Matthew 14: 34-36
Parallels Mark 6: 53-56
34 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. 35 After the people of that place recognized him, they sent word throughout the region and brought all who were sick to him, 36 and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.
This short little transition may not seem to add much to Matthew’s narration, but Matthew (like most ancient writers) does not waste words. Even small additions to the narrative can point to important links and serve a structural point in oral storytelling. Matthew follows the pattern of Mark’s narration and slightly reduces the length of Mark’s narration, but Matthew’s decision to keep these transitional stories of healing is revealing.
The reformer Philip Melanchthon famously said, “To know Christ is to know his benefits.” As we compare this scene in Matthew to others in the gospel, I think this is a helpful frame to see some of the structure that underlays Matthew’s narration. At the end of the previous chapter (13: 54-58) the people of Jesus’ hometown knew Jesus’ family but they were unable to accept the wisdom he brought or to have faith in his ability to bring God’s kingdom to them and there were very few healings done there. In contrast in Gennesaret, which is close to Capernaum where Jesus has done many acts of power, the people come and they send word to the neighboring places to bring the ones who need healing. These demonstrations of the power of Jesus play an important part of understanding who Jesus is and a receptiveness to these acts point to the nature of faith and prepare the disciple to hear Jesus’ teaching. Matthew used a scene of healing many to prepare the reader to hear the Sermon on the Mount, (4: 23-25) and a description of the healing serves as an demonstration to John the Baptist’s disciples sent to inquire if Jesus is the one they are expecting. (11: 4-6) The neglecting of these demonstrations of power by Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum have placed themselves below Tyre, Sidon and Gomorrah in the coming judgment (11: 20-24). The two other brief insertions of healing are both preceded by a miracle for an outsider (the healing of the Centurion’s servant/child before 8:14-17 and the healing of the Canaanite woman’s daughter prior to 15: 29-31—both possessing faith not seen in Israel). Structurally both this passage and 15: 29-31 are also bracketed by feeding miracles which also highlight Matthew’s organization (and by extension Mark’s organization since they share the structure of these chapters). One additional linkage that Matthew highlights is the healing of the woman with the flow of blood (9:20-22) who touches the fringe of his garment and hears that ‘her faith has made you well.’
These short readings highlight one of the primary ways that Matthew’s gospel wants us to understand what faith in Jesus looks like. Faith is an openness to the kingdom of heaven’s power at work in Christ, and to amend slightly Melanchthon’s wording: to know Christ is to remain open to his benefits or works. The crowd at Nazareth knows Christ primarily according to his family and are not open to his wisdom or works, the Pharisees, the scribes and soon the Sadducees in the narrative will judge Jesus’ works by their expectation of what the works should be, but those of faith are open to the works as they appear. They
trust that even the fringe of his garment, if touched, can heal/save (the Greek sozo translated healing means both) them completely.