Some times I have to remind myself how I probably would have been cast in the story of Jesus’ life had I been there at the time.
Matthew marches a fast parade of characters past us in this chapter. A man with a skin disease that would have made him unclean. A powerful Roman centurion. An infirmed mother-in-law. Handfuls of demon-possessed and sick people. Two demon-possessed Gentiles from the “other side of the
tracks lake” who terrorized their town. A bunch of dirty pig-farmers.
All of these characters have two things in common. One, they were unclean, foreign, odd, “others” who did not fit the mold of the “children of the kingdom” (8:12) and therefore should not be those sought by Jesus. Two, they were all filled with immense faith. They flocked to Jesus for healing. They pleaded dependently for help. At the least, the pig farmers acknowledged Jesus as awe-inspiringly powerful. It is the Roman centurion whose faith stands out the most:
“I’m telling you the truth,” he said to the people who were following. ”I haven’t found faith like this — not even in Israel!” (8:10)
But there are also three other characters.
A scribe — a religious functionary who labored with holy words all day long.
A disciple who had decided to make Jesus his “Rabbi.”
A group of disciples (maybe the apostles) who stick close to Jesus, even running to him in a storm.
These are the orthodox ones, the insiders, the chosen ones. They are religious, clean, upstanding citizens. These three are who you would expect to come off looking good in the chapter. But Jesus doesn’t seem to be so sure about the scribe’s claim of commitment (8:19-20). Jesus seems to think the disciple with a dead father is really just making excuses (8:21-22). The disciples with Jesus in the boat that stormy day are sure they are about to die. In contrast to the amazing faith of the Roman centurion, Jesus chastises his own disciples:
“Why are you so scared, you little-faith lot?” (8:26)
The religious don’t come off looking so good in this chapter.
I was born to religious parents. I have been in a church most Sundays of my life. My family went to church every time the doors were open, and other times too to take care of church matters. My father was an elder. My mother a president of a woman’s auxiliary for a Christian school. I went to Christian camp. I graduated from a Christian high school. I have two degrees from Christian colleges. I work for a Christian high school. I am a deacon in a large church. I teach adult Sunday school. I read Christian books and listen to Christian music. My wonderful Christian wife and I named both of our kids biblical names. My blogs are religious. And if I had enough guts to get a tattoo, it would be a cross.
I am thoroughly religious.
But do I have any faith?