Thoughts on Matthew 8:14-17
There’s an awful lot going on in these four short verses that hint at multiple reasons for suffering, as well as the proper response to healing should it come. Here’s a quick summary of some of what we can learn from these verses: Jesus healed to show his compassion for the people, to reveal his power as God to heal “with a word,” and to prove he was the Messiah by fulfilling prophesy.
There are many books, commentaries and sermons out there about finding purpose in pain and suffering, both in general and in the lives of God’s children. It would be a bit of a stretch, but possible, to go that direction with this passage in relation to Peter’s sick mother-in-law or the “many” people brought to Jesus for healing. However, what I want to focus on is the application of what to/how to respond when we are healthy (whether from healing or simply being well).
Throughout the Gospel narratives, Jesus heals people of all kinds of ailments from fever to leprosy to disfigurement to demon possession, and even “healing” from death. For all of these stories and hundreds, if not thousands of people healed, there are only a few instances where we are given insight into the responses of the people to the healing Jesus performed for them. In a few of cases, Jesus told the people he healed to “tell no one” (Matthew 12:15-21; Mark 7:31-37; Luke 5:12-16, 8:40-56) since it was not yet time for Jesus to be fully revealed as the Messiah (the “Messianic secret”). In other instances, Jesus commissioned the healed people to go and tell others what God had done for them (Luke 8:1-3 and 26-39). In other instances, the healed person and/or the crowds of people worshiped and praised God for the wonderful things they had witnessed (Matthew 15: 30-31, 21:14-17; Luke 17:11-19; Bonus: Acts 3-4:1-31).
One of the clearest examples we have though of an appropriate response to healing is a phrase in a single sentence: “…and she rose and began to serve [Jesus].” It would be easy to conjecture about Peter’s mother-in-law and whether or not she complained during or after her illness, or infer she served Jesus and all of his disciples, or if all the people healed that evening were brought to her house (which would be quite a lot of houseguests to entertain after being bedridden). However, we’re told nothing more than that she got up and served Jesus after she was healed. However again, that’s really all that’s needed to know how to apply this passage to our lives today.
We often pray for many things – safety, prosperity, wisdom, healing – that we receive gladly, but then fail to acknowledge God’s gracious answers to our prayers, and/or fail to use that which was given for God’s glory. I am as guilty of this as anyone.
The challenge is to not get so wrapped up in life, especially when things are going well, that we think and act as functional atheists. When we have health, either as the norm or as a result of divine healing, our response, or “reasonable act of worship,” is to offer ourselves in service to Jesus. The antithesis to this is functioning in the mindset that we are entitled to health, wealth, prosperity and the comfortable life those things bring. That’s the lie of “American Dream” and the false “Prosperity Gospel” it has engendered.
What this means is that if you’re sick, it’s for a reason – to serve the Lord. If you’re healed from that sickness, it’s for a reason – to serve the Lord. If you’re healthy and prospering, it’s for a reason – to serve the Lord. As Paul says in Romans 14:8, “For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”