Raising the dead

Proper 6A
Genesis 18:1-15; 21:1-7
Psalm 116:1, 10-17
Romans 5:1-8
Matthew 9:35 – 10:23

Jesus gives his disciples rather startling instructions, particularly if we understand ourselves to be those disciples: “cure the sick, raise the dead, cleans the lepers, cast out demons.” Personally, I can’t say that I’ve done any of those things.

These instructions are set within a larger framework. Matthew places this whole passage between the first sea crossing and the first feeding miracle. Jesus has compassion on the crowds, “because they were harrassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” He is quoting Numbers 27:17, in which Moses prays that the Lord will set over the people a person like Moses, so that they will not be like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew portrays Jesus as a Moses-figure. That fits with the sea crossing/feeding miracles.

Also, between those miracles, Jesus casts out the legion of demons into a herd of pigs which rushes over the cliff and drowns in the sea (like Pharaoh’s army!), calls Matthew the tax collector and eats at his house, and then, while still reclining at Matthew’s house, responds to the request of the leader of the synagogue (what would he be doing at Matthew’s house, I wonder?) to heal his daughter. Jesus is only instructing us to do what he did.

Also, we are to proclaim the kingdom of God. If Jesus’ miracles are any indication, that could be dangerous stuff. Everyone knew there was only one Kindgom that mattered: Rome. The cynic philosphers lived outside (or tried to live outside) the social structures of the Empire. They begged for their food, refused to enter temples, flouted convention. Jesus sends his disciples out with even less than the cynics — no philosopher’s tunic, no extra sandals, no gold, silver or copper, no wallet for the next day’s food. But they went out two by two, where cynics would have been singletons. The cynics claimed that they were living in the true Kingdom, in opposition to Rome. No wonder the Emperors occasionally felt the need to banish the philosophers from Rome.

No wonder, too, that Jesus tells us to that we are sheep in the midst of wolves, so we must be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. We are claiming to live in the true Kingdom, in the face of the Kingdom that surrounds us.

Demon possession, illness, leprosy, even death, had (and have) their social component. An occupying empire pushes all kinds of people to the edges. The two men possessed of a legion live among the tombs. Matthew has had to make some awful compromises to survive; he collaborates with the very regime that probably pushed him off his land through tax debt.

Who are the damaged these days? The people whom our system of acquisitiveness and consumption push to the edges? What compromises do we make? Jesus instructs his disciples to enter whatever house will have them (and presumably to eat there) without asking questions about the “fitness” of the people who live there in religious or political terms. In bringing such people as Matthew, the dead girl and the woman with the flow of blood to the table, without asking questions of their fitness, Jesus heals them, overcomes the social aspect of their condition.

Interesting that the deficit of Abraham and Sarah is met at a meal. Abraham (and Sarah) serve the three men, who ask no questions about their fitness or the fitness of the food, and in the meal, give the promise of a child.

The psalmist asks, how can I thank God for all the good God has done for me? I will raise the cup of salvation. At our meals, both at church and at home, we can raise a cup and thank God that we are made whole by eating together. And then, invite to the tables, both in our homes and at church, those who are dispossessed of whatever it is God intends for us humans.

Does Matthew continue to collect taxes? We’re not told. It’s the meal that heals him, makes him whole. He may still have to do that horrible work to make ends meet, but he has been restored. That’s the work of the Kingdom.

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