Matthew Chapter 9:27-37

This will wrap up Chapter 9 with one more story that is not found in Mark.

27 Καὶ παράγοντι ἐκεῖθεν τῷ Ἰησοῦ ἠκολούθησαν [αὐτῷ] δύο τυφλοὶ κράζοντες καὶ λέγοντες, Ἐλέησον ἡμᾶς, υἱὸς Δαυίδ.

28 ἐλθόντι δὲ εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν προσῆλθον αὐτῷ οἱ τυφλοί, καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Πιστεύετε ὅτι δύναμαι τοῦτο ποιῆσαι; λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, Ναί, κύριε.

And (as) to Jesus traveling about there Jesus followed him two blind men, crying out and saying, “Have mercy on us, son of David! (27) Coming to his home the blind men came to him and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I can do this?” They said to him, “Yes, lord”.

The setting is a bit odd. Apparently on his way back from raising the ruler’s daughter, two blind men follow him, begging for a cure. They followed him home. So this tells us a few things; likely, the house of Jairus (as the ruler of the synagogue was named in Mark) was also in Caphernaum. Recall that Jesus was having dinner with the tax collectors and sinners before being asked by Jairus to come and heal his daughter. So now Jesus has returned home. How much time has elapsed? Hard to say, but these events all seem to take place on the same day. Does this matter? Not really, but it’s sort of a change from Mark, who barely bothered to set his stories with any sort of context. Offhand, I’m not sure how big Caphernaum was, but there were a lot of afflicted people living in the environs, together with disciples of the Baptist. (This latter is an interesting point. It would indicate that there were disciples of John scattered–thickly?–through Judea and Galilee.)

Of course, it’s probably not that all of these happend sequentially, on the same day. The probability is pretty close to zero on there. It’s more likely that events were compressed for dramatic, or narrative purposes. Which leads to–or should, anyway–the question of “what else did Matthew manipulate for dramatic/narrative purposes”. Again, keep reminding yourself: this is not history we’re reading. Matthew was not writing history. He was writing a myth. Please note that “myth” does not mean something that’s not true. On the contrary: it’s absolutely meant to be True, whether or not it’s factually accurate. This introduces a certain amount of plasticity into the narrative, a level of flexibility. I don’t mean to answer that question here; the important thing is to pose it, and to keep it in mind as we read along.

The major theme here is the idea of faith. This is, somewhat surprisingly, the fourth use of “faith” in Matthew. The first came in the story of the centurion; the second in the story of the paralytic carried to Jesus on a litter; the third in the tale of the bleeding woman. Note that three of the four are stories taken from Mark, where the theme, seemingly, was much more prominent. Maybe that’s an optical illusion? Or a misperception on my part. It was never mentioned in the Sermon on the Mount. Is that another possible indication of a bifurcated message? Some coming from Jesus, the rest from James?

27 Et transeunte inde Iesu, secuti sunt eum duo caeci clamantes et dicentes: “ Miserere nostri, fili David! ”.

28 Cum autem venisset domum, accesserunt ad eum caeci, et dicit eis Iesus: “ Creditis quia possum hoc facere? ”. Dicunt ei: “Utique, Domine”.

29 τότε ἥψατο τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν αὐτῶν λέγων, Κατὰ τὴν πίστινὑμῶν γενηθήτω ὑμῖν.

30 καὶ ἠνεῴχθησαν αὐτῶν οἱ ὀφθαλμοί. καὶ ἐνεβριμήθη αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς λέγων,Ὁρᾶτε μηδεὶς γινωσκέτω.

Then he touched the eyes of them, saying, “According to faith, let it be for you”. 

Note that we’re back to physical touching, which kind of blows a hole in my theory that Matthew was concerned about elevating Jesus above the discussions of “magical practice” such as we found in Mark. That included using spit, etc, but even the act of touching can be seen as magical. Consider Mark’s version of the bleeding woman. It’s one thing when Mark has Jesus touching people in stories from Mark; it’s another when it occurs in stories that Matthew is including on his own.

So the question then is where this story came from. Per standard interpretation, this is part of the M material, stuff that is in Matthew and nowhere else. Of course, M is considered to be a source that came down to Matthew–and only Matthew directly from eyewitnesses. Sure. The much simpler explanation is that Matthew invented the story. I do not understand why there is such an aversion to recognizing that the evangelists wrote some of their own material. No, apologies, I do know why the aversion. To admit that maybe Matthew made up a story is to admit that the story didn’t come from Jesus, or an eyewitness. But we’ve seen several instances of this, where material pretty obviously dates from a time significantly after Jesus. I won’t talk about the “prediction” of the destruction of the Temple, because that takes us into theological territory. Rather, I go back to Jesus giving his approval that all food is clean. We had it in Mark, it happens in Acts, when Peter has a dream, and it happens a few other times as well. Jesus did not say anything of the sort, or the problem would never have arisen. Of course, one can suggest that James changed the rules back once Jesus was dead, but that really takes us into the Twilight Zone. So, if those stories were made up at a later date…then why not something like this? And why not by Matthew? To hold that every story in the NT dated from the time of Jesus, that nothing was added between Jesus’ life and the writing of the various books is to misunderstand how legends work. I keep coming back to Arthur. Entire people–Launcelot, Parsifal, Bors–were invented out of whole cloth. And some of the tales of heroic battles in The Iliad are doubtless the later additions of various peoples, who wrote their local hero into the story. A great example is the Song of Roland because we know the events on which it was based, so we know any number of things that the chanson de geste got wrong, and we know where stuff got added. Again, if we’re talking about a divine truth, of course anything is possible. But I’m not talking about such a truth. I’m talking about a story that very, very obviously developed, changed, and grew over time. I personally suspect that the Twelve are an example of added characters; however, more on that at the appropriate moment.

29 Tunc tetigit oculos eorum dicens: “Secundum fidem vestram fiat vobis”.

30 Et aperti sunt oculi illorum. Et comminatus est illis Iesus dicens: “ Videte, ne quis sciat ”.

31 οἱ δὲ ἐξελθόντες διεφήμισαν αὐτὸν ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ γῇ ἐκείνῃ.

They going out spread his fame in the whole land.

Notice how Matthew handles this rather differently than Mark did. There is none of the admonitions to silence that we constantly got in Mark. Here, rather, we get a straightforward account of how these two spread the word about Jesus. Of course, Mark was ambivalent: the admonitions to silence didn’t work, and by this point in the narrative, Jesus’ fame had spread to the point that he couldn’t enter a town.

31 Illi autem exeuntes diffamaverunt eum in universa terra illa.

32 Αὐτῶν δὲ ἐξερχομένων ἰδοὺ προσήνεγκαν αὐτῷ ἄνθρωπον κωφὸν δαιμονιζόμενον:

33 καὶ ἐκβληθέντος τοῦ δαιμονίου ἐλάλησεν ὁ κωφός. καὶ ἐθαύμασαν οἱ ὄχλοι λέγοντες, Οὐδέποτε ἐφάνη οὕτως ἐν τῷἸσραήλ.

34 οἱ δὲ Φαρισαῖοι ἔλεγον, Ἐν τῷ ἄρχοντι τῶν δαιμονίων ἐκβάλλει τὰ δαιμόνια.

They having gone out, behold, they brought to him a mute demon-having man. (33) And casting out the demon, the mute man spoke, and the crowds marveled, saying, “Never has such a thing appeared in all Israel”. (34) The Pharisees said, “In (being) the ruler of demons he casts out the demons”.

This story is sort of in Mark. We had a man made mute by a demon, and we have the Pharisees claiming that Jesus cast out demons through the power of Beelzebub. At this point in Mark we get the famous “house divided” speech, and I’m a little surprised that Matthew chose not to include it. It’s an excellent little metaphor. It is here also that Mark has Jesus getting into some sort of trouble with the crowd, who think him slightly unstable, so that his family has to come and rescue Jesus. I certainly understand why Matthew did not include that part of the story. That did rather make Jesus seem quite a bit less than divine.

So there is a great example of the story/legend developing over time. Jesus has become significantly more divine between the time Mark wrote his version and Matthew wrote this version. And this is what I mean when I say that Matthew chose to write a gospel because he had something to say. Perhaps it would be better to say that Matthew wanted to set the record straight. Mark was too ambivalent about Jesus. In Mark’s portrayal, Jesus simply wasn’t divine enough. Matthew had to correct the misleading impression that Mark’s gospel made. I’ve lately come across several discussions about why Mark survived. After all, there is some rather embarrassing material there, and I have to say that this is an excellent question. Why indeed?

32 Egressis autem illis, ecce obtulerunt ei hominem mutum, daemonium habentem.

33 Et eiecto daemone, locutus est mutus. Et miratae sunt turbae dicentes: “ Numquam apparuit sic in Israel! ”.

34 Pharisaei autem dicebant: “ In principe daemoniorum eicit daemones ”.

35 Καὶ περιῆγενὁ Ἰησοῦς τὰς πόλεις πάσας καὶ τὰς κώμας, διδάσκων ἐν ταῖς συναγωγαῖς αὐτῶν καὶ κηρύσσων τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τῆς βασιλείας καὶ θεραπεύων πᾶσαν νόσον καὶ πᾶσαν μαλακίαν.

36 Ἰδὼν δὲ τοὺς ὄχλους ἐσπλαγχνίσθη περὶ αὐτῶν ὅτι ἦσαν ἐσκυλμένοι καὶ ἐρριμμένοι ὡσεὶ πρόβατα μὴ ἔχοντα ποιμένα.

37 τότε λέγει τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ, Ὁ μὲν θερισμὸς πολύς, οἱ δὲ ἐργάται ὀλίγοι:

38 δεήθητε οὖν τοῦ κυρίου τοῦ θερισμοῦ ὅπως ἐκβάλῃ ἐργάτας εἰς τὸν θερισμὸν αὐτοῦ.

And Jesus went through all the cities and towns, teaching in the synagogues of them and preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing all diseases and all maladies. (36) Seeing the crowds he had compassion about them that they were troubled and scattered like sheep not having a shepherd. (37) Then he said to his learners, “The harvest is great, the workers are few. (38) “Therefore pray to the lord of the harvest to sent (lit = cast out) workers for his harvest”.

This may not be in Mark verbatim, just as the passage previous was not exactly taken verbatim from Mark, but in both cases the sense is pretty much material that we found in Mark. It also rather harkens back to the end of Chapter 4, when Jesus began his ministry, and Matthew has such a summary passage about Jesus teaching in synagogues, healing, & c. Here, though Matthew leaves out the exorcisms that were mentioned there. Matthew is definitely giving exorcisms short shrift, much less attention than Mark gave them.

This is the second time Matthew uses the word “sheep”, but the first time it was used as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. And this is Matthew’s first use of the shepherd analogy. Interesting how this will become the Good Shepherd in Luke.  Even more interesting is how Matthew then mixes his metaphor and goes into the harvest. Shepherds don’t harvest, at least not in the sense meant here. It’s odd little conjunctions like this that make me wonder if there wasn’t some kind of written collection of sayings; it seems that we’ve come across several instances where the jump from one thought, or analogy, or metaphor was rather incongruous. Not being a textual analyst, or a literary analyst, I’m not sure what to make of this. As historical analysis, these sort of abrupt changes seem rather…abrupt. It does feel like he’s taking two different thoughts and fitting them together in something like a Procrustean bed (Google is wonderful for stuff like this; a reference to Greek myth, the story of Procrustes and his wondrous bed, for which everyone was exactly the right size). 

Of course, Matthew would not have to get these tales from a written collection. They could be the summation of different oral traditions. I haven’t talked much lately about the different traditions that must have grown up around Jesus. From very early on, there were doubtless a number of different stories, and different types of stories, and wildly different interpretations of who Jesus was, whether the Christ, a wonder-worker, or a sage. None of these are necessarily mutually exclusive; the sage can be fit with any number of other personae. So it should be no wonder that Matthew heard different things. Recall, my thesis about Mark is that he was trying to weld the two traditions of the wonder-worker and the Christ into a unified whole; here we seem to have Matthew de-emphasizing the former to stress the latter. Mark was successful enough in merging the two traditions that one of them withered–or was simply ignored by Matthew. To compensate, Matthew seems to have two separate traditions that he is attempting to merge: the Christ and the sage. Mark talked about Jesus being a teacher; Matthew tells us what Jesus taught. The question then becomes, where was this sage tradition when Mark wrote? Was it still too closely associated with James the Just at that point?

35 Et circumibat Iesus civitates omnes et castella, docens in synagogis eorum et praedicans evangelium regni et curans omnem languorem et omnem infirmitatem.

36 Videns autem turbas, misertus est eis, quia erant vexati et iacentes sicut oves non habentes pastorem.

37 Tunc dicit discipulis suis: “ Messis quidem multa, operarii autem pauci;

38 rogate ergo Dominum messis, ut mittat operarios in messem suam ”.

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About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on March 10, 2015, in Chapter 9, gospel commentary, gospels, Matthew's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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