“Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.” Matthew 9:35
Reflecting on the opening words of the Gospel reading, we might consider the 5 “w’s: Who? What? When? Why? Where?
Saint Matthew Chapter 9 Verse 35 gives us the “who,” it says, “then Jesus.” The Gospel is about a person; it is not about a religion, it is not about a tradition, it is not about a church, it is about the man Jesus from Nazareth. Jesus doesn’t ask his disciples to accept a creed or a code of ethics, instead he invites them to, “come and follow me.” The Good News is not about anyone or anything other than Jesus. Making the good news about himself did not make Jesus popular. There were people who liked organisations, people who liked hierarchies, people who liked to be able to climb up to positions of power and of influence; if the good news was about a single person, if it was a about a humble and poor man, then what would happen to the ambition of the men who wanted to rise to the positions to which they thought themselves entitled? Good news about just one person was a threat to all these men, it was a threat to their power and influence, it was a threat to their ambition. Good news about a single person was not something they wanted to hear.
What about us? When we hear the words “good news” or the “gospel”, of what do we think? Do we think about a religion? Do we think about a tradition? Do we think about a church? Or do we think about the person Jesus of Nazareth?
The second “w” is “what?” What does Jesus do? We are told that he “went about.” The religion of the time was concerned with the people going to places; it was particularly concerned with the people going up to the Temple in Jerusalem. The God whom the people worshipped was not seen as a God who would come to them, rather he was seen as a God whom they must approach. Jesus gives people a very different idea of God; he “went about” not the behaviour that they might have expected from the Son of God. This man who claimed to be divine wandered the roads, he slept in the homes of humble people, he ate with those whom the religious people avoided. The religious people for whom respectability and correct etiquette were essential were scandalised by this man who just “went about.”
How readily do we follow Jesus’ example? How often are we prepared to put ourselves out for our faith? How often is our faith something that is convenient for us? What do we do to follow the person in whom we say we believe?
The third “w” is where? Saint Matthew says that Jesus “went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues.” Jesus was taking his message to where the people were, even when that meant going to hostile or dangerous places. Jesus did not retreat to a place where he felt safe and hope that people would come to him, instead he went right into the heart of their community, he went to the places where they gathered. Jesus’ opponents might have been untroubled by someone who had remained in the wilderness, preaching to a handful of devotees, they could not tolerate the idea of him coming into the middle of their territory, threatening everything for which they stood.
The question, “where?” is a challenge to us. Where do we live our faith? Do we live it privately, do we live it where we feel safe, or do we dare to go out and live lives like Jesus in places where doing so challenges the powerful and the influential? Where we live our faith is a real test of what it is that we believe.
The fourth “w” is why? Why did Jesus go about all the cities and villages, teaching in the synagogues? Saint Matthew says he was “proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.” Jesus had a purpose in what he did, he went out to bring people freedom, freedom from the old religion with all its rules and regulations; freedom from the fear of a vengeful God who demanded sacrifice upon sacrifice and was still not content; freedom from the despair that life brought the poor and the vulnerable; freedom from the isolation and judgement brought by sickness. It was not a message that would have pleased those whose religion was based on fear, it was not a message that pleased those for whom rules and regulations were everything.
Why do we believe? Is it because of what Jesus has done? Is it because we have heard his message of life found through grace? Or are we still attached to the old religion, are we people still holding on to a faith that rests on rules and regulations?
The final “w” is when? Verse 36 says, “When he saw the crowds.” Jesus responds to the situation that is in front of him, he does not attempt to hide from the realities of life. Saint Matthew says he had “compassion” for them, the Greek word he used literally meant that Jesus had a feeling in his guts for the crowds who came to meet him. This was not the religion of stone tablets or papyrus scrolls, this was a flesh and blood man moved to feel for the people whom he met. Jesus was altogether different from the teachers of the law.
“When” asks a question of us. When do we respond to people we see in emotional and physical need? When do we see the needs that are before us and realize that the time to act is now? Do we respond as Jesus did? Or do we try to avoid the things he faced?
Who? What? When? Why? Where? Is our faith about Jesus?