[May 22, 2016]
It’s been decades since my last class in biblical Greek, so I’ve been trying to refresh my memory by reading an interlinear New Testament. I cover up the English with a bookmark, and dip below it when I’m stumped. Often I notice things I’d never noticed before, just because reading in a different language shuffles the ideas a bit.
Last night I read the really short episode in Matthew 14:34-36, where Jesus heals many people 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 round to all that region and brought to him all that were sick, 36 and besought him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment; and as many as touched it were made well. (Mat 14:34-36)
Something that jumped out at me was that, in Greek, the “men” of the town are literally male, rather than “people” in general. Usually when you see “men,” in a traditional translation, it’s referring to both men and women, and the Greek term is the gender-neutral anthropoi. But in Matthew 14:35 it’s the andres, the male adults. I wonder if that’s indicating the chief men of the community, the ones in charge.
What’s surprising is how efficient these men are. First, they recognized Jesus. Then they immediately sent alerts “into the whole region around,” putting out the word far and wide. “Jesus just showed up, so if you want to be healed, get over here!” They gathered all (pantas) those who had any illness; they reached the largest number of sick and suffering as quickly as they could. Everyone was informed and invited.
Then they appealed to Jesus (it seems it is still the “men” speaking). They asked that those who were sick might only touch the fringe of his garment (himation in Greek, simlah in Hebrew). These men must have heard some impressive stories about Jesus, and they believed that only the most fleeting contact with him was required for healing. They might have phrased the request this way to be thoughtful, and indicate that they didn’t want to wear him out. They were trying to get the greatest possible number of people healed, with the least trouble or bother for Jesus. (Not every community was as thoughtful, as the place where “many were coming and going, so that they had no leisure even to eat,” Mark 6:31).
I’m trying to picture how they set things up. Perhaps those who needed healing filed forward in a line, each one touching the fringe. Or they stood or laid where they were, while Jesus passed among them, allowing each one to touch the fringe. I imagine it was the most efficient operation Jesus every encountered. And the story concludes, “As many as touched it were healed.” It all went off without a hitch.
What a contrast with the people of Gadara (Matthew 8:34), who saw that Jesus had healed an insane, violent demoniac, and begged him to go away!
I wonder who those Gerasene guys were. Do you have someone like that in your parish? What a blessing they are. Efficient people make everything go smoothly, and that’s a gift God gives to everyone who knows them.