January 22, 2017

Horse 2214 - Matthew 9:1-13 - Jesus Heals A Paralysed Man. Jesus Eats With Tax Collectors and Sinners.

Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”

At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!”

Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” Then the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to man.
- Matthew 9:1-8 (NIV)



Before we dig down into this portion of chapter 9 and see what treasures await us, it is worth looking at who wrote this gospel, who his first audience was and why he lays out everything in the way that he does.
As verse 9 tells us, Matthew's occupation is that of a tax collector.

In the first century, Judea was a province of the Roman Empire, who like just about every other empire in history, gained land and power through conquest. That would have been fine if you were a Roman in Rome but if you were a conquered people like the Jewish people were, that tended to breed resentment.
The local governors would send taxes and tribute to Rome, in exchange for mostly being left alone, except for having soldiers enforce Roman law and they weren't exactly the kindest of people.

Mostly the Roman Empire didn't collect income taxes in the same way that our modern governments do, and instead, collected tax on the basis of goods passing through the various ports and on the trade routes through the empire.

Matthew lived in the port town of Capernaum, which was on the north side of the Sea of Galilee. Capernaum which was both on a Roman highway and was a sea port, had many traders and goods passing through it and so it would have been a major source of income for the local governor, who then passed some on to Rome.

Matthew was probably something more like a customs and excise officer, of the sort that we are likely to find at the airport or down at the docks. He collected taxation based on the value of goods that were declared in his booth, and rather than being paid a wage, he took a cut of the money that he collected.

Even more so than today, tax collectors were hated by the Jewish people. Not only were they working for the Romans, who they hated, but because they had to take their wages out of what they collected, the job was very much open to corruption. If you will recall, the other tax collector mentioned by name in the Gospels was Zacchaeus, who promised to return four times the amount that he had cheated out of people, when he met Jesus.

We don't know how or why he came to be a tax collector but it's not unreasonable to assume that he must have done something serious to have fallen out of polite Jewish society because now he was working for the Roman Empire, which was very much the enemy.

For Jesus to seek out Matthew was also something of a risk. Matthew was a tax collector and for Jesus who was a rabbi to be seen with such a person, would have been a major burn to his reputation.

Unlike Peter and Andrew who were fishermen, it wasn't really as if he could just walk back into his job again if things didn't work out. For Matthew to just get up and leave that all behind is a very big step. Although having said that, as he was a tax collector, if anyone knew what the bottom line would be, it would be him. The only tool of the trade which Matthew could carry forward would be his pen and I'm glad that he used it in the service of his new king.



If you compare Matthew's gospel to the other three, we see that Matthew takes an entirely different approach from them because he is writing for a different purpose.
John's gospel is designed to make you see Jesus power and love, and by believing in him and what he has done, we will have eternal life with him. Luke's gospel is about making an orderly account so that you will believe that all these things are true. Mark's gospel was written in terribly scrappy Greek because he had a message which he simply couldn't contain any longer and had to get it out to as many people as possible and as quickly as he could. Matthew's gospel though is different from the others. In the Bible which I normally use, there is a list of events in chronological order but Matthew doesn't seem to put things in that order either.

No. Matthew has an entirely different purpose. Matthew doesn't use a chronological approach because Matthew who is mainly writing to Jewish people, wants to prove that Jesus is the Messiah that they had been waiting for, for so long.

So far we've followed Jesus' birth and Mathew has laid out the Royal list of succession, all the way back even before King David and Solomon, to Abraham. Abraham if you will remember had promises made to him by God that he would receive land, become the father of many nations but most importantly of all that the whole world would be blessed through his descendants because of Abraham's obedience in not withholding his own son Issac. This was a picture of the coming Messiah and as Abraham said in faith: "God will provide for himself, the lamb for the burnt offering"

We've seen how God has provided that lamb for himself by stepping into the world,  with the birth of his own son who was called Immanuel or "God with us". We've seen God personally confirm this with a voice from heaven saying "This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased'.

We've heard Jesus' opening sermon from on top of the mountain where he has spoken and taught as one who has authority and not as the teachers of the law had done. Jesus has laid out his attitude to the law, in which a heartfelt obedience to the law is mode important than trying to follow its letter because an obligation. The Messiah has not come to destroy the law but to fulfill it by living out what it says, rather than following it for appearance's sake.
In Chapter 8, we see Jesus heal a man with leprosy by actually bothering to go out and touch him. Anyone who became a leper would have been "unclean", and the law demanded that they be banished from society.
A Roman Centurion had such faith that he believed that Jesus could heal his servant just by speaking the word. This was a Roman soldier, the enemy and yet he demonstrated a faith that would put many of the Jewish religious leaders to shame.
Jesus heals Peter's mother in law from a fever, commands the wind an the waves to be still and they obeyed him. He cast out demons from two men who were so wild that the were forced to live among the tombs.
In all this Matthew reminds us of the promise in Isaiah 53 which foretells of coming of the Messiah:
 "He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases".

Again and again, Matthew is arranging the things that he saw personally, not because he wants to tell a pretty story but because he wants to show that this Jesus is the Messiah. He is the one who the law and the prophets were pointing to.
We have seen demonstrations of Jesus’ power and authority and we have seen him heal the sick, irrespective of whether they were Jewish or not. We have seen him cross the line of what is "unclean" to free people of their diseases and the powers that stand against him, be they political or spiritual have all been nothing to him.

In chapter 9, we see further demonstrations of that power and authority.



On this trip back home, some people have brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus to see if he could help. It has to be said that these people didn't have a wishy-washy kind of faith. Their faith was put into action.

We don't know how far they had to move their friend but if it was any more than a couple of hundred metres, then it would have gotten pretty tiresome pretty quickly. It is difficult to move around a dead weight but these friends were still prepared to do what it took bring their friend to Jesus. Both Mark and Luke mention that they were willing to tear through the roof in order to bring their friend to Jesus. The faith of all these people was both bold and determined.
When Jesus sees their faith, he doesn't immediately heal this man but says: "Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven."

Take note of what the objection raised by the teachers of the law is. They don't seem to be concerned that Jesus is demonstrating that he has power to heal but rather, the teachers of the law say to themselves that Jesus is blaspheming.

Blasphemy isn't just taking the Lord's name in vain or using it as a cuss word. The Oxford English Dictionary says that blasphemy is the "irreverent treatment of a religious or sacred thing." What sacred thing is Jesus treatment irreverently? Jesus said “Your sins are forgiven”. The sacred thing in question is the authority to forgive sins and that authority is only held by God himself. Just who does he think he is anyway? By saying to this paralyzed man, "your sins are forgiven", is Jesus really daring to claim to be God?

Julius Caesar who had declared himself dictator for life, Augustus who had been declared emperor and the current emperor Tiberius had all styled themselves as "Divi Filius - the Son of God" and so maybe the teachers of the law saw Jesus as a puppet of the Romans, who was going to bring even more trouble for them. If Jesus was like all the other people they'd seen claiming to be the Messiah, then it would be best for them to get rid of him as quickly as possible.

The teachers of the law knew full well that the penalty which would be imposed for blasphemy, was quite severe and would be very useful for getting rid of this “Messiah” claiming to be God and claiming to be able to forgive sins.

The law as written in Leviticus said:
 "Say to the Israelites: 'If anyone curses his God, he will be responsible; anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord must be put to death. The entire assembly must stone him. Whether an alien or native-born, when he blasphemes the Name, he must be put to death."
- Leviticus 24:15-16

Yes, their motives were polluted because they knew that if and when the Messiah did arrive, they would certainly lose their own power and authority but even so, they had probably seen many people claiming to be the "Messiah" come and go and all of them came to nought but here Jesus doesn’t just claim to be the Messiah, by claiming to have the authority to forgive sins, Jesus is virtually declaring himself to be God.

So, how does Jesus prove that he is God, and prove the teachers of the law wrong? Let's look at his answer.

Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”
- Matthew 9:5-7 (NIV)

It is easy to say anything. I can for instance say that "I am a cabinet maker" but if you were to hand me a set of tools, I can guarantee that you would be less than impressed with the result. You might have a cabinet but it would more than likely call to pieces pretty quickly.

It is easy to say the words 'Your sins are forgiven' but how to we really know that he really does have the power to forgive sin? It is much harder for those words to have any authority and power to actually do something. Jesus performs miracles throughout the New Testament, to prove in the physical world with the things that can be seen, that he is the ruler of both the physical and spiritual world, of both the things seen and unseen.

Verse 8 tells us that the people marveled, that God had given such authority to men. The people couldn't have known that God didn't give such authority to a man but that this Jesus was God, who was found in appearance as a man. Jesus was indeed fully man but he was also fully God. Remember, back in Chapter 1 Matthew recorded for us that the prophet Isaiah had said that his name would be Immanuel; which when translated means "God with us". Jesus was God in the flesh, literally among us, "with us." By healing the paralyzed man, he demonstrated that he was indeed God with us.



Let's look at the second story in Matthew's gospel for today. From verse 9 onwards, we see that Jesus has called Matthew and that Matthew has followed in obedience.

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
- Matthew 9:9-13 (NIV)

We are told that at Matthew's house, there was a gathering of tax collectors and 'sinners', what we don't know is what sort of 'sinners' attended the dinner, but being a sea port, it wouldn't take much to work out what kinds of people they might be.

We were told at the beginning of the Chapter that Jesus got into a boat and went back to his home town of Capernaum. Capernaum was both on a Roman highway as well as being on the shore of the Sea Of Galilee. Port towns tend to attract a wide range of rather unsavory people.
If you look at our own city of Sydney, we have seen corruption on the waterfront, with people trying to smuggle in all sorts of drugs and goods and weaponry and the suburb on top of the hill which is next to the naval base, Kings Cross, has a rather infamous reputation for being the home of brothels, strip clubs and organised crime.

Naturally, when the Pharisees show up, they begin to ask the question of Jesus' disciples:
"Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"

I don't think that the Pharisees who ask this question are curious as to what the answer might be. Jesus has already gained a reputation for speaking with authority and had built up a degree of fame in the region and I think that they were probably sending people to follow him around, in the hope that they could find something to trip him up on, so they could get rid of this nuisance. Rather than any genuine concern for these tax collectors’ and sinners’ state of eternal welfare, the Pharisees who were more worried about their own appearance and power, were in the business of pest extermination. In their eyes, they have the perfect evidence to prosecute a trial by association.

Jesus' response to this was to call them out on their concern for their own welfare, rather than the people directly in front of them. Jesus also reminds the Pharisees that healthy people don't present themselves to doctors for treatment. Likewise, people who are self righteous, who are counting on their own goodness, wouldn't present themselves to God because they already thought that they were all right.

"It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick"
- Mathew 9:12

Jesus is likening sin to a sickness. Remember at the man who was lying paralyzed on mat? He had an obvious sickness that everyone could see. His friends who brought him to Jesus could see it; the teachers of the law could see it. Jesus didn't think that that was the most important thing to be treated though. If you arrive at A&E at the hospital after being in a horrible accident, the doctors are going to worry more about your fractured pelvis than your mild throat tickle.

The problem with this particular sickness, that is the sickness of sin, is that it infects the way we think, what we do are effects of its symptoms and it leaves us insensitive to the needs of others and the will of God. It convinces us that we are fine as we are and that everything we do is right; no matter how our actions affect other people or how they offend God. The problem with this sickness is that there is no known cure and left untreated, results in the eternal death of all who have it; which is everyone.

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
- Matthew 9:12-13

Jesus quotes a passage from the Old Testament here. The Pharisees of all people should be able to quote all kinds of scripture but just because they can repeat the words of scripture, have they learned what those words mean? Do they understand what they can repeat?

How about we take Jesus up on his suggestion to go and learn what this means. The passage that Jesus quotes from is from Hosea. Hosea was also writing to a people who were suffering under the oppression of the ambivalent ruling class.

For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
    and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
- Hosea 6:6

“I desire mercy, not sacrifice” says the Lord. The Pharisees knew a lot about the system of sacrifices which had to be performed at the temple but those sacrifices could never hope to take away sins. They were always only meant as a picture of God’s grand plan, to provide his own son as a sacrifice.
God’s desire is, was and always will be to walk with people and be their friend. It was because of God’s love and compassion that he was patient with his people for so long; saying “return to me”, “return to me.”

God’s desire is also that people act decently towards each other. The Pharisees could very easily point out everyone else’s sin but they didn’t care enough to bother to find out how these people came to be “sinners” in the first place, much less to help them out of it.

Jesus is saying that God would rather be acknowledged as God, rather than being presented with the ritual of empty burnt offerings. Hosea also foretold of one who would be coming, one who would bind up our wounds and “on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in God’s presence” but first, in order to make us acceptable to step into God’s presence, he would have to be punished and cast out of it, for our sake.



We should not excuse sin, either in someone else or ourselves but neither are we called to retreat so far away from "sinners" that we never ever speak with any of them. Jesus stepped down into the world and crossed boundaries to speak to people, to touch them, to heal them, to show them his love and to bring them into his kingdom. The man with leprosy was unclean, the Roman Centurion was an enemy of the Jewish people and a gentile and more than likely worshipped Roman gods, the demon possessed men were dangerous, the paralyzed man was ceremonially unclean and Matthew was a traitor to his own nation and hung around with "sinners".
We might have neighbours who look different to us, come from different places and even worship different gods but that doesn't mean that we should be hostile and be like the Pharisees, pointing fingers at them. We might have family members or work colleagues with vastly different opinions on things that we might even find offensive but we get nowhere by running away from them. We need to follow Jesus' example and also cross boundaries, to show them his love and maybe  to bring them into his kingdom.

Jesus did not come to call the "righteous" or rather, those people that think that they are righteous, but sinners like us and who are us, to repentance. Perhaps we need to go and learn what this means. Perhaps we need to look into the scriptures to see where we are failing. Maybe we don't even know where we are failing and need someone who comes with mercy to point it out to us. Or maybe there is some area of sin we continue in.

Jesus calls "sinners" like us, to repentance, to resolve not to continue in sin but to abandon it and leave it behind. Like Matthew, we have been called to “Follow Him”. When Matthew was called he obediently left everything behind, got up and followed Jesus. Are we going to be found as faithful and obedient when Jesus calls?

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