Three times, in a very short space in Matthew’s gospel, Matthew tells us that “Jesus left” wherever he was and moved on to another place. As I read these passages recently, I began to wonder if perhaps this repetition of “Jesus left” might mean something for me, for us, beyond the simple movement of Jesus from one place to another. Decided to brush off my Greek a bit and “listen” to what was going on in these passages.
“Jesus left that place” (Matthew 15:21 exelthōn—went out, came out, went away). Here Jesus is leaving a difficult experience, an unpleasant dispute with the religious leaders of his day. The Pharisees and scribes have taken offense, as usual, and it’s clear that nothing Jesus says or does will change their minds. So Jesus leaves. He doesn’t stay around to brood over his failure to change the hearts and the thinking of those Pharisees. Jesus says what he has to say and then simply leaves and moves on.
Again, “after Jesus had left that place” (Matthew 15:29 metabas—departed, passed over, moved, or changed place of residence). This leaving follows the healing of the daughter of a Canaanite woman who had exhibited an astonishing faith in Jesus’ ability to heal. An exhilarating affirmation of Jesus’ life and ministry. A success story. But again, Jesus doesn’t park here, doesn’t linger to bask in the joy and glory of something so meaningful and positive. He changes his place of residence, as it were, choosing to leave and move on to the next challenge in his life.
That comes soon. The Pharisees and Sadducees again, this time looking for a sign from Jesus that he was truly the Messiah they were awaiting. Another unpleasant encounter. Once again, after talking with them, Jesus “left them and went away” (Matthew 16:4 katalipōn—left behind). The verb Matthew chooses here is a strong one—not just to leave, but to leave behind. Jesus once again lets go of the disagreeable conversation, leaves the scene and sets his face to move forward.
Seems to me there’s something important for us in Matthew’s repetitive “Jesus left…” It’s so easy for us to hold on to difficult things that happen in our lives. Easy to hold on to painful memories, to old grudges and hurts. To re-live them and nurse them, squeezing out every last drop of bitterness and gall. Easy to hold on to our failures, turning them over and over in our minds, berating ourselves or the world or God or fate or whatever for all that went so wrong.
Easy, too, for us to hold on to our achievements and our joys. To bask in what we’ve attained, in what we’ve accomplished. Not that that’s all bad. A healthy sense of gratitude for all the good in our lives, whether it’s been something we’ve done or something that was simply given to us, can be deeply satisfying and healthy. But holding on too tightly to our successes can keep us from experiencing fresh challenges. May actually shrink our souls and keep us from discovering new gifts and resources within ourselves.
Whenever, it seems to me, whenever we hold anything too tightly—happy things or painful, difficult things—we tend to lose perspective and often close ourselves down to possibilities that await in the future. We narrow our lives, as it were. So it may be good for us to take heed to Matthew’s repetitive “Jesus left.” Take time, yes, take time to relish the good. Take time, yes, take time to lament the not so good. But DON’T PARK in either space!
Jesus left (exelthōn); he went away. Jesus left (metabas); he changed his place of residence. Jesus left (katalipōn); he left behind.
“Jesus left.” Simple words. Filled with wisdom.