One should start to savor these Sundays. Quite often we do not get to observe this and the next Sunday. Easter’s moveable date means something has to give way to accommodate an early Easter. The last Sundays of the Epiphany season are expendable. In Series A, this involves the Sermon on the Mount. As the calendar falls, however, we will see this Sunday for the next couple of cycles of Series A. For me the larger lack in the pericope system is Matthew 8. This chapter is completely omitted from the cycle of readings. It is not picked up in another place. We simply do not read it.
Matthew 8 is pivotal for reading the Sermon on the Mount. Our Lord’s words increase our terror of sin. Murder is not only physically slaying my neighbor, it is my feelings too. Adultery is also a matter of the heart, not only the physical breaking of the marriage vow. My worry and my speech come in for condemnation too. By the end of the Sermon on the Mount, the reader is helpless before his or her sin. That is exactly where Jesus wants you to be.
Jesus puts us into that difficult position because of what He does next. He walks down that hill and finds the most visible and disgusting of sinners and heals that person. Reaches out and touches that person, cleansing him of his leprosy. The rest of the chapter is a exploration of Christ’s forgiveness through the metaphor of healing. It is for all – Peter and a Roman Centurion – Jesus best friend and a Jew’s worst enemy both get healing. He goes to the root of the problem, casting out demons, he demonstrates His authority and power to forgive these sins by calming the storm. Finally, in the healing of the paralytic, Matthew brings this back to the forgiveness of our sins which has always been there. We need chapter 8 if the Sermon on the Mount will not be a thing of terror.