Tell me, how long will we grovel at the feet of wealth and power? How long will we bow down to that golden calf? Tell me now, how long will be too long? – Michael W. Smith, How Long Will Be Too Long, from the 1990 album “Go West Young Man”
If there’s one thing Matthew wants to make clear about the Christ, it’s that His new “master” prefers people. Not just slightly, but wholeheartedly. Throughout this entire tour of healing, Jesus makes it clear that He places a high value on the people with whom He comes into contact. Maybe that’s what makes Him so attractive to the former tax collector. Matthew had spent part of his life in service to the Roman Empire, collecting money from its subjects. I’m sure the job came with a fair amount of insults to his face and behind his back, and for at least a while it didn’t seem to bother him. He kept at it, day in and day out, until one day the carpenter from Galilee passes by and suddenly Matthew feels the need for a career change. He just up and leaves his post with its money box. Why? What was it about that carpenter?
I think it’s the truth that Jesus puts people before profits. In fact, He puts people (all kinds of people from all walks of life) before just about everything and anything. There was just something about Him that made people want to leave everything behind and follow Him. Maybe it was the words He spoke – like water to a thirsty man. Maybe it was the way He could look right at a person – and see their soul. Maybe it was the way He paid attention to everything and everyone – like they truly mattered to Him. I don’t know for sure. Matthew never confesses to what it was about the man from Galilee. But everywhere in Matthew’s narrative are two things: Jesus and the people He encountered.
In the story that ends chapter eight, the disciples have just survived a monster storm and landed safely on the other side of the sea when Jesus meets two men who are demon-possessed. They identify Him as the Son of God. What is important to know about these guys is that they were so violent that no one else could pass through that area (which also happened to be a cemetery). Talk about a real-life ghost story the residents of that area could scare their children with!
Yet in this chapter, Jesus is the one terrifying the demons inside the two men. The tables have been turned! The demons beg God to send them into a nearby herd of swine, which He does, and the entire herd rushes down the hill and into the sea where they all drown. The men in charge of the herd witness all of this madness and race into town to tell the folk what happened. Sure enough, the townspeople journey out to the cemetery to see for themselves and what do they find? Jesus, sitting down, with the two men who had been terrorizing the countryside, now in their right minds. Here’s the kicker – they ask Jesus to leave.
Unlike the pagan gods worshipped by the townsfolk, Jesus could not be appeased, controlled, or contained. THAT is scary. Chances are they feared the supernatural power that Jesus possessed; something they had never seen before. But most importantly, biblical scholars over the years have also suggested that they were very upset about losing a prime money maker in the herd of pigs. In other words, they valued profits over people. How contradictory to the values Jesus demonstrated! In addition to profits, there are three other p’s that people tend to favor: power, possessions, and property.
You know, I look at society today in the United States and I see the exact same mindset in a certain political party. A party which claims to follow Jesus, but which doesn’t espouse or promote ANY of the values Matthew lays out about the Christ in his gospel. They favor wealth so much they recently passed a sweeping tax bill which gives huge breaks for the wealthiest 1%. Then, to pay for such tax breaks, they propose massive cuts to social programs that help the poor. They make plans to cut Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid. They actively work to repeal healthcare for all and attempt to replace it with something that won’t allow everyone to have coverage. They sabotage the current healthcare bill by with-holding subsidy payments. They cut funding to education, SNAP, and CHIP. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I seriously doubt Jesus would recognize or support this party that “acts this way in his name”. Just saying.
The question we all need to ask ourselves is: are we more concerned with the four p’s than with people? Let’s take a closer look at the two demon-possessed men Jesus helps. They were unclean in three major ways: 1) both men were Gentiles; 2) who were possessed by demons; 3) living in a cemetery. Technically, according to Jewish religious law, Jesus should not have had anything to do with those men. The major lesson I take away from all of this is that I should not turn my back on people who are repulsive or who violate my moral standards and religious beliefs. I need to remember that all human beings are unique creations of God, who bear His image. They are most important to Him. If I am to be like Him, they must be most important to me.