© 2022 Evan D. Garner
How much would you spend on tickets to see your favorite musical artist in concert? How long would you wait to get an autograph from your childhood hero? How far would you drive to get a rug that would perfectly complete the décor in your living room? How much would you give up to see a specialist who might be able to cure your incurable disease?
People came a long way to hear Jesus, to be healed of their diseases, and to be set free from the unclean spirits that troubled them. People came from as far away as the coast of Tyre and Sidon, way up north in Gentile country, just hoping that they might touch Jesus and receive his healing power. They came to Jesus because they had heard that he could give them the healing that they could not find anywhere else.
A lot has happened in the gospel since last week’s story about Simon Peter putting out into deep water and letting down his nets for a catch. Since then, Jesus has made quite a name for himself but not in the way that most people expected the Son of God to act. After the episode with Peter, he healed a leper by touching him and making him clean. Then, when some people brought a paralytic to him, Jesus not only restored his ability to walk but also announced that the man’s sins had been forgiven. He called Levi, the tax collector, to be one of his disciples and joined in a banquet with other notorious sinners. He encouraged his followers to eat and drink and celebrate God’s goodness instead seeking a closer relationship with God through traditional means like prayer and fasting. One sabbath, he allowed his hungry disciples to pluck heads of grain and eat them, and, on another sabbath, he healed a man whose hand was withered.
Jesus wasn’t like other rabbis or religious leaders. He did all of the things that faithful, religious people knew not to do. And so the people came. They came from all over because they knew that Jesus could give them the kind of healing that they couldn’t get from anyone else. These were people whose illnesses couldn’t be addressed by an ordinary physician and whose brokenness could not be bound up by a regular religious figure. These people were afflicted in ways that left them outside the bounds of polite, religious society. They had no where else to go, and so they came to Jesus, who offered them the kind of healing that the world could not offer.
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.”
God’s people had always heard that one day God would come and lift up the downtrodden and rescue the oppressed, but these people didn’t come to Jesus because they wanted someone to pat them on the back and tell them that one day everything would be ok. They didn’t come to hear him preach that someday God would hear their cries and make all things new. They didn’t need someone to assure them that things wouldn’t always be this bad—that, in God’s great and perfect time, at some point the fortunes of the world would be reversed. They needed healing now. They needed restoration now. They needed consolation now. And Jesus gave it to them.
This series of blessings and woes is not a prediction for the future. It is a pronouncement that the future reign of God has come to the earth and is unfolding even now in the person of Jesus Christ. It is Jesus’ declaration that the long-promised redemption of the world is already here among us—that now is the time for healing, comfort, and restoration—that those who cannot find hope in the powers of this world can now rejoice because in Jesus Christ their salvation has come.
But woe to those who cannot see it. Woe to those whose healing and comfort are found in the riches of this world. Woe to those who need not look to God for their salvation because whatever refuge they cling to in this life will soon fade away. Jesus’ proclamations are not warnings of what will come to pass. They are assurances that, even in this life, even now, the only hope worth holding onto is the hope we find in God.
Jesus does not touch lepers and eat with tax collectors and flaunt sabbath regulations because he wants to enrage the religious authorities of his day. He does so because, in a society in which the dominant religion has become enmeshed with the powers of this world, there is a great multitude of outcasts and rejects who cannot find God’s healing touch. And healing them in God’s name is enough to enrage those in power. He does all of those radical things not because they are controversial. They are controversial because he, a holy man, the incarnate Son of God, would dare to do them and dare to do them now.
Even today, people still come to Jesus in search of the healing that this world cannot give them. In the ancient world, it was the poor, the hungry, the mournful, and the persecuted who needed God’s salvation the most. And that hasn’t changed. The world would convince us that God’s goodness and blessing are reserved for those who have it all figured out—economically, materially, emotionally, and relationally. In our culture, the dominant religion identifies success with salvation. But we are broken in ways that the world cannot fix. Just below the surface—and sometimes in ways that cannot be hidden—we are falling apart. We need the healing that no earthly remedy can give.
We need Jesus. We need a God who loves us not because we are good enough, holy enough, or successful enough but simply because God loves incomplete, broken, worn out people like us. We need a savior who touches us and embraces when no one else will—one who will sit down and eat with us when, if the truth were ever known, no one else would dare to have us at their table. We need someone who loves not the person we wish we were but the one we really are. That person is Jesus.