The Efficient Men of Gennesaret

[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.

simlahThen 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.

About Frederica Mathewes-Green

Frederica Mathewes-Green is a wide-ranging author who has published 10 books and 800 essays, in such diverse publications as the Washington Post, Christianity Today, Smithsonian, and the Wall Street Journal. She has been a regular commentator for National Public Radio (NPR), a columnist for the Religion News Service,, and Christianity Today, and a podcaster for Ancient Faith Radio. (She was also a consultant for Veggie Tales.) She has published 10 books, and has appeared as a speaker over 600 times, at places like Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Wellesley, Cornell, Calvin, Baylor, and Westmont, and received a Doctor of Letters (honorary) from King University. She has been interviewed over 700 times, on venues like PrimeTime Live, the 700 Club, NPR, PBS, Time, Newsweek, and the New York Times. She lives with her husband, the Rev. Gregory Mathewes-Green, in Johnson City, TN. Their three children are grown and married, and they have fourteen grandchildren.

Christian Life

One comment:

  1. Hello,
    I am looking for some research or information or insight on the tradition on the man healed in Gadara.
    See I was reading the holy scripture and I was amazed by this:
    Jesus was on Galilee and like you mention with the people of Gennesaret. the contrast of the Gadarene. but he crossed the sea of galilee.
    arrive on the shore. and HE only He said scripture got off the boat. found the two men (only in one gospel) but the others gospel make emphasis on only the one that got healed. legion. but this amazing character begged Jesus to allow him to follow but our Lord said NO go and tell everybody what GOD has done. and this amazing man testified in ten cities (most likely more) so this is the first gentile apostle.
    And also, curios Our Lord in many parts inform the Jews and his disciples don’t tell nobody about my miracles. But to this gentile on the contrary he gave order GO AND TELL everybody. On the gentile land.
    Our Lord stop His ministry at the moment cross the sea. Found one single man. So, he knew how important this character was. Something like Paul (Saul) would be latter one in church history.
    So, if you can point me or help with my inquired of the tradition of this marvelous character, I would be very happy.
    Love and May our Lord and Savior brings more blessings

    Daniel S.

    FMG: Hello, Daniel. This must have been such an amazing person, and the monastery founded upon his story is one of the oldest ever found in the Holy Land. But I haven't been able to find out anything more about him, not even his name.

    You are right that the story differs a bit in Matthew; he says there are two men, and on Palm Sunday he says Jesus sits both on a donkey and a foal of a donkey, and I think there are other places he doubles things taht are single in the other gospels.

    It seems to me that Jesus told people to be silent about him while he was in Israel, because the crowds were impeding his ability to move around the territory and reach people. But in this Gentile land, as you said, he appears to choose this one man, and charge him to preach the gospel everywhere. The first Gentile preacher! You are exactly right. Sure wish we knew his name.

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