Commentary on the Gospel of

Barbara Dilly-Creighton University's Department of Sociology and Anthropology

As we register new freshman students for fall, I am thinking that the lessons for today fit very well with new beginnings.  It does seem to me, however, that the entire Christian message is about new beginnings.  It begins with the promises of new beginnings throughout the Old Testament.  Today, Abraham has a new beginning with a new name and a covenant with God in which God promises to bless him through miraculous deeds.  God asks only for Abraham’s faith in promising that the Lord will work through him.  And that is the other message I hear over and over in the Bible.  God wants to work in and through us when he promises us new beginnings.  It isn’t just about forgive and forget.  It is about moving forward in freedom to serve.  That is how God blesses us.  He asks only that we fear, love, and trust in God above all things. 

In the Psalm for today were are reminded that the Lord blesses those who fear him.  For that admiration and respect, he gives us all that we need, fruitfulness in all we do, and prosperity.  But there is more.  Much more.  As an anthropology professor, I teach my students that humans are much more than biological and material beings.  We are also cultural and spiritual beings.  We have a sense of purpose in life beyond just meeting our basic biological needs for survival and reproduction.  Just as in the days of Jesus on this earth, diseases and death still threaten our survival.  And just as in those days, we have cultural beliefs and habits that we develop to make sense of those threats.  We also have religious beliefs about what it means to be whole. 

So I think the story in Matthew Chapter 8 is about all of that…..and most importantly, what it means to be whole is about new beginnings.  We are reminded that Christ took away our infirmities and bore our diseases.  How is that for a new beginning?  Christ took away our basic threats to survival.  But he did more than that.  He helped us define a sense of purpose for our lives.  When Jesus heals the leper, he not only makes him clean physically, the leper is given a new beginning as a person made whole spiritually and culturally.  In those days, lepers were abandoned by all according to an Old Testament law.  Jesus broke that Old Testament law by healing the leper when he showed compassion for him and touched him. 

Jesus also fulfilled law because he was the promise to humanity that we would be restored to a right standing with God.  Without the compassion of Jesus on our infirmities, we are like lepers.  So Jesus tells the leper to show himself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses prescribed in the law as proof for them that the law had been fulfilled.  That was the new beginning for humanity.  It wasn’t about the miracle of healing, but the message of wholeness that the leper was called to deliver.  The story tells us that the leper didn’t get it.  He didn’t follow through, just went about proclaiming his miracle.  But probably we don’t follow through either, most of the time.  Every blessing, every favor, every answered prayer is not just a miracle.  It is a call to a new beginning.

We should be grateful, not just for our blessings, but for the healing to wholeness that Jesus brings us by bearing our infirmities with us and for us.  The real message here is that gratitude is hollow without a new beginning.  So, every time we start up a new semester, every time we enroll a new freshman class, we have an opportunity to share the message of wholeness that Jesus brings to us.  Our new beginnings are not just about cranking up the well-oiled machine that we are at Creighton for another go at our great traditions and perpetuating our institutional survival.  It is more about new beginnings in a very spiritual way.  It’s a chance to find new purpose in our lives.  It is a call to wholeness for all of humanity, a chance to advance Christ’s mission of healing as men and women with and for others.  And it is also a call to follow Jesus in accomplishing mission with humility, not by seeking personal honor or fame.  So today I pray we can be grateful for the blessings of a record number of freshman students in light of our mission.  We have really got something exciting to do with all those young people. May we all learn to see our many blessings as the means by which God works in and through us!

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