Scripture: And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized him, they sent around to all that region and brought to him all who were sick and implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well. Matthew 14:34-36 ESV
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Observation: Having walked on water and rescued Peter when he lost focus and began to sink, Jesus enters the boat, calms the storm (this being the second incident of exercising authority over nature, see 8:23-27), and directs his disciples to steer their sailing vessel to Gennesaret. On the northwest side of the Sea of Galilee, Gennesaret was a heavily populated fertile plain that Josephus describes as rich in walnuts, palm trees, figs, and olives (War III, 515-21 [x.8]). Even though this region lies near Tiberias (Herod Antipas’ bustling capital city) and Magdala (Mary Magdalene’s hometown), this is Jesus’ only recorded visit to Gennesaret. Still, the men who saw Jesus come ashore recognized him (likely based on the stories circulated from Capernaum and the other coastal communities of Galilee).
Wasting no time, the men of Gennesaret alerted the folks of their region. They proceeded to bring to Christ the sick, and similar to the woman who suffered bleeding for twelve years (9:20-22), even those who touched the fringe of his garment found healing and restoration. But, as theologian Michael Wilkins contends, they did not pursue wholeness based on superstition; “rather, they understand that his power is so great that only this derivative contact with him is necessary to bring healing” (NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, pp.518–519).
Takeaway: In contrast to the Pharisees and the teachers of the law (who will confront Jesus in the next story of Matthew’s Gospel regarding adherence to traditions and the law), this crowd demonstrated remarkable faith. And Jesus, rubbing shoulders with the masses, showed his unconcern for ceremonial uncleanness. In contrast, Israel’s religious leaders would always stay on the fringes of the crowd to avoid making contact with a diseased person. But Jesus draws near the “unclean” and compassionately lays hands on them to heal them. Indeed, as theologian D.A. Carson rightfully argues, the sinless Son of God “cannot become unclean” by touching a diseased body. “Instead, he makes clean” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, p.347). And as this story also reveals, Jesus extends his ministry to all people—no matter how broken in mind and spirit they might be.
So how does this passage apply to us? Unlike the religious leaders who focused on outward adherence to the law apart from pursuing a loving relationship with the Giver of the law—and hence were spiritually blind to the Son of God who stood before them—if we, like the crowd, exhibit even a modicum of faith in our Lord, his Holy Spirit will continue to enlarge our faith in and love for him. And while we may not experience complete physical healing in our fallen world, the One who touches lepers will touch our leprous hearts and restore shalom peace to our weary souls. And like the men who brought the diseased to Jesus, the Holy Spirit will bring kingdom workers into our lives to lead us closer to Christ, for he who began a good work in us (made us clean) will see it to completion (Philippians 1:6). And as we grow in our faith, we pay it forward and bring others to him who seek restoration.
Prayer: Father God, thank you for your Son who remained clean throughout his life, death, and resurrection to make us clean. And we thank you for extending his saving grace to us just as we are. Still, we sometimes struggle to trust in him and draw near to him when we are hurting. So would you please help us submit to your Holy Spirit, who transforms our thoughts and worldviews to see Jesus as he is: the One who became sin so that we might become his righteousness (made clean) and draw near to you? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling