law  14 And when Jesus had come into Peter's house, he saw Peter's mother-in-law lying in bed, sick with a fever.  15 And he touched her hand, and the fever left her; and she rose and began to wait on them.  16 Now when it was evening, they brought to him many who were possessed, and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick; 17* that what was spoken through Isaias the prophet might be fulfilled, who said,
"He himself took up our infirmities, and bore the burden of our ills."
Renounce all to Follow Christ  18 But when Jesus saw great crowds about him, he gave orders to go across the sea.  19 Then a Scribe came and said to him, "Master, I will follow thee wherever thou goest."  20 But Jesus said to him, "The foxes have dens, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."  21 And another, who was one of his disciples, said to him, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father."  22* But Jesus said to him, "Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead."

The Storm on the Lake  23 Then he got into a boat, and his disciples followed him.  24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was covered by the waves; but he was asleep.  25 So they came and woke him, saying, "Lord, save us! we are perishing!"  26 But he said to them, "Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?"  Then he arose and rebuked the wind and the sea, and there came a great calm.  27 And the men marvelled, saying, "What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"

Expulsion of the Devils  28 Now when he had come to the other side, to the country of the Gerasenes, there met him two men who were possessed, coming from the tombs, so exceedingly fierce that no one could pass by that way.  29 And behold, they cried out, saying, "What have we to do with thee, Son of God?  Hast thou come here to torment us before the time?"

30 Now not far from them there was a herd of many swine, feeding.  31 And the devils kept entreating him, saying "If thou cast us out, send us into the herd of swine."  32 And he said to them, "Go!"  And they came out and entered into the swine; and behold, the whole herd rushed down the cliff into the sea, and perished in the water.  33 But the swineherds fled, and going away into the town, they reported everything, and what had befallen the men possessed by demons.  34 And behold, all the town came out to meet Jesus; and on seeing him they entreated him to depart from their district.


10: He marvelled: does not mean that the centurion's faith surprised Him, but that it met with His admiring approval.

17: Isa. 53, 4.

22: One called to be a disciple of Jesus must not allow even the care of his family to interfere.  Cf. Luke 9, 60.