The point of healing

With a word

Matthew 8:14–17

The authority of Jesus

And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him. That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.” — Matthew 8:14–17

East window of Holy Trinity Church, Huddersfield.
The east window at Holy Trinity Church, Huddersfield, The fourth panel shows a sick person being tended.

Peter’s mother-in-law

The question of who are citizens in the kingdom where Jesus is king continues to be answered. We have already seen a leper, a person who society would have shunned, be accepted and a Roman centurion. The next person Jesus heals is another who would not have a voice in Jewish society at that time, a woman. People lived in extended family groups back then, so it would not be unusual to find someone’s mother-in-law living with them as was the case here in Peter’s house in Capernaum.

The healing here is probably total, but it is one of those awkward verses in that Peter’s Mother-in-law immediately starts serving. Couldn’t someone have spent some time doing the serving to give her time to recover? On the other hand, the healing may have been so total that Mother-in-law wanted to serve. Neither possibility is in the text, it’s all guesswork. The only noteworthy thing here is that Jesus heals a woman, he is still ministering to those that the society of that day, including the religious society of the synagogue and temple.

Cast out many demons

Jesus’ authority is over the powers of evil. There were Jewish and Pagan rites for casting out demons. These were long and drawn out and involved long incantations. Jesus cast them out with a word, he said go, they went. His command had this authority, this power. Even the forces of evil are not outside the power of God seen in Jesus here.

The reason Jesus healed

But what is the point of the healings and other miracles? St. John, in his Gospel, calls them signs and here Matthew is doing something similar here. Quoting from Isaiah 53, verses 4 and 11, Jesus links the healing to the songs of the suffering servant.

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.

Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.

Isaiah is saying that God’s servant, the Messiah will suffer and that suffering will bring healing. Matthew is linking this to the Passion of Jesus, which is yet to come, but the Gospel is written after that with hindsight. Jesus the Messiah suffered and died, and in that we find healing.

I struggle with this, having a chronic medical condition. But Matthew is not saying that all sicknesses will be healed instantly by Jesus, after saying Jesus healed all that were sick on that occasion he links to Isaiah talking about the Messiah’s suffering. I have brought my pain to Jesus on many occasions and have learnt that Jesus understands my suffering and pain. I have learnt that Jesus, the one who suffered and understands suffering, walks alongside us as we suffer. I have learnt that Jesus can be trusted. In other words, Jesus is not just for the good times.

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