SET 2: Season of Apostles
After the sermon on the mount, Jesus continued preaching, manifesting the glory of God through miracles, and healing the sick. Today, we reflect on the desire of Jesus to have more laborers to work for the Kingdom of God. He healed two blind men who professed their faith in him as the Son of David. Some people brought a demon possessed dumb person for healing. He regained speech when Jesus cast out the demon from him. Instead of appreciating Jesus or glorifying God for the miracle, the Pharisees ridiculed him, saying that it was with the power of the head of demons that he did it. Jesus went around the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel. He felt pity on the people who were lacking proper spiritual leadership. He asked his disciples to pray to God for more laborers for the kingdom of God.
BIBLE TEXT (MATTHEW 9:27-38)
The Healing of Two Blind Men
(Mt 9:27) As Jesus moved on from there, two blind men followed him, shouting, “Son of David, have pity on us!” (28) When he was about to enter the house, the blind men caught up with him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do what you want?” They answered, “We do, Lord!” (29) Then Jesus touched their eyes and said, “As you have believed, so let it be.” (30) And their eyes were opened. Then Jesus gave them a stern warning, “Be careful and let no one know about this.” (31) But as soon as they went away, they spread the news about him through the whole area.
The Healing of a Mute Person
(32) As they were going away, some people brought to Jesus a man who was dumb because he was possessed by a demon. (33) When the demon was driven out, the man who had been dumb spoke. The crowds were astonished and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.” (34) But the Pharisees said, “It is through the power of the head demon that he drives out demons.”
The Compassion of Jesus
(35) Jesus went around all the towns and the villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and he cured every sickness and every disease. (36) When he saw the crowds he was moved with pity, for they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. (37) Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is abundant but the workers are few. (38) Ask the master of the harvest therefore to send workers to gather his harvest.”
After the sermon on the mountain (Mt cha. 5-7), Jesus implemented what he taught. Understanding the need for the time and making use of his power, Jesus continued his preaching on the Kingdom of God and healing the sick. According to Matthew, the following were the major activities of Jesus after the sermon on the mount before the events we reflect today.
All these acts of compassion and manifestation of God’s power attracted the people to Jesus. He became popular and people kept coming to hear him and to receive favors from him.
The Healing of Two Blind Men
(Mt 9:27) As Jesus moved on from there, two blind men followed him, shouting, “Son of David, have pity on us!”
As Jesus moved on from there
Jesus raised an official’s daughter and was leaving his house at Capernaum. According to Mark, the official was Jairus in charge of a synagogue (Mk 5:22). Because this miracle was outstanding, its news “spread throughout all that land” (Mt 9:26). The two blind men, who were in Capernaum, heard of the miracles Jesus did. The news of Jesus raising the synagogue official’s daughter added their hope of regaining their sight through Jesus. So, they approached him while he was going out of Jairus’ house.
Two blind men followed him, shouting
The families of the blind men might have abandoned them. Because of their helplessness, they mutually supported like a family, and sought alms together from the public. From the noise of the crowd around Jesus, they recognized the nearby presence of Jesus, though they could not identify him because of their blindness. The only way they could catch his attention was to shout for help calling his name. Jesus, who always helped those in need, delayed paying attention to them assessing their faith and patience. The blind men were persisting on their appeal without giving up hope.
Son of David
The “Son of David” was a Messianic title originating from the covenant God made with King David around 1000 years before Christ. When the king asked permission from God through Prophet Nathan to construct a house for the Lord, the Lord did not allow his wish. However, God made promises to David that He would fulfill through his son (2 Samuel 7:12–17). Who was this son through whom the promises were fulfilled? They were only partially realized through Solomon, the biological son and successor of David. And the rest had to be fulfilled through the Messiah, the seed of Eve (Genesis 3:14–15) and a greater son from the lineage of David.
Though Solomon built the Temple, the promise of God that “I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Samuel 7:13) did not happen in the life of Solomon. He ruled only for 40 years and committed sin, especially during his later age. So, God said, “If he does wrong, I will reprove him with a human rod and with human punishments” (2 Sam 7:14). This was applicable only to Solomon and not to the Messiah who was God who took human flesh. God continued in verse 16: “Your house and your kingdom are firm forever before me; your throne shall be firmly established forever.” Thus, “forever” is repeated thrice (verses 13 and 16) emphasizing the everlasting nature of the Kingdom of David’s greater son.
Because of God’s promise to David that his son would establish his kingdom firmly forever, the Israelites have been hoping for an everlasting king from the line of David to sit on the throne of David and to rule the kingdom for eternity with no failure. God revealed this David’s son through Angel Gabriel to Mary, the mother of the Messiah. “He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Lk 1:32-33). Matthew starts his gospel stating: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Mt 1:1).
The “son of David” is used 17 times in the New Testament for Jesus, meaning that he was the promised and long-awaited Messiah. When the people saw the miracles Jesus performed, they doubted whether he was the Messiah. When Jesus cured the blind and mute demoniac, the crowd astounded saying, “Could this perhaps be the Son of David?” (Mt 12:22-23). People acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah by proclaiming, “Hosanna to the Son of David” (Matthew 21:9) during his triumphant entry into the temple of Jerusalem.
Isaiah had prophesied that when the Messiah comes, “the eyes of the blind shall see” (Isa 35:5). The blind men knew this God’s promise and have been waiting for his arrival with faith and hope. They professed that faith when they addressed Jesus as the “Son of David.” When the blind beggars saluted Jesus, “Son of David,” they were proclaiming their faith in Jesus as the Messiah. Though blind, they had spiritual sight and faith in the Messianic expectation of the Jews based on the Holy Scripture. Others also saluted Jesus when they sought favors from Jesus. When Jesus was in Tyre and Sidon, a Canaanite woman greeted him, “Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon” (Mt 15:22). While Jesus left Jericho with a great crowd around him, two blind men cried out to him, “Lord, Son of David, have pity on us!” (Mt 20:29-30; Mk 10:47; Lk 18:38-39).
have pity on us!
What the blind men sought was not alms, but a permanent solution for their blindness. No one other than the Messiah could do it. So, they were excited to ask for that favor, believing that Jesus was the Messiah who had the power to regain sight to the blind. They also knew that Jesus never declined the cry of the weak, regardless of whether they were Jews or Gentiles.
(28) When he was about to enter the house, the blind men caught up with him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do what you want?” They answered, “We do, Lord!”
When he was about to enter the house, the blind men caught up with him
Since Jesus was in Capernaum, the house he was about to enter would probably be that of Peter. So far, Jesus disregarded the two blind men, testing their faith. He yielded to them before entering the house. They proved their faith through persistence until they got what they wanted. Jesus kindly granted them the favor they asked.
Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do what you want?”
Jesus expected faith as a requirement for the miracle. While he was in Nazareth, “he did not work many mighty deeds there because of their lack of faith” (Mt 13:58; Mk 6:5-6). People who came seeking miraculous favors from Jesus initially expressed their faith (Mt 8:2) or expressed their faith when Jesus checked their faith (Mk 9:23-24). Other times, Jesus complemented their faith (Mt 15:28) and told them that their faith favored to make them well (Mt 9:22). Thus, faith was a precondition of the miracles Jesus performed. Though the blind men had the faith and expressed it by continuously asking the favor by walking behind him, Jesus made them express their belief again in public.
They answered, “We do, Lord!”
The blind men were convinced of the ability of Jesus to regain their sight. They believed he was the Messiah and had addressed him as the Son of David. So, they instantly gave a unanimous answer. Thus, they professed their faith in public. Jesus was sure of their faith in his power and identity. However, Jesus gave them an opportunity to deepen their faith and prepared them for the great miracle in their lives.
(29) Then Jesus touched their eyes and said, “As you have believed, so let it be.”
Jesus touched their eyes
The sick touching Jesus or his touching of them had a healing effect. He could heal the sick with a word. However, he expressed his compassion by touching them. When people were reluctant to touch lepers, Jesus touched them as part of healing (Mt 8:3). When a multitude of people arrived from distant places, “Everyone in the crowd sought to touch him because power came forth from him and healed them all” (Lk 6:19). When Jesus went to Gennesaret, “People brought to him all those who were sick and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak, and as many as touched it were healed” (Mt 14:35-36). The blind men were fortunate to have Jesus touch them and his power worked on their eyes.
Jesus said, “As you have believed, so let it be.”
Like a patient’s consent and compliance is necessary for medical treatment, the people have the choice to take advantage of the salvation and healing from Jesus. The blind men believed in Jesus as the Messiah and acknowledged his power to heal them. That prompted Jesus to grant their wish.
Jesus complemented the faith of the two blind men and healed them. Similar situation occurred with a centurion. Jesus told him, “‘You may go; as you have believed, let it be done for you.’ And at that very hour his servant was healed” (Mt 8:13). A woman who suffered hemorrhages for twelve years touched the tassel of Jesus’ cloak. “Jesus turned around and saw her, and said, ‘Courage, daughter! Your faith has saved you.’ And from that hour the woman was cured” (Mt. 9:22).
(30) And their eyes were opened. Then Jesus gave them a stern warning, “Be careful and let no one know about this.”
Their eyes were opened.
The blind can have their eyes open without eyesight. So, “opening the eyes” here means regaining the sight. The Jews considered the blind as their eyes shut. As soon as Jesus touched the eyes of the blind men, they resumed full sight.
Regaining sight for the blind is evidence of messianic fulfillment. According to Isaiah, when the Messiah comes, “The eyes of the blind shall see, and the ears of the deaf be opened” (Isa 35:5). That is why when John the Baptist sent his disciples to Jesus, asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Jesus replied, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them” (Mt 11:2-5). While interpreting a passage from the book of Isaiah (61:1-2), Jesus proclaimed, he came as Messiah to regain sight for the blind (Lk 4:18).
Then Jesus gave them a stern warning, “Be careful and let no one know about this.”
Why did Jesus give a stern warning to avoid any publicity of the miracle he performed for the blind men? Though Jesus did not clarify, the following could be the reasons.
Jesus had given similar instructions elsewhere. After healing a leper, Jesus instructed, “See that you tell no one, but go show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them” (Mt 8:4). After curing many who followed Jesus, he warned them not to make him known (Mt 12:15-16).
(31) But as soon as they went away, they spread the news about him through the whole area.
The blind men believed Jesus was the Messiah when they had asked for help from him. They experienced that in life through their healing. Though Jesus banned them from spreading the news about him, they felt they have a responsibility to let others know that the long-awaited Messiah had arrived. Thus, they became the heralds of the Messiah.
The news of the recovery of the blind men could spread fast for several reasons:
The Healing of a Person with Speech Impediment
(32) As they were going away, some people brought to Jesus a man who was dumb because he was possessed by a demon.
As they were going away
Here is the transition from one miracle to another. While the two blind men who regained their sight left the entrance of the house where Jesus was, people brought a hearing-impaired person to Jesus for healing.
some people brought to Jesus
The hearing impaired could not come by himself to Jesus because of his demon possession. Demons avoided the Messiah because they knew he would expel them. The friends or family of the dumb man felt sympathy for him and brought him to Jesus. From their experience and popular awareness of Jesus, they knew he would never decline help to anyone who deserves it.
a man who was dumb because he was possessed by a demon.
Usually deafness and dumbness go together, especially for those who have that defect from birth. Since the deaf cannot hear, the child will not learn to speak. However, this man became dumb only after birth because of the demon possession. It was a case of catalepsy or an insanity of obstinate silence.
(33) When the demon was driven out, the man who had been dumb spoke. The crowds were astonished and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”
When the demon was driven out, the man who had been dumb spoke.
Since cause of the speech impediment was demon possession, Jesus treated for the root cause. When he expelled the demon, the man regained his speech.
The crowds were astonished and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”
The extraordinary service and power of Jesus astonished the people. They were eyewitnesses of the miracles Jesus performed and seen the joy of the people whom he had healed. Most of them took that in a positive sense while the pessimists accused Jesus of blasphemy. Their reaction was not based on just this incident, but also on many other previous miracles Jesus performed. When Jesus healed a paralytic, people “were all astounded and glorified God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this’” (Mk 2:12). They could see the miracles as a sign of the presence of the Messiah.
(34) But the Pharisees said, “It is through the power of the head demon that he drives out demons.”
Pharisee in Hebrew means “separate” or “detach” because this group had separated themselves from the ordinary people in their strict religious observances. They were against Hellenistic influence of the Jewish religion. Besides the Laws God gave through Moses, the Pharisees developed their own interpretations and applications of the Law. They gave importance to the traditional rituals that were not in the Mosaic laws but were handed over by the elders of previous generations claiming that they were of divine origin. The Pharisees derived during the post-exilic times when there was a thirst for maintaining purity of the Judaism according to the written laws and oral traditions. Though some Pharisees appreciated the teachings of Jesus and invited him for dinner (Lk 7:36-50, 14:1), many of them objected him because he did not strictly follow their man-made rituals and traditions.
The following are some reasons for the objection of Pharisees against Jesus:
“It is through the power of the head demon that he drives out demons.”
The Pharisees had to accept the casting out of demons by Jesus as a miracle. However, they had a pessimistic approach towards Jesus. Instead of appreciating the help Jesus provided for the people suffering from demons, they tried to diminish his glory. Either God or an associate of the head demon could cast out demons. Since the Pharisees were unwilling to acknowledge the divinity of Jesus, they accused him of having an affiliation with Beelzebul, the prince of demons (Mt 12:24). The Pharisees undervalued the miracles of Jesus and defamed him. However, Jesus defended himself with counter arguments (Mt 12:25-28; Lk 11:17-23).
The Compassion of Jesus
(35) Jesus went around all the towns and the villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and he cured every sickness and every disease.
Jesus went around all the towns and the villages
This must be another round of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee because Matthew had already recorded in 4:23, “He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people.” His fame spread all over Galilee and neighboring regions. Crowds from there followed him and they brought sick people and demoniacs to him for healing (Mt 4:24-25). People continued welcoming him to their villages, and Jesus gladly visited those places and continued his ministry.
Teaching in their synagogues
Since Jesus was a Jew and the public acknowledged him as a Rabbi, the synagogue officials invited him to interpret the scriptures during the synagogue services. That was an excellent opportunity for Jesus to address all the Jews in the locality on the Sabbath days. People were content to listen to him because his teaching had a style different from the Scribes. “The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes” (Mk 1:22).
Synagogue in Greek means “a place of assembly.” The exact reason for the origin of synagogue is unknown. According to some Jewish traditions, there were assemblies of Jews for prayer (1 Sam 1:9-19) and study of Torah even during the time of Solomon’s Temple. Some claim the Jewish communities outside Jerusalem started the synagogues to pray together when the priests were busy for two weeks each in the Temple of Jerusalem during major feasts with sacrifices. Others believe the synagogues were originated in Babylonia after the destruction of Solomon’s Temple in 586 BC. Since sacrifices were halted for a long time with the destruction of the first Temple by Babylonians, people used private homes and later started synagogues for public worship and religious studies. The synagogues served also as community centers with provisions for gatherings, education, courtroom, charity works, and prayer halls.
Even after construction of the second Temple, the synagogues continued in Jewish settlements all over the world, including Rome, Greece, Egypt, Babylonia, and Asia Minor. The synagogues helped to keep the Jews together in the locality. After the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., role of the synagogues became more relevant to keep the Jews in each locality together. Morning, afternoon, and evening services were held daily in the synagogues. Special liturgies were held on the sabbath and on religious festivals. Since sacrifices were not allowed in the synagogues, there was no need for priestly service. Each synagogue is autonomous and managed by the local community.
The essential components of the synagogue are an ark where the scrolls of the Law are kept, an “eternal light” burning in front of the ark, two candlesticks, pews, and a biemah (a raised platform for reading the Scriptures and for services). An honorable seat called “Moses’ Seat” was placed for Torah readers because they were reading Moses’ words (Mt 23:2). A ritual bath (mikvah) was available on the outside premises of the synagogue, where the believers symbolically cleansed their hearts before they entered the synagogue.
Proclaiming the good news of the kingdom
Jesus proclaimed the good news that he was about to establish the expected kingdom of God. The kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven refers primarily to the rule of the Almighty over the entire universe with no territory, because everything belongs to God with no border. “The LORD has set his throne in heaven; his dominion extends over all.” (Ps 103:19).
In a specific sense, Israel was the kingdom of God because God’s kingdom is a spiritual rule over the lives and hearts of those remain faithful to God. Jesus reconstituted it, forming the church with his representative as its head. This kingdom is spiritual, and that is why Jesus said to Pilate: “My kingdom does not belong to this world” (Jn 18:36). The church is only a foretaste of God’s kingdom that will happen later in its fullness when the redemption is over and when the time of judgement will arrive with the second coming of Christ. This kingdom will be governed by God, eternal, peaceful, free from any struggle, and is open only for the faithful children of God. “In the lifetime of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed or delivered up to another people; rather, it shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and put an end to them, and it shall stand forever.” (Dan 2:44). Thus, the Kingdom of God has different stages. It was initially established in the world at large, then among the chosen people of Israel, later Jesus renewed it by establishing the church, and it will come to its perfection with the second coming of Christ.
He cured every sickness and every disease.
Jesus, being the Son of God, had the power to heal any disease and had the willingness to do so. This summarizes many miracles Jesus performed all over Galilee and the neighborhood, avoiding details of the individual miracles.
(36) When he saw the crowds he was moved with pity, for they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.
When he saw the crowds he was moved with pity
While visiting towns and remote villages, Jesus noticed the lack of pastoral guidance for the people. They were in spiritual darkness and lacking divine nourishment. The Pharisees and the Scribes were selfish, and the priests were corrupt. They were blind leading the blind (Mt 15:14). And they showed no interest in taking care of the spiritual and physical needs of the poor. Instead of communicating love and compassion of God to the poor and to the sinners, they hated them and nurtured such a culture within the community. The poor were like Lazarus in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31). The rich ignored them.
Jesus felt the misery of the less fortunate in the community. He opened himself for them, saying, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light” (Mt 11:28-30). He lightened their burdens by healing the sick and casting out demons from the demoniacs. He extended the horizon of his service by sharing his authority to heal and preach with his 12 apostles and 72 disciples. But there was more to do and should continue until his second coming.
The following are some occasions when Jesus’s compassion expressed in words in the gospels:
They were harassed
Jesus noticed the pathetic situation of the people because of their poverty, sickness, lack of proper understanding of God’s love, their life without direction towards God, hardships because of unnecessary rituals and traditions, misunderstanding on the observance of Sabbath, and the burdens imposed on them by the corrupt religious leaders of the time. Jesus told of the scribes and the Pharisees, “They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them” (Mt 23:4). They could not liberate themselves from that pathetic situation and needed external help from God through his pastors.
And helpless like sheep without a shepherd.
Unlike wild sheep that are adapted to take care of themselves, domesticated sheep need shepherd for their survival and protection. In Palestine, during the Biblical times, the sheep were reared in large open hilly areas. They roam for miles without fence safety. They needed protection from wild animals and thieves. The attack of thieves is clear from the words of Jesus, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber” (Jn 10:1). The harm of wild animals is clear from Jesus’ statement, “A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them” (Jn 10: 12).
Sheep need guidance of the shepherd to keep them out of danger. When wandering, they could fall off a cliff or get lost in the wilderness because they follow one another blindly. The sheep cannot defend themselves from the attack of wild dogs and other dangerous animals or predators, except running away from them. If the leader gets lost, all the rest might end up in danger. If the sheep is attacked or scared, they will flee instantly and will be scattered. That makes them restless, making them wander off even farther and get lost from the herd. The shepherds keep watch of these and prevent from such mishap.
Sheep need guidance of the shepherd for pasture, water, and grooming. Grooming is needed to prevent overgrowth of wool that can become matted, heavy, dirty, and infected with parasites that might lead to illness and death. Thus, seep is helpless without the service of shepherds. Jesus found the people were like sheep without the care of shepherds.
In the Old Testament, Israel was God’s sheep. However, the shepherds he appointed to nurture them were dishonest. Through Jeremiah, God said, “Lost sheep were my people, their shepherds misled them, leading them astray on the mountains; From mountain to hill they wandered, forgetting their fold. Whoever happened upon them devoured them” (Jer 50:6-7a). Micaiah said: “I see all Israel scattered on the mountains, like sheep without a shepherd, And the LORD saying, These have no master! Let each of them go back home in peace” (1 Kgs 22:17; 2 Chr 18:16). A similar situation had occurred during the public ministry of Jesus. He had to replace the unfaithful and irresponsible shepherds with new ones because without the good shepherds, the sheep would be lost or become prey of predators.
Like the Israelites who were under the slavery in Egypt, the people were suffering and needed liberation from the burdensome life. God selected Moses and Aaron to lead them when they were lacking leadership. Jesus saw in person the tears and aspirations of the people during his public ministry. So, he wanted to replace the false shepherds with the true ones with the help of God.
(37) Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is abundant but the workers are few.”
Jesus switched the metaphor of sheep and shepherd to the harvest and the harvesters. The Old Testament presents Israel as the vineyard of God. Jesus noticed the vineyard was vast, but the faithful harvesters were few. Jesus wanted to harvest the good grains for God, its owner. Faithful reapers are needed to do the job.
(38) “Ask the master of the harvest therefore to send workers to gather his harvest.
The harvest here represents the spiritually abandoned people in the world. God is the master of the harvest. The field and everything in it belong to God. He produces grains or fruits in them. He entrusts workers to harvest them. Through the parable of the Sower (Lk 8:4-8), and its interpretation (Lk 8:11-15), Jesus presented the role of the preachers and the mind-based output of the listeners. The harvesters can be parents in the families, clergy, religious, and lay ministers in the parishes, and missionaries in the mission areas.
Jesus prepared a liberation plan and trained his disciples to continue his mission. He asked his disciples to pray to God for good shepherds as his successors. Even those whom God selected as His laborers could fall, as it was with Judas Iscariot. So, we need to pray for the laborers of God that they serve being faithful to their call.