By Amber Noel
A Reading from the Gospel of Matthew 8:1-17
1 When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; 2 and there was a leper who came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” 3 He stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 4 Then Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
5 When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him 6 and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralysed, in terrible distress.” 7 And he said to him, “I will come and cure him.” 8 The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” 10 When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.” And the servant was healed in that hour.
14 When Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever; 15 he touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she got up and began to serve him. 16 That evening they brought to him many who were possessed by demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick. 17 This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah, “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.”
You could probably do a whole study on what Jesus says and does in public versus in private. “See that you don’t tell anyone,” Jesus says to the man with leprosy. Elsewhere, he intentionally stops to point someone out, embarassingly — or, if anything goes wrong, dangerously! — like the unclean woman who pushes through a crowd to touch him.
What cards does Jesus keep close to his chest for now, asking us to do the same? What should be shared with him alone? And what does he reveal, refuse to let us hide?
There’s an intimacy, inwardness, and privacy with him that our Lord desires us to cultivate. That privacy — or “personal relationship with Jesus” — is indispensible for the Christian life. It is the private conversation of prayer, and of Jesus asking our desires — really asking them, drawing them out with his presence; the good, the bad, the ugly, getting right down to the heart — and then, with God’s help, us asking Jesus his desires. It is listening, obedience, to be sure, but also relating. It is a very great and precious source of life.
Then there’s also the moving outward: recognizing this same healing, intimate Lord and his word in the world at large, in the lives of others, like what the centurion does, in bold intercessory actions, and, like the centurion, by advancing in theology — in wisdom about God — and in faith.
Which of us lives perfectly, either publicly or privately? So we see, too, the hesitating, middle stages: the “if you are willing” of the trembling leper, and the crowd who wait until dusk to bring their vulnerabilities to him. Wisdom and boldness can bring us closer to him; shame and uncertainty, sometimes, can scoot us toward him, too. He starts where we’re at, drawing us out so that we might be found in him.
Amber Noel, M.Div., is Associate Editor at the Living Church and Associate Director of The Living Church Institute. Off the clock, she is the author of short fiction, book and culture reviews, and work for the stage.
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