Midway through his Gospel, Matthew makes brief mention of a visit by Jesus and the disciples to the village of Gennesaret, a small village three miles west of Capernaum along the north shore of Lake Galilee. He mentions some odd behavior by the people of Gennesaret, something no other crowd is reported to have done.
Matthew 14: 34. When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret.
35. And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him
36. and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed.
Earlier, in chapter 8, Matthew had recorded a number of miracles Jesus performed as he began his public ministry in Capernaum. It was there that he healed a leper. He healed a centurion’s servant. Later, Jesus healed a lame man lowered through the roof. He raised the daughter of Jairus back to life. He healed a woman who furtively reached out to touch the hem of his garment as he was going to the house of Jairus. He restored sight to two blind men. He cast out a demon and enabled a mute man to speak again.
Matthew mildly notes that “news of this spread through all that region.” (Matthew 9:26)
Evidence that the stories had indeed spread is in the chapter 14 verses. The behavior of the people in Gennesaret says something interesting about the witnessing we can do about Jesus coming into our lives.
We may not be able to explain what happened to us or answer a lot of questions about it. In his memorable story about the formerly blind man interrogated by the Sanhedrin, John quotes the man saying simply, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” (John 9:25)
The woman healed of the issue of blood was in the same boat. She had tried to hide what she was doing in touching Jesus’ garment. Even the disciples didn’t know what made Jesus suddenly stop until he described what he had sensed. Then everyone knew. At least, they knew about the hem-touching.
Jesus told the woman it was her faith that had healed her. But the story they had heard in Gennesaret was all about her grabbing for Jesus’ clothes. She no doubt told everyone that she had been healed. And everyone now knew what she had done. Those who heard the story wanted the same healing this daring woman had received. So they did what she had done, visibly at least.
Jesus was kind and merciful. All received their healing that day, even though I think they came close to misunderstanding the witness they had heard.
Receiving God’s grace and mercy does not depend on our fully understanding it to begin with. The Prodigal Son thought he knew the terms under which his father would take him back. And his father was glad to see him come back even though the son still didn’t see his father’s love clearly at first.
When I was preparing to join the Order of St. Luke the Physician, one of the assignments was to study the 26 different scriptural accounts of Jesus healing people. No two of them are alike. This used to annoy me. How can we learn how to heal people today if Jesus didn’t give us a consistent, repeatable pattern to follow??
Looking at Matthew’s brief report about Gennesaret I begin to suspect an answer to that question. I’ll set it up by asking another question. Were the people of this village looking for Jesus — or just for his clothes?
Perhaps the reason Jesus healed people a bit differently each time was to make sure we didn’t start following some idol-in-a-pattern instead of him.
Jesus uses different methods, different approaches, with each of us. The point is he is the One we come to with our prayers.