Who Is This?
Matthew would present a further cluster of three wonderful deeds:
- a nature miracle,
- an exorcism
- and an act of forgiveness of sins,
situated within a context of physical healing. Each activity would prompt questions about the identity of Jesus.
Matthew 8:23-27 Jesus still a Storm
(Mk 4:35—41; Lk 8:2—25) 23 He got into a boat, and his disciples followed him. 24 A terrible storm blew up on the lake, and the boat was swamped by waves. But he was asleep. 25 They came and woke him up, saying, “Lord, save us, we are lost!” 26 He answered them “You have such little trust. Why are you fearful?” Then he stood up and spoke strongly to the winds and the water, and a great calm resulted. 27 The men were amazed and said, “What kind of person is this? The winds and the sea obey him.”
The experience of journeying to the other side was traumatic. The whole issue of engagement with Gentiles had led to enormous upheavals for Jewish disciples. By the time Matthew wrote his Gospel, the tensions in his own community had calmed. His account of the story lacked the intensity and some of the focus of Mark’s original.
The word translated as terrible storm means, more correctly, earthquake. The word would occur again on the occasion of Jesus’ death [27:51]. The cosmic imagery echoed the language of apocalyptic literature, and suggested that the story was to be understood symbolically, rather than literally. Matthew’s interest, therefore, was not focussed on the historical details of the event. What concerned him was its meaning for his community.
The cry for help was the cry of the community of disciples, a cry to the risen Lord. Jesus’ response was to upbraid them for their little trust. Mark had reported Jesus’ censure of the first disciples for having no trust. But Matthew’s community were people who trusted (they knew him as Lord), though a trust that was still deficient. The risen Lord was more than able to calm the upheavals arising in the Christian community, provided the disciples had the trust to recognise him and to follow him into the unknown.
Matthew 8:28-34 Jesus Exorcises the Gadarene Demoniacs
(Mk 5:1-20; Lk 8:26-39) 28 He came to the other side, to the region of the Gadarenes. Two men possessed by demons confronted him, coming out from among the tombs, and extremely violent, so much so that no one could pass through that area.
Mark had identified the country as the region of the Gadarenes [5:1]. Manuscripts disagree, and some read Gerasenes for Gadarenes. But Gerash was about thirty kilometres from the sea. Matthew was aware of the anomaly, but his preference for Gadara was hardly better. Though closer to the lake, it was still about six kilometres distant from it. The incident happened in Gentile territory; and the presence of pigs and of tombs, both sources of uncleanness, confirmed the Jewish horror of things pagan.
For unknown reasons (the author’s liking for duplication would recur again), Matthew substituted the one demoniac of Mark with two.
29 They shouted out, “What have we in common, man of God? Why have you come here before the time to torture us?” 30 At quite some distance from them was a large herd of pigs grazing. 31 The demons implored him, “If you cast us out, send us into that herd of pigs.” 32 He said to them, “Go there.” They came out and went into the pigs. The whole herd of them raced down the cliff into the lake and died in the waters.
Matthew shaved the story of many of the details given by Mark. The Gentile territory clearly identified the context as that of the Roman Empire, significantly, under the control of demons (as had been alluded to in the story of Jesus’ temptations [4:9]). Their fierceness was undisputed. Their naming of Jesus as man of God was a vain attempt to secure control over him. Despite the experience of Matthew’s community, the Empire could never control Jesus. The pigs’ abrupt rush to the lake, and their dying in it, recalled the defeat of Israel’s former oppressor, Egypt, and the certainty of God’s liberating action.
33 The herdsmen fled. They went off into the town and recounted everything including about the possessed men. 34 The whole town came out to meet up with Jesus. When they saw him, they begged him to leave their territory.
Matthew’s concern was to highlight that the Gentile inhabitants of the town did not want liberation. As happens so often with oppressive regimes, those who were oppressed colluded in their own oppression. The price of freedom could seem too much.
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