The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.
Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.
My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.
Jesus Heals the Sick in Gennesaret
34 And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. 35 And when the men of that place recognized him, they sent around to all that region and brought to him all who were sick 36 and implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.
Last week’s reading is at the beginning of Matthew 14 and relates the death of John the Baptist, news of which reached Jesus.
Matthew tells us that, afterwards, He went by boat to ‘a desolate place’ to be alone (Matthew 14:13).
The crowds followed Him via land routes (Matthew 14:14). He healed the sick among them and, when the day came to an end, He performed the miracle of feeding the 5,000, which was likely more, as that number only designated men. There were also women and children there, so, as John MacArthur says, there could have been as many as 25,000 people in all (Matthew 14:15-21).
Jesus still wanted to pray alone, so He sent the disciples on ahead in their boat to go to the other side of the sea to Gennesaret. A terrible storm broke out whilst the disciples were in the boat. They were too far out to get back to shore. They were frightened. In the middle of the night, Jesus approached them, walking on water. Seeing this figure, the disciples were truly terrified. Jesus said, ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid’ (Matthew 14:22-27).
This is what happened next (Matthew 14:28-33):
28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind,[d] he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
This brings us to today’s verses which concern his second ministry in Gennesaret. Matthew Henry tells us:
It was in this country and neighbourhood that the woman with the bloody issue was cured by touching the hem of his garment, and was commended for her faith (Matthew 9:20-22) and thence, probably, they took occasion to ask this.
John MacArthur says:
we do know that in past ministry there, He had healed multitudes and multitudes and multitudes, so there were a lot less than there originally were.
The parallel reading for this is Mark 6:53-56, which I discussed in 2012. That post has a much more detailed version of the feeding of the 5,000 and the ensuing storm which was a precursor of the hardships the apostles would endure in their future preaching and healing.
Now on to today’s reading. Jesus and His disciples landed at Gennesaret (verse 34). My post about Mark’s version of events explains that this place, which was a small region rather than a village or town, was:
not far from Capernaum and Bethsaida, the original port of call (Mark 6:45). (This Bethsaida is different from the Pool of Bethesda or Pool of Bethsaida in John 5. The port of Bethsaida is along the Sea of Galilee. The name means ‘fish house’, so fishing was probably the primary local ‘industry’ there.)
John’s account tells us that people followed them there. More came from Capernaum. So, again, our Saviour and the Twelve were surrounded by crowds (verse 54). This time, however, the newcomers sought healing (verse 55). MacArthur says that Gennesaret is a scenic spot which is much identified with the Sea of Galilee, sometimes referred to as the Lake of Gennesaret.
Matthew Henry wrote that Gennesaret translates as:
the valley of branches.
Furthermore, it was next to the land of the Gadarenes, or:
the Gergesenes, their neighbours, who were borderers upon the same lake. Those besought Christ to depart from them, they had no occasion for him these besought him to help them, they had need of him.
In Gennesaret, it was not long before the men of the region recognised Jesus from His first visit (verse 35). They quickly went around to bring the sick to Him.
Note that when the men brought the ailing to Jesus, they followed the example of the woman with the blood flow and implored Him to allow the sick to touch the hem of His garment in order to be healed (verse 36).
All who touched it were made well.
MacArthur says that they did not wish to impose on Him (emphases mine):
They may have remembered the woman in chapter 9, who grabbed His robe and was healed. All they felt they needed to do was to touch Him, and I think there is a sense of beautiful propriety here, a sensitivity here; they are saying, “We need so desperately what you have to give, but we don’t want to be an extra burden for you. You don’t have to get around to all of us; we’ll just touch You, and that way we’ll be as little a problem to You as we can be.” So there is a sense of propriety and sensitivity in their approach, and a great, great measure of faith.
Remember that Jesus’s creative miracles resulted in immediate and complete restoration to health as a sign that God is merciful in His love:
There are no progressive healings, or claims that, “Jesus healed me, and I’ve been getting better ever since.” They were made totally well in the instant that they touched Him. Here, again, we are wont to remark that the compassion of God is demonstrated; He is the compassionate healer. It is so that God may be revealed as a compassionate God, a God of loving kindness and tenderness toward people.
Did the people believe that Jesus was the Son of God afterward? MacArthur thinks that is unlikely:
It strikes me that this again is a classic example of the fact that people inevitably came to Jesus to get what they wanted. Then, having gotten what they wanted, they left. That is the pathos of this whole thing. It always seems to be so with Jesus. Once people have received what they wanted, they’re gone.
We respond with, ‘Aww, that’s awful.’ Yet, are we any better?
Even today in our contemporary kind of Christianity, Jesus is seen as a genie who responds to our wishes, and having received our wishes, we abandon any meaningful relationship. It’s as if Jesus is offered as one who is a panacea and little else. We, today, are as guilty of ingratitude toward God and Jesus Christ, which, by the way, may be the ugliest of all sins, as these were in that day. So in spite of their ingratitude and self-centeredness, and in spite of the fact that their commitment to Him was one of great faith and great need and not one of great adoration, He healed them. That is the compassion of God.
This modern taking God for granted is known as moralistic therapeutic deism. The link has a simple explanation of the comfy Christianity many of us ascribe to.
If we have fallen in that trap, Matthew Henry gives us advice on how to enter in to a truly profound relationship with our Lord which will sustain us in this life. Alternatively, we can carry on and risk falling away from the faith:
The healing virtue that is in Christ, is put forth for the benefit of those that by a true and lively faith touch him. Christ is in heaven, but his word is nigh us, and he himself in that word. When we mix faith with the word, apply it to ourselves, depend upon it, and submit to its influences and commands, then we touch the hem of Christ’s garment. It is but thus touching, and we are made whole. On such easy terms are spiritual cures offered by him, that he may truly be said to heal freely so that if our souls die of their wounds, it is not owing to our Physician, it is not for want of skill or will in him but it is purely owing to ourselves. He could have healed us, he would have healed us, but we would not be healed so that our blood will lie upon our own heads.
That’s a sobering thought.
In closing, John MacArthur introduced Matthew 15, which we will begin next week, as follows:
He rejected the shallow, sham kind of interest. It was superficial, political, self-centered, self-indulgent; they wanted food, they wanted healing, they wanted freedom from Rome and the Herodians, but they didn’t want their hearts changed, or Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, so He rejected the shallowness of their interest. From here on out, things begin to descend; He loses popularity, hostility begins to rise, we are one year away from His crucifixion, and the majority of that year is spent in seclusion with the Twelve. He is readying and equipping them for the tremendous ministry they’re going to have when He leaves …
From here on out, He’s going to spend more and more time with the Twelve as the hostility, anger, bitterness, and rejection arises. Again, as we look at our text, we see an instant change that helps us note this as a turning point. The crowd has given to Jesus the pinnacle of popularity, and it is the very next day that He is confronted, here in this text, with the scribes and Pharisees who pour their venom on Him, and reveal the fact that what they really want to do is publicly discredit Him and get rid of Him. So the turning point comes immediately, and we are faced with the hostility of these religious leaders of Israel.
Next time: Matthew 15:1-9