This coming Sunday is the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. In the previous post we discussed the phrase: “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Today we summarize the gospel as a prelude to the Sermon on the Mount – the gospel for the 4th Sunday. “His fame spread to all of Syria, and they brought to him all who were sick with various diseases and racked with pain, those who were possessed, lunatics, and paralytics, and he cured them. And great crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan followed him.” (Mt 4:24-25)
Although Jesus’ activity is confined to the region of Galilee, word of it spreads to the whole province of Syria. The outward movement of Jesus’ reputation as a teacher and healer results in the movement of many people toward him. People suffering from all kinds of diseases are brought to him, and they are cured (v. 24). People from every region of Israel except Samaria join the crowds that follow him (v. 25). Such people, along with the disciples, form the audience for the Sermon on the Mount.
Matthew 4:23–25 encapsulates the ministry of Jesus. It may be viewed as a concluding summary of Jesus’ early ministry in Galilee, or as the introduction to the Sermon on the Mount. It is noteworthy that 4:23 is repeated almost verbatim in 9:35. Both 4:23 and 9:35 are located just before major discourses of Jesus, and they serve to summarize his deeds as the context for his words. But there is likely more to the repetition than that. Taken together, 4:23 and 9:35 form an inclusio, a set of literary bookends, which summarize Jesus’ words and deeds at the beginning and end of two sections that present his words (Matt 5–7) and deeds (Matt 8–9) in detail. Significantly, both the words and deeds demonstrate Jesus’ Kingdom authority, an authority he passed on to his disciples. As his words and deeds proclaim and demonstrate the Kingdom, so will the words and deeds of his disciples (10:7–8; 24:14).
By way of preparation for the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew has established Jesus’ superiority to John the Baptist (3:1–12), recounted the divine acknowledgement of Jesus as the Son of God (3:13–17), and shown what kind of Son of God Jesus is (4:1–11). He has also explained why Jesus taught and healed in Galilee (4:12–17) and how he attracted an inner circle of disciples (4:18–22) and a larger circle of interested followers (4:23–25). The Sermon on the Mount (5:1–7:29) will reveal what a powerful teacher Jesus is.
Image credit: Christ Presenting the Keys to Saint Peter, c. 1636-40, by Nicholas Poussin, Public Domain