Understanding the Miracles in Matthew
It is easy to attract a crowd for a religious service. Just advertise “signs and wonders,” and see how many people show up. On the other hand, if you want to have an empty building, just advertise a discipleship conference. Very few want to learn the tough lessons it takes to be a true disciple.
Two pastors were talking one day about problems in their churches. One told the other how his church service was often interrupted by bats in the church belfry. During Sunday morning worship when the noise of the singing and preaching reached the belfry, the bats awakened and flew around the sanctuary for the rest of the service.
The other pastor answered and said, “Oh, we had the same problem but quickly figured out how to remedy it.” “How did you do it?” asked the first pastor. “It was easy. We went up there, got to know them a little bit, invited them to come on down, got them baptized and part of the congregation. Haven’t seen them since!”
There has been some disagreement on how to interpret Matt. 8:1 to 9:34. (1) Some have argued that it presents ten miracles or ten wonders that form an antitype to the ten plagues of Exodus 7-12, i.e. that the kingdom of God comes with great power for blessing (Garland 91). (2) Others have suggested there is a topical arrangement here: Christology in 8:1-17, discipleship in 8:18 to 9:17, and faith in 9:18-34. (3) Still others have said that there are three groups of miracle stories with three narratives each, and there are two interludes on discipleship. In other words, the text presents alternating stories of miracles and discipleship (Gardner 143). Although each position has its merits, I will be following the third view.
Matthew’s emphasis in his narrative has unique features that deserve our attention.
(1) He has greatly condensed the narratives to tell the stories, giving little attention to secondary characters or actions. “When compared with the parallels in Mark and Luke, Matthew’s account of Jesus’ healing is so pruned of all auxiliary narrative details that the focus falls on the person’s confidence in the power of Jesus and the words of Jesus in response”(Garland 91).
(2) He uses catchwords and repetition to link, unify, and give a certain rhythm to his material.
(3) He highlights dialogue with supplicants and makes it central to the narratives.
(4) He gives special prominence to the theme of faith.
(5) He gives center stage to people who were excluded from or enjoyed diminished rights within the Israelite community: a leper, a Gentile soldier, and a woman. “Matthew wants us to appreciate the inclusive character of Jesus’ mission. His mighty works break through social barriers of every sort” (Gardner 144).
In this series of lessons on Matthew 8:1 to 9:34, I hope to present the interplay between miracles and discipleship. One leads to the other. When either is emphasized over the other, or one excluded from the other, there is an imbalance that needs to be corrected. Through these lessons I hope you will be inspired to read Matthew “again for the first time,” as one of my professors put it. I want you to attend these “meetings” and thus not leave this “building” empty.