Dangerous Sunday morning devotions: Something narratively-interesting about the first Jesus encounter after the Sermon on the Mount
I am jumping ahead a bit in my thread on the Sermon on the Mount, but, there is something very narratively-interesting (yes, I made up a word here) about what story Matthew chooses to come right after, that is, to immediately follow the Sermon on the Mount. He could have picked from dozens of known Jesus-encounters or teachings, but this is the story he choose for us to hear right after the Kingdom-inviting-and-living-righteously-sermon that began at 5:1 and concludes at 7:29. Here is the text of Matthew's post-Sermon on the Mount thread. Afterward, then, please note with me a few narrative inferences that seem very applicable to the church that stands in front of the narrative. (That's us!)
First, note this is purposeful (i.e., a calculated choice by Matthew), for there is a connection to the “crowds” from the the beginning, whom Jesus was ministering to at the start of the Sermon (4:23-5:2). This is Matthew's way of connecting the Sermon to the encounter Jesus will have at the head of chapter 8. The reader is not to disconnect the Sermon on the Mount to this following event, thus leaving the reader to ask, what is the significance of the leper in this narrative to what we just heard from Jesus on that mountain?
Second, Jesus had just made an invitation into his kingdom and explained what righteousness was, not only required in this kingdom, but was, also, to flow from living out the kingdom and his first encounter is a leper. This, of all people in the land, is certainly one of the target groups of the Beatitudes (poor in spirit, mournful, meek/powerless), a much marginalized social class, and very unclean.
Third, note that Jesus touched the leper before he healed him—significant, because you don’t touch lepers and if you do, you share in their uncleanness (get it?).
Then, finally note, the kingdom is realized when “immediately” the leper was made clean. You must remember that pure of heart in 5:8 is actually [socially, religiously] “clean of heart.” So there is a definite narrative pun (connection) here for the reader to catch.
This narrative was no interruption, but was the sermon's application.
Now go and do likewise.
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.