Gn 18. 1-5; Resp Luke 1; Mt 8. 5-17
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Miracles of the Servant
Matthew’s gospel was composed for a community of Jewish-Christians, people of the covenant God initiated with Abraham. They were different from others because they came to believe in Jesus as revealing and fulfilling in his person that very covenant. God had come close in Jesus, proclaimed by them to be Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.”/1/
The community for which Matthew composed his gospel defined themselves as distinct from those for whom the Mosaic way of living in the world was ultimate. In Jesus’ time and after, the Pharisees and then the rabbis interpreted Moses to and for the people.
Believers in Jesus and believers in Moses were neighbors. Believers in Jesus inhabited the symbolic world of Moses, and they sought to explain, both to themselves and to those, who worshiped in the synagogue down the street, why they no longer worshiped there.
That’s why the First Gospel brims with explicit references to the Hebrew scriptures. These references are indicated either after an event: All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet.../2/; or before a statement: It is written…./3/
For the community of Matthew’s gospel these statements indicate that it truly breathed the atmosphere of the covenant. For us the statements are clues. First, they are clues to how the community reread their scriptures in the new light of Jesus. Second, some of them even help us faithfully interpret Jesus’ actions as in today’s gospel selection. Jesus healed to fulfill what had been said by Isaiah the prophet: He took away our infirmities and bore our diseases.
Chapters 8-9, which we began hearing at mass yesterday, contain 10 miracles. Matthew interpreted them with this verse from Isaiah./4/ The one who took away [human] infirmities and bore [human] diseases was the Servant of God. Several rabbis interpreted the Suffering Servant as “King Messiah.” Rabbi Moshe Kohen Ibn Crispin of 14th Century Spain noted
if anyone should arise claiming to be himself the Messiah, we may reflect, and look to see whether we can observe in him any resemblance to the traits described here; if there is any such resemblance, then we may believe that he is the Messiah our righteousness./5/A record of rabbinic discussions begun 500 years before Jesus noted
The Messiah—what is his name?…as it is said, “surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God and afflicted….”/6/The First Gospel reminds us of who we are and strive to be: sisters and brothers of Messiah Jesus, women and men who seek to live in ways, which point to reconciling as well as model it. That is no option! By Jesus’ Spirit you and I are servants after the manner of Jesus. We provide our world with the link to God with us, who our world still needs.
1. Matthew 1.23.
2. Matthew 1.22 and following.
3. Matthew 4.4 and following.
4. Isaiah 53.4.
5. From his commentary on Isaiah, quoted in The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters, Ktav Publishing House, 1969, Volume 2, pages 99-114.
6. Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 98b. Find both of these citations and more here.
Wiki-image of Jesus healing Peter's mother-in-law is in the public domain.