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Reading the Old Testament in the New: The Gospel of Matthew

Lesson Four: Healing and Restoration

Lesson Objectives:

1. To read Matthew 8-10 with understanding.

2. To understand the Old Testament background and allusions in Matthew’s depiction of Jesus’ healings and other miracles and the growing tensions with the scribes and Pharisees.

3. To understand how Matthew uses evocations of select Old Testament prophets to convey that in Jesus, the long-anticipated “restoration” of Israel has begun.

Lesson Four: Healing and Restoration

Lesson Outline:
1. Down From the Mountain
    A. Matthew’s Second Book
    B. Bearing Infirmity and Sin
2. Mercy, Not Sacrifice
    A. Holiness Exceeding the Pharisees’
    B. Learning From the Prophets
3. The Identity of the Law-Giver
    A. The Divine Bridegroom
    B. In the Storm-Tossed Ship
    C. The Shepherd King
4.Study Questions

I. Down From the Mountain

A. Matthew’s Second Book

With this lesson, we start the "second book" of Matthew’s Gospel. It consists of a narrative section that tells ten miracle stories (Chapters 8-9), followed by a sermon that Jesus gives to His newly chosen Apostles (Chapter 10).

In the section immediately preceding, the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew depicts Jesus teaching with authority - as the definitive interpreter of the Law of Moses, bringing that Law to its "fulfillment" (see Matthew 5:17). In these miracle stories, he shows Jesus coming down from the mountain and "acting" with authority. His deeds in this section continue His interpretation of the Law of Moses, revealing the fulfillment of the Law in the communication of God’s mercy and forgiveness of sin.

On the surface, these stories demonstrate Jesus’ command over sickness, the demons, the forces of nature, and even death. But Matthew provides a deeper Old Testament context for Jesus’ actions. In effect, he is offering an inspired commentary on what Jesus is doing, showing how His actions relate to God’s redemptive plan for Israel and the nations.

B. Bearing Infirmity and Sin

The most dramatic events in this second book are the healings. Jesus not only heals, but touches people whom, under the Law, were considered ritually impure or "unclean" - a leper (see Matthew 8:2-4), a dead girl (see Matthew 9:18-19,23-25) , a woman with chronic menstrual hemorrhaging (see Matthew 9:20-22).

Notice how frequently in these chapters the Gospel emphasizes this "touch" of Jesus (seeMatthew 8:3, 15; 9:21,25,29).

Touching lepers, corpses and menstruating women, especially, was thought to defile a person and make that person, too, ritually unclean. More generally, the Jews, especially the Pharisees, believed that they were defiled by any contact at all with a broad category of people defined as "sinners."

To explain what Jesus is doing in these healings of word and touch, Matthew employs a formula citation from Isaiah (see Matthew 8:17; Isaiah 53:4).

By His touch of the untouchables, Matthew explains, Jesus is "fulfilling" Isaiah’s prophesy that God would send a Suffering Servant to take on Israel’s infirmities and diseases (seeMatthew 8:16).

In Isaiah’s prophesy, the physical infirmities borne by the Servant are a sign of Israel’s sin (see Isaiah 53:6,12; Psalm 107:17). In the same way, then, Matthew wants us to see these healings of Jesus as signs that Jesus is taking on the sin of Israel and extending to Israel God’s mercy and forgiveness.

This is made more explicit when He heals the paralytic (see Matthew 9:1-8). Note that Jesus does not say, "I forgive your sins." He speaks in a voice sometimes called "the divine passive." He says: "Your sins are forgiven."

Matthew has already told us that Jesus’ mission in coming into the world was "to save His people from their sins" (see Matthew 1:29). These works of physical healing in Chapters 8 and 9 prepare for and symbolize in a powerful way the spiritual healing - the forgiveness and reconciliation between God and man - that He will enact on the Cross.

Jesus isn’t pronouncing the forgiveness of sins so much as He is announcing it. Still, what He is saying is so radical - that atonement for sins can be made outside of the Temple system of sacrifice - that His shocked enemies call it "blasphemy" (see Matthew 9:3).

But there is a larger context that Matthew evokes in quoting this passage from Isaiah.

In Isaiah, the call of the Suffering Servant was seen as ushering in the restoration of all Israel from exile and servitude, and the extension of the blessings of Israel’s salvation "to the nations…to the ends of the earth" (see Isaiah 49:6).

Throughout this section, we’ll see Matthew’s using his Old Testament allusions to announce that Jesus has begun Israel’s restoration and with it the offer of salvation to the nations.

This is the undercurrent in the story of Jesus’ healing of the centurion’s servant (seeMatthew 8:5-13). Marveling at the centurion’s faith, Jesus delivers a promise charged with Old Testament echoes.

He pictures the twelve exiled tribes being gathered from east and west (see Psalm 107:3). He evokes the heavenly banquet the Messiah was expected to bring (see Isaiah 25:6-9). He alludes to God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (see Genesis 22:18; 26:3-5;28:14) - promises that include all nations sharing in the blessings of Abraham’s descendants. He also uses a figure of speech ("grinding of teeth") used in the Old Testament to describe that attitude of the wicked, those who resist God’s saving plan (seePsalm 37:12; 112:10).

From this rich array of Old Testament imagery, Jesus makes a blunt point: Those non-Jews like the centurion who have faith in Him will find a place in the kingdom of heaven, while the natural "sons of the kingdom" - the children of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - if they refuse to believe, will find themselves cast out.

II. Mercy, Not Sacrifice

A. Holiness Exceeding the Pharisees’

In the narrative section of his second book, Matthew shows Jesus "doing" what He said He had come to do - fulfilling without abolishing the Old Covenant Law (see Matthew 5:17-19).

He is announcing the Kingdom of Heaven which, as He said in the Sermon on the Mount, would entail a holiness that exceeds that of the Pharisees and scribes (see Matthew 5:20).

Not coincidentally, His work incites fierce opposition from the scribes (see Matthew 9:3) and the Pharisees (see Matthew 9:11), who conclude that Jesus is an agent of "the prince of demons" (see Matthew 9:34).

In this conflict, Matthew wants us to see that the ritual prescriptions of Moses’ Law were originally meant as means to an end - to purify Israel of the idolatry it was so prone to (seeJoshua 24:14; Ezekiel 20:7-8; Acts 7:39-41), to draw the people closer into their covenant relationship to God, and to prepare them for their vocation as a light to the nations (seeIsaiah 42:6; 49:6).

Even within the pages of Moses’ law, it was foreseen that one day God would "circumcise" the people’s hearts (see Deuteronomy 30:6). The prophets later awaited that day, when God would write His Law on the hearts of the people (see Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27).

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, in effect, interpreted the Law as a "law of the heart," turning Moses’ commandments about murder, adultery, oath-swearing "inside out." He showed that these and other commandments weren’t intended so much to compel external obedience as to train the heart in the ways of the Father (see Matthew 5:21-36,48).

By His healings since coming down from the mount, Jesus continues His divine reinterpretation of the Law of Moses, focusing not on the commandments but on the ritual system.

The Pharisees and scribes, as Matthew presents them, have mistaken the Law’s ritual prescriptions as "ends" in themselves. They have used the purity Laws to exclude or marginalize many types of people from the life and worship of Israel - and consequently from the Fatherly mercy of God. These ritual exclusions functioned as a kind of collective punishment, barring whole classes of people branded as "sinners" from every hoping to know the redemption and blessing of God.

B. Learning From the Prophets

Jesus’ opponents never do understand what He means when He enjoins them: "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’" (see Matthew 9:12; 12:7).

He was sending them back to something the prophet Hosea said (see Hosea 6:6). Clearly He is saying that the Pharisees, in upholding the laws of ritual and sacrificial purity, had failed to grasp the inner purpose of Law and sacrifices - to teach mercy and compassion for the sick and the sinner. They have failed in the mission God had given to Israel - to be the divine teacher and physician to the nations.

But He is also inviting his opponents - and us - to consider the full context of the passage quoted by Hosea.

First of all, Hosea is another of the prophets who foretold the restoration of the twelve tribes of Israel. In a time when the kingdom of Israel was divided, Hosea prophesied against the faithlessness of Ephraim, the tribe that symbolized the Northern Kingdom, and how it had degraded and violated God’s covenant through sacrificing to idols (see Hosea 4:13-14;8:11-13). He also decried the failings of Judah, the tribe that symbolized the Southern Kingdom (see Hosea 5:5,10,13).

Notice that Hosea’s sixth chapter begins with the people turning to God for healing and the binding of their wounds (see Hosea 6:1-3). But God finds their faith "like a morning cloud, like the dew that early passes away" and says they never listened to the prophets He sent to teach them (see Hosea 6:4-5).

This is the immediate context for the line that Jesus quotes about mercy and sacrifice.

Certainly Jesus is telling His opponents that God desires not external worship and obedience, but a merciful and loving heart. But isn’t He also, by this Old Testament context, implying that the time of restoration is at hand and the Pharisees and scribes, like Ephraim and Judah in Hosea’s time, are guilty of rejecting God’s prophet (see Hosea 6:6)?

III. The Identity of the Law-Giver

A. Divine Bridegroom

Immediately after Jesus quotes Hosea, Matthew continues with a passage about fasting in which Jesus compares Himself to a bridegroom (see Matthew 9:14-15).

Various prophets described the covenant relationship of God and Israel as a marital bond, with God depicted as a groom wed to Israel, His bride (see Isaiah 54:5; Jeremiah 3:20).

Here we see Jesus taking this divine identification and applying it to Himself. But the Old Testament context here adds an interesting wrinkle. Neither Matthew nor Jesus mentions Hosea. But it is interesting that Jesus is living and working in the same area where Hosea prophesied and that He summons an image central to Hosea’s prophecy, just after quoting him on another matter.

Nowhere in the Old Testament is the marital and nuptial dimension of God’s covenant relationship with Israel described in such fine detail as in Hosea (see Hosea 2:14-20). Through Hosea, God promises a new "covenant" to Israel, which will restore the unity of the divided kingdom. Further, He says He will "espouse….forever" Israel as His bride (seeHosea 2:20-23).

Perhaps Matthew wants us to hear Jesus announcing the fulfillment of Hosea’s prophecy. Later in his Gospel, Jesus will describe Himself as a bridegroom (see Matthew 25:1-13;John 3:29). Elsewhere in the New Testament, this marital imagery is used to describe the relationship the New Covenant establishes between Christ and the individual believer (see2 Corinthians 11:2; Revelation 19:7-9) as well as the relationship between Christ and the Church (see Ephesians 5:25).

B. In the Storm-Tossed Ship

The bridegroom is one of several subtle Old Testament allusions that Matthew deploys in this second book to tell his readers that Jesus is much more than another prophet - that in fact He is God Himself come to rescue His people.

Jesus identifies Himself for the first time as "the Son of Man" (see Matthew 8:20). We will look at this image in detail in a future lesson. But it is the title that Jesus uses to describe Himself more than any other in the New Testament. The image is rooted in a vision seen by the prophet Daniel (see Daniel 7:13-14). The blind men address Jesus as "Son of David" (see Matthew 8:27). We’ve already discussed the Messianic significance of this title in earlier lessons and we’ll return to this title again in a future lesson.

Matthew here gives us other little clues, such as Jesus calling the paralytic man His "son" (see Matthew 9:2) and addressing the woman with the hemorrhage as His "daughter" (seeMatthew 9:22). In these cases, Jesus is portrayed as imaging the love of God the Father for His children.

However, one of Matthew’s most artistically drawn Old Testament allusions comes in the story of Jesus calming of the sea-storm (see Matthew 8:23-27). There are significant and inescapable parallels between this story and the story of Jonah’s voyage to Tarshish (seeJonah 1:3). In fact, Matthew’s story follows the exact pattern:

Jesus, like Jonah, boards a boat (see Matthew 8:23; Jonah 1:3). The boat is overwhelmed by a storm on the waters (see Matthew 8:24; Jonah 1:4,11). Like Jonah, Jesus is found sleeping through the storm (see Matthew 8:24; Jonah 1:5) while the other passengers are scared to death (see Matthew 8:24-26; Jonah 1:5).

The disciples in the Gospel and the sailors in the Jonah story each call upon God for help (see Matthew 8:25; Jonah 1:14). And Jesus, like Jonah, is able to calm the waters - Jesus through His words, Jonah through being thrown overboard (see Matthew 8:26; Jonah 1:12,15). Finally, both stories end with the passengers’ amazement at the outcome (seeMatthew 8:27; Jonah 1:16).

Jonah is an important figure in Matthew. Later, Jesus will compare His death and Resurrection to the "sign of Jonah" - being in the belly of the whale for three days and three nights (see Matthew 12:39-41; 16:4).

Jesus, as He will also say, is a greater than Jonah. Already in this account we can see Jesus exercising powers that God alone possesses - power to command the winds and the sea (see Psalm 65:7; 89:8-9; 93:3-4; 107:23-32).

We cannot overlook the wider context of Jonah, which fits so well with the themes of the other Old Testament allusions that Matthew employs in this second book. Jonah was sent to Ninevah, a Gentile territory - indeed, one of Israel’s enemies. Ninevah repented at the preaching of Jonah (see Matthew 12:41). But the Israelites of Jesus’ generation - as we see with emerging clarity in this second book - remain unmoved at the "greater than Jonah" in their midst.

C. The Shepherd King

The narrative section of Matthew’s second book ends with Matthew evoking one of the most profound Old Testament images, that of the Shepherd of Israel.

Matthew has already signaled, using an Old Testament citation, that Jesus is has come to "shepherd My people Israel" (see Matthew 2:6; 2 Samuel 2:5).

But in the final verses of Chapter 9, as Jesus prepares to call and commission His twelve Apostles, Matthew uses this image to make a subtle, yet all-important identification of Jesus.

He gives us a quick resume of what Jesus has been doing - going from town to town, teaching in the synagogues, "proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom," and curing "every" disease and sickness (see Matthew 9:35). It is a natural transition to the discourse that will follow (see Matthew 10). What we see Jesus doing is what He is going to be telling His Apostles to do.

And what is Jesus doing? Matthew says Jesus’ heart is moved with pity for the people because they are "troubled and abandoned - like sheep without a shepherd"

This phrase, "sheep without a shepherd" originates in the Bible in a prayer that Moses prayed before anointing Joshua. Moses wanted to ensure that in his absence there would be a leader - "that the Lord’s community may not be like sheep without a shepherd" (seeNumbers 27:17; 2 Chronicles 18:16; Judith 11:19).

But in the context of Jesus’ healings and teachings, more than anything else Matthew appears to be evoking the famous prophesy against the shepherds in Ezekiel 34.

Through the prophet, God castigates the false shepherds of Israel for failing to tend the people. He faults them for not strengthening the weak or healing the sick or bringing back the strayed and the lost. Instead, God says, the false shepherds "lorded it over [the people] harshly and brutally" (see Ezekiel 34:4).

As a result, the prophecy continued, the people were "scattered for lack of a shepherd…over the whole earth, with no one to look after them" (see Ezekiel 34:6).

But God Himself promises to come against the shepherds and to save His sheep: "I Myself will look after and tend my sheep….I will lead them out from among the peoples and gather them from the foreign lands; I will bring them back to their own country…The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal" (see Ezekiel 34:11,13,16).

Of course, this sounds a lot like what Jesus has been doing. But if you finish Ezekiel’s vision, you discover that God promises to appoint one shepherd over all of Israel - "My servant David." With this new shepherd, this Messiah in the line of David, God vows to make "a covenant of peace" with a restored Israel (see Ezekiel 34:23-25,30.)

This new covenant is to be made when a new Shepherd comes. This new Shepherd is none other than the Lord Himself, but He is also a new David.

These are all themes that Matthew has already announced through his use of Old Testament imagery and echoes. And here he is showing us that Jesus is the divine Shepherd, gathering the lost flock of Israel into a new Kingdom over which He will rule as the Davidic King.

These images continue as Jesus calls His twelve Apostles - a symbol of the restoration of the twelve tribes of Israel that Jesus has come to inaugurate (see Matthew 10:1-4).

He sends them out "to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" to continuing His work of shepherding - proclaiming the Kingdom, curing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing lepers and driving out demons (see Matthew 10:6-8).

This commission, too, is to be a microcosmic sign of the restored Israel that Matthew - through his skillful use of Old Testament imagery in this second book - has helped prepare his readers for.

But this restoration is not to be one based on blood or family lines, but on belief in Jesus and the Gospel. He makes this clear in telling the Apostles to shake the dust from their feet of any house or town that will not receive them (see Matthew 10:14).

That’s what the Pharisees did whenever they were too close to Samaritan towns or Gentile cities. Now, Jesus has turned that gesture into a sign of judgment on those Israelites who reject His Gospel.

IV. Study Questions

1. How does Matthew use the prophecies of Hosea, Isaiah, and Ezekiel to evoke the sense that in Jesus the long-awaited restoration of Israel has begun?

2. Explain what Jesus wants the Pharisees and scribes to hear when He tells them: "Those who are sick do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’"

For Prayer and Reflection:

Read and pray over Matthew 9:36 and Ezekiel 34:10-16; 23-25,30. Based on our discussion in this lesson, pray and reflect on the way the images and promises of the Old Testament materials are fulfilled in the readings from the New Testament, especially the Gospel passage from Matthew.

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