Jesus had just come down from the mountain where He had set forth the great truths about what it meant to be His disciples. Among them, He said that it was easy to love people who love you. More difficult, Jesus said, was to love those who do not love up. Matthew's gospel tells us that no sooner had He come down from the mountain than He had to put into practice some of the very things He had been preaching. Almost immediately, it seems He had three encounters with three very different types of people. From them we can learn a great deal about what it means to be His follower and to be a citizen of his kingdom.
First, we can see that He Touched the Untouchable. Matthew tells us that this untouchable was a literal untouchable, a leper. Luke's description of the same Eencounter says the man was "full of leprosy." Apparently, this man did not have just one lesion or a few snowy white spots on the skin. To paraphrase, it night be said that this man was eaten up with leprosy. In The Miracles of Christ, David Redding describes leprosy in this way:
"No other disease can touch its hideous talent for mixing agony with horror. It strikes a small spot on the skin silently, like a viper, and no one notices until the dreaded numbness sets in and the deathly snow-white color gives it away. Then the victim is subjected to a savage siege of terror as the killer advances slowly, relentlessly, spreading like a venomous stain, finger by finger, often erasing the face first, leaving behind a messy trail of ugly scabs and sores like open sewers. The hands are frozen into claws long before they drop off. The feet boil up into bandaged stumps before they are left behind. The leper's voice breaks into a cracked record of its former self and his features draw tight into the infamous leonine look until they too leave. The flesh rots off, bones give up, inch by creeping inch. Where it stops nobody knows. In odor and appearance, leprosy has no competitor."1
Of all the diseases described in the Bible, no disease was more horrible than leprosy. Horror and pain bombarded the leper daily. Jewish law forced these victims outside the mainstream. Lepers were considered cursed by God and suspected of terrible sins. After all, why else would God punish someone so terribly unless they had done something awful. At least this is what they believed.
Of all of the miracles performed by Jesus, few were as spectacular as those where He healed lepers. We don't know why this man came to Jesus in such an advanced state. Surely, he must have thought his leprosy was so terrible that even Jesus could not heal him. He perhaps heard that Jesus told of a God of love, and lived a different lifestyle. Jesus was moved with compassion. "He touched him." Jesus didn't have to touch him. He healed others without a touch. Why did He do it? I believe He did so to show compassion, to affirm and to reassure. It had been so long since this man had known human touch but Jesus sensed that he needed it. He loved someone very different from Him.
Certainly all of you are familiar with the story of Mother Teresa and her life as she worked among the untouchables of Calcutta, India. Michael Christensen in his book, City Streets, City People, tells of his visit to see Mother Teresa and his work with her. Within a few weeks he "had seen enough blood and ooze to last a lifetime."
One day he was with Mother Teresa when she picked up a dying baby out of the gutter whose hands and feet had been eaten off by rats. He was almost destroyed with despair. The next day as Christensen struggled with the misery of the human existence that he had seen, the great lady asked him, "Did you see Jesus today?" Christensen said that he had to honestly answer that he had not. He then writes that Mother Teresa took his hand in hers and opened and closed his five fingers. As she spoke to him regarding the life of Christ, she spoke five words over and over again as she touched his fingers. "You-did-it-to-me."2
Later in Matthew we hear those immortal five words from Jesus as He tells his disciples, "I was hungry, and you fed Me; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; I was naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me." We, too, must touch the untouchable — we have been touched, we must touch. cSome people need the touch of reassurance while others need the touch of compassion. Still others need the touch of faith and others the touch of Christian witness. Whom do you need to touch?
Not only did Jesus touch the untouchable but also He Received the Unacceptable. The next person he encountered was a Roman centurion. Typically, the centurion was a captain of 100 — probably in this case he commanded the garrison of Capernaum. Matthew was from Capernaum and probably knew the man personally. The centurion was a Roman citizen and soldier. From the Jewish standpoint, not only was he a Gentile, but he was also a leader of the Roman oppressors. He would have been despised by the Jews. To make matters even worse he was not asking for himself but for his slave who Luke says was dear to him. This slave was in tremendous pain. Literally translated, the word used here for pain means "examined by torture." The centurion comes asking for Jesus to heal his slave. He knows Jesus has power and authority.
Jesus is being called upon to practice what He has just preached. He is asked for help by the enemy. What He had just said was "Love your enemies." Now He is required to put that into action. And He does. Something remarkable happens here. The faith demonstrated by this normally unacceptable centurion was far greater than that of even the religious elite. Despite the fact that Jesus risked the anger of those who would have disapproved of His aiding the Gentile oppressor, He acts.
Years ago a great preacher, John Henry Jowett, said, "Ministry that costs nothing accomplishes nothing." Jesus was willing to minister here to an outsider even at the risk of the anger of others. He was willing to love an enemy.
Who are the unacceptable? Those who are our enemies, who have wronged us. The unacceptable are those who are different, who have racial, cultural and even religious differences from us. The unacceptable are those who make us angry and those who stand for things very different from us. Just because we accept them does not mean we have to accept the things they do. It does mean we are called to forgive them and accept them, especially when they demonstrate faith. This should be done even when the faith may seem to be incomplete.
Not only did Jesus receive the unacceptable and touch the untouchable but also in the final encounter in this passage we see that Jesus Valued the Unprofitable. The third healing which takes place in this passage is that of Peter's mother-in-law. Quite frankly, this woman was of no practical value to Jesus or, for that matter, to Peter either. She was most likely an illiterate second-class citizen, probably an elderly woman living in the house of her son-in-law. Not only this, but the woman was also a person who could do little for His ministry. She had little wealth or influence, unlike the centurion. This disease carries no drama in the healing like that of the leper. The "fever" which she had may have been a disease that was contagious — some have suggested typhoid, cholera or malaria. Yet once again He heals. The scripture says He "touched her." An amazing thing happened. The woman was no longer a burden but became a blessing.
My younger brother is a remarkable person. He has always been intelligent, talented, good-looking, friendly, athletic and musical. He literally seems as if he can do almost anything he sets his mind to do. Growing up he was immensely popular with the other kids. Literally, he never met a stranger. But when Gary was in elementary school we often noticed that his "girlfriends" were quite different from him. Often it seemed that rather than being equally popular, good-looking, etc., many times the little girls were honestly the ugly ducklings of the class, frequently a bit on the plump side, and occasionally lacked a little in terms of grooming. We noticed this so often that finally, out of curiosity, my mother asked him why one homely little girl was his "girlfriend." What he said was telling about him. He said, "Momma, most of the other kids don't like her and some times they even make fun of her so I decided that she could be my girlfriend so that she could have a friend." At an early age, even when he could have chosen most any girl as his girlfriend, Gary had realized that there is something great at out valuing someone who might be considered by others as unprofitable.
How can we value the unprofitable? We need to realize that all people, regardless of their age, class, race, socioeconomic background or educational levels have value and worth. We need to consider that all people are important. If we are to be faithful to Christ in all things then we will love people who have nothing to offer us in return. And we'll love them because even they have the image of God in them.
Years ago, an African-American congregation began preparations for a revival meeting with great expectations due to the fact that an outstanding black evangelist was coming to speak. The weeks beforehand were filled with preparations for the first day of the meetings. Finally, the day came. The pastor of the congregation gave a flowery introduction of their guest. The choirs sang with great enthusiasm and prayers said with great fervency. With great anticipation the congregation awaited the sermon as the evangelist rose to speak. But instead of beginning his message, the minister quietly went to the piano and sat down.
In the next moments he began simply and softly to play a quiet melody. The congregation fell silent. As they listened, they heard him beginning to sing quietly. Every person leaned forward to hear his words. Finally, they could hear what he was singing as he slowly grew louder. Over and over he was singing the words, "I will, I will." Catching the spirit of his singing, the congregation began to join in and the evangelist sang and played more loudly. Before long the entire building was virtually shaking with the hearty singing of the enthusiastic congregation as they sang "I will, I will." Then abruptly the evangelist stopped playing and singing. As the congregation once again fell silent, the minister closed his eyes and raised his hand toward the sky. Loudly he prayed, "Lord, you've heard our answer. Now ask us your question."
What question is God asking you? Who is He asking you to touch? Who is He asking you to accept? Who is He asking you to value? Who is He asking you to love?
1David Redding, The Miracles of Christ, 75.
2R. Wayne Stacy, "Look Again," in W. Hulitt Gloer, ed., Following Jesus: Sermons on Discipleship (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 1994), 134ff.

Matthew 8:1-15

Share This On: