This morning at Church our reflection was on Matthew Chapter 8:1-17. This is what the chapter division looks like (NRSV):
Matthew 8:1-4- Jesus Cleanses a leper
Matthew 8:5-13- Jesus Heals a Centurion’s Servant
Matthew 8:14-17- Jesus Heals Many at Peter’s House
Our pastor went on to reflect on how understanding the structure of this passage can help us think more deeply about the nature of our desire and Jesus’ desire for us.
Each section centers around a need and a subsequent healing:
– In the first section we see a leper approach Jesus desiring personal healing.
– In the second second section we see someone approach Jesus desiring someone else’s healing.
– In the third section we see Jesus approaching others with the promise of healing.
The first thing we can pull from this structure then is this: We all desire something, and clearest evidence that we do comes in our times of need.
But what is most revealing is what this structure tells us about these desires:
SECTION 1: The first section is the easiest entry point into this discussion because it pictures us bringing our need (desire) to Jesus. I feel like most of us can understand this.
SECTION 2: It is slightly less easy to entertain the second section because it forces us to consider the idea of intercession (people going to Jesus on our behalf). This is something I think most of us can understand but have a hard time accepting, investing in, or we take it for granted.
SECTION 3: The third section is by far the most difficult to reconcile because it requires us to believe and trust in this idea that Jesus is pursuing us for the purpose of meeting our desire. And what taking this passage as a whole can show us is that the reason this is difficult is often because of the way we approach Jesus in section one.
There are three things we can learn from the first section of Chapter 8 that can help us reconcile this idea that Jesus pursues us:
1. “Lord, if you choose..” (8:2) To have desires and expectations that these desire will be met is human. What we find in jesus is the truth that healing is His to give. It is not transactional. To approach Jesus is not a matter of coming with the right words and the right ideas and in the right way. It’s simply to encounter Jesus and trust that healing is His to give.
2. “… make me clean” (8:2) The beauty of this word clean is in the way we can contextualize it into the experience of the leper. This is more than a request for healing, it is a request for transformation. What ails this man also comes with social oppression and isolation, a thoroughline that we find in each of these sections. They are all socially oppressed in some fashion, or as my Pastor suggested, outsiders looking in.
There is a sense in which this word evokes a plea of desperation, an overarching request that he is unable to even articulate in its fullness. All he knows is that he needs Jesus, and recognizing this need in the way that our simple morning confessional states (Lord, something is wrong in me, and around me) can help us understand what our true desire is. Too often we neglect this part, staying on the surface of our daily needs and wants until life forces our hand.
3. “I do choose. Be made clean!” (8:3) Jesus pursues us. The reason our desires matter is because Jesus has desires for us. He desires for us to be made clean, to be healed in the context of our own lives.
RECONCILING JESUS WITH OUR DESIRE
If Jesus has desires for us, and we have desires we hope will be met in our daily lives, it is the question of how these desires match up that makes the third section so difficult to entertain. When they don’t appear to match up we get frustrated. We assume that Jesus is not pursuing us, otherwise why is our life the way it is.
But here is how this truth that desire is Jesus’ alone to give as He chooses can help us see our own desire in a new light. What Jesus desires for us to see the true desire of our heart. The work of approaching Jesus with the desires that we have is learning to trust that He will help us to know the true desires that they point us towards. This is where the true healing happens, and this is why we all need Jesus.
The work of praying for healing in the lives of others then is to reveal the healing that needs to take place. And the work of Jesus in pursuing us to this end is His desire that we would find the healing that we need, whichwe often do not yet realize.
It’s a powerful realization to know that we can come to Jesus with whatever desires we have, and that we can trust in Jesus to reveal the hidden desires of our heart that motivate them. This is where true transformation can happen.
Perhaps an even more powerful thought is that we can know we are not in this alone in this process. We have people praying on our behalf and helping us along the way. And we have Jesus, whom scripture tells us is busy taking our desires to the Father and praying on our behalf. And while we might struggle with the idea of others praying for us, and doubt that Jesus cares enough to go out of his way for us when our desires don’t quite match up with the healing He wants to give, the truth is that Jesus is always pursuing us, always with us and always hoping for us to find life in its fullness. This is our great and transformative hope. This is what it means to be redeemed, to discover all of the things we don’t yet have words for, just like the leper in the first section of this passage speaks to the wholeness of his own desperation.
QUESTIONS TO PONDER
Which brings me to our homework this week (yes, we get homework at Church :)). This week we are supposed to reflect on these two questions (which I’ve actually formulated into three questions):
1. What do you actually believe Jesus desires for you?
2. What is it that you desire?
And in submitting these two questions to our own spiritual reflection, a follow up one:
3. What is it that you actually desire (the deeper desire being revealed to us through the work of the spirit).