You know Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken?” Sometimes I open up the day’s passage and find it could not be more “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood” if it tried. Here, on the one hand, is the healing at the pool in Bethesda, and on the other, there is Jesus’ lengthy exposition of the relationship between the Son and the Father, defending his ministry as backed by the authority of God. But unlike Robert Frost’s existentially-minded traveler, I’m faced with two roads that countless expositors and theologians have trod before me; there is no “road less traveled by” here. Moreover, while the traveler doubts he may ever return to that fork in the road, I may find that I have time to cover both sections of John 5 today. But I have to pick one to begin with, so travel with me down the road to the Bethesda healing, or alternately, close the tab and leave the entry unread–for you as well have two roads before you.
Mark’s gospel consists mostly of stuff that appears in the other gospels. You can find about 90% of Mark in Matthew, and about half of Mark in Luke, so you’re not going to find a lot of exclusive premium content here. And while most modern scholars think Mark wrote his gospel first, with the other authors drawing on his account as a resource, many early church traditions viewed it as a kind of condensed version of Matthew, due to their similarities. But in today’s chapter, we’ve got an even where Matthew gives the quick-and-dirty rundown, but Mark digs into the details. And the details are so extraordinary, one has to wonder: why did Matthew leave out the most interesting part?
The adventure continues in today’s chapter, at least until it ends. And since early childhood, I’ve associated the book of Acts with Paul’s snakebite from this chapter. I remember a Sunday school handout telling the story of the storm, shipwreck, and island encounter through text and illustrations. In a simple but realistic style, one of the drawings depicted Paul withdrawing from the campfire with a writhing snake clinging to his hand. It was exciting and a little bit scary, and it locked the idea into my head that sometimes missionaries have adventures. It was like the book of Acts itself had latched onto my brain with serpent teeth.
I’m a little on the short side. But when I was far shorter than I am now, probably only four or five years old, my mom taught me a song that told the story of today’s chapter from Acts.
I’ve been noticing something about Jesus’ miracles as we read through Matthew. They tend not to be flashy, like silver-screen superpowers or the special effects for magic in my console RPGs. They lack theatricality and ostentation. They’re subtle, and Jesus often tells the witnesses to keep it quiet about the miracle. (Sometimes the witnesses even comply with his request.) And the only times he pulls out all the stops, like the transfiguration, the only people present are a few of the apostles. But today’s chapter starts off with just such a miracle: Jesus tells his disciples where to find a donkey, they go, and lo and behold, there’s a donkey precisely there.
This chapter marks the first time that Matthew records a resurrection. It would appear that it’s not the first time Jesus brought someone back from the dead, though; as we saw in Luke 7:11-17, he gave a widow her only son back in the middle of the guy’s funeral procession. Moreover, when Jesus resurrects the synagogue official’s daughter in today’s chapter, Matthew gives us the most cursory of the synoptics’ accounts, not even dedicating ten verses to the incident, while Mark and Luke each give us over fifteen. If you wanted to know which synagogue official, you’d have to turn to the other accounts, because Matthew doesn’t so much as give us his name (it’s Jairus).
In yesterday’s chapter of Luke, we saw–among other things–a resurrection: Jesus raised a widow’s only son from the dead. And today’s chapter contains the Parable of the Sower, the Parable of the Lamp, a brief yet eventful boat trip, and the encounter with the Gerasene Demoniac, but it concludes with another resurrection. A synagogue official sends for Jesus, hoping he can heal the official’s fatally-ill daughter, but she dies while Jesus is en route. That’s no deterrent to the Son of God, however; he raises the girl from the dead.