Matthew 8:1-17

Jesus came down the mountain with the cheers of the crowd still ringing in his ears. Then a leper appeared and went to his knees before Jesus, praying, "Master, if you want to, you can heal my body."

Jesus reached out and touched him, saying, "I want to. Be clean." Then and there, all signs of the leprosy were gone. Jesus said, "Don't talk about this all over town. Just quietly present your healed body to the priest, along with the appropriate expressions of thanks to God. Your cleansed and grateful life, not your words, will bear witness to what I have done."

As Jesus entered the village of Capernaum, a Roman captain came up in a panic and said, "Master, my servant is sick. He can't walk. He's in terrible pain."

Jesus said, "I'll come and heal him."

"Oh, no," said the captain. "I don't want to put you to all that trouble. Just give the order and my servant will be fine. I'm a man who takes orders and gives orders. I tell one soldier, 'Go,' and he goes; to another, 'Come,' and he comes; to my slave, 'Do this,' and he does it."

Taken aback, Jesus said, "I've yet to come across this kind of simple trust in Israel, the very people who are supposed to know all about God and how he works. This man is the vanguard of many outsiders who will soon be coming from all directions—streaming in from the east, pouring in from the west, sitting down at God's kingdom banquet alongside Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Then those who grew up 'in the faith' but had no faith will find themselves out in the cold, outsiders to grace and wondering what happened."

Then Jesus turned to the captain and said, "Go. What you believed could happen has happened." At that moment his servant became well.

By this time they were in front of Peter's house. On entering, Jesus found Peter's mother-in-law sick in bed, burning up with fever. He touched her hand and the fever was gone. No sooner was she up on her feet than she was fixing dinner for him.

That evening a lot of demon-afflicted people were brought to him. He relieved the inwardly tormented. He cured the bodily ill. He fulfilled Isaiah's well-known sermon:

He took our illnesses,
He carried our diseases.

This is one of those passages that most of us preachers can spend hours on. It is rich with theological poignancy. There is much that we could dive into and tease out. But, this is not the time or place.

The question that I have for you is this, “Did you notice what Jesus was doing?”

I’m serious.

Did you catch what he was up to in these stories?

I have been a professional Christian for a long, long time. I have read and re-read the New Testament many times over. But, it was not until this past year that I really took note of what Jesus was doing in these kinds of stories.

It’s one of those things that when you see it for the first time you slap your forehead and think, “How have I not noticed this before? It’s RIGHT there!”

Do you have an idea yet?

Here it is: Jesus was bringing people into community. He was clearing the path so that they could come and be fully participating members of community together.

It’s not really about the healings. It’s about something more than that. What Jesus was doing as a result of the healings was making it so that individuals were no longer exiled from the community.

The leper couldn’t be in community. The demon possessed couldn’t be in community. The lame, the blind, the deaf, none of them could fully participate in community.

Jesus even says as much when he heals the Centurion’s servant, “This man is the vanguard of many outsiders who will soon be coming from all directions—streaming in from the east, pouring in from the west, sitting down at God's kingdom banquet alongside Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

He was saying, “You see! You see! Those who were on the outside will be on the inside. Those who were not a people will be a people. They will come and eat at God’s table.”

When the kingdom breaks in, this is what we see happening. People who were on the outside, people isolated from community, people who were once “untouchable,” become part of community. Those who were only able to participate on the fringe, are brought into full participation.

This is the beauty of the healing narratives. The healings are cool, no doubt. But it is the effects of the healings that we must notice.

How are you helping bring people into community? How are you breaking down barriers for people to fully participate in your community? Maybe this weekend, you can do something to help facilitate that.