Matthew 14: Healer or Healed?

Who is the healer and who is being healed?

In my too-slow walk through the New Testament, Matthew 14 has an interesting little touch you can miss if, like me, you just focus on the chunks of stories you’ve heard a zillion times. If you just get those out of context – Herod beheading John the Baptist, Jesus feeds the 5,000 (and that’s just the men), Jesus walks on water (and Peter fails) – there’s plenty to talk about. But you’ve probably already talked about it.

So appreciate for the moment how this arc of Jesus’ story comes together for Matthew and the moment Jesus is in. In Matthew 13, Jesus hits his ceiling, it seems: he goes home, and everyone says, “who do you think YOU are?”, and he can’t heal anyone or do much because the people just aren’t buying what he’s selling. It’s at this point that John the Baptist’s disciples come tell him that the guy they were betting on, the guy who baptized Jesus, his cousin John, was impetuously executed by the governor on a dare from his daughter.

That sounds like a pretty lousy place for Jesus to be, and he reacts as many of us would – he goes off on his own to mourn by himself. The crowds aren’t getting his message. His herald, friend and kin has just been killed. He can feel where this is headed.

So when his boat gets to shore, and he sees an enormous crowd gathered to see him, well, the translations say he was moved with pity, but the Greek says he could feel it in his gut. (Credit Ed Shea Ofm on that Greek) At his (to date) lowest point, when he has to feel like things are going south, the crowds that hadn’t been there at home turn out from who-knows-where to meet him in his grief. And he responds with healings and feedings before sending them off so he can get back to what he was wanting to do anyway, which was to go off alone and mourn and pray.

It’s an interesting and, I think, realistic point that gets quietly made here. As much as the razzle-dazzle of miracles gets the spotlight, the compassion that comes from witnessing the struggles of another are what binds us together. I think those people come out to meet Jesus because, once they know he hurts for the loss of a friend, they know he’s someone worth believing in. And the fact that he sets aside his plan – to go mourn – in order to soak in the crowd and respond in turn to their needs, after being spurned by his homies – well, it just seems to me that the healing may be more mutual than folks like to admit when they’re talking about Jesus.

We all have and will have points when it feels like the tide is turning against us. Our society tells us we need to paper that stuff over and act like we have it all together regardless. This chapter, in context, seems to say something different – that, even if there aren’t 5,000 men plus women and children waiting for you when you set off to mourn, there is someone there who can connect to your mourning. To the extent we are willing to be vulnerable enough to show each other our wounds, we can do some healing.

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