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Friday, February 1, 2013

Jesus the Unpredictable

This week we'll be reading Matthew 9:1-17. In which Jesus is awesome. (But, ya know, he kind of always is.)

Jesus heals a paralytic (Matthew 9:1-8)

First, a paralytic is brought to Jesus, and Jesus tells him, "Your sins are forgiven."

Why? Because Jesus is addressing this guy's spiritual needs as well as physical needs. Is Jesus saying the reason he's paralyzed is punishment for sin? No- he speaks out against that idea elsewhere.

Healing can be a complicated process, with a psychological component, and Jesus knows that. He reassures this man this his sins are forgiven, before healing him physically.

Or maybe he said it just to get the "teachers of the law" all angry. They're thinking, "This fellow is blaspheming!" Because, they believed, only God can tell someone that all their sins are forgiven. (I guess they're right about that.)

This is how I picture the teachers of the law saying to themselves "This fellow is blaspheming!" Image source.

So they're all sitting there judging him, and Jesus calls them out on it. "'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 so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...' Then he said to the paralytic, 'Get up, take your mat, and go home.'"

Somehow I managed to be a Christian for like 20 years without having any idea what Jesus meant by this "which is easier to say" bit. I blame my incredibly literal way of thinking.

See I thought "which is easier to say" would be determined by whichever sentence had fewer syllables in Aramaic or Hebrew or whatever language he was speaking. Or perhaps one of them was a tongue-twister.

Because in English, they are pretty much the same level of difficulty. Try it yourself. Say "your sins are forgiven." Okay, now say, "get up and walk." See, both are very easy. So what in the world is Jesus talking about here?

But, turns out, he didn't really mean "which is easier to say"- he meant "which is easier to say and back it up with proof." Anybody can tell someone "your sins are forgiven" and we have no way of knowing if it's true. But if you tell a paralyzed man, "get up and walk," everybody's gonna know real quick whether you're a miracle worker or a hack.

And once everybody sees this man get up and walk, it suggests that maybe Jesus was also right about the "your sins are forgiven" bit.

(And can I just say, Jesus is pretty awesome here.)

The calling of Matthew (Matthew 9:9-13)

Then Jesus happens upon Matthew, the tax collector, as he's doing his thing at his tax collector booth. Jesus says, "Follow me," and Matthew immediately gets up and follows.

I don't get that- did he just leave all his stuff out for somebody else to put away? Wasn't he in the middle of something?

If anyone has any background knowledge on what the "tax collector's booth" was and whether it makes sense for Matthew to suddenly get up and leave, do tell.

Or maybe it's not so literal- he at least put his stuff away and got done with whatever he was doing, and told his boss he was leaving, etc, and then followed Jesus.

(Is it weird that this is the stuff I think about during bible study? Sometimes I'm afraid that I'm entirely missing the point. But that's how God made me, homedawg.)

"He just got up and left. I have no idea where he went- do you think he's coming back?" Image source.

SO ANYWAY... The Pharisees gossip about how Jesus eats with tax collectors and "sinners," and Jesus tells them, "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."

Let's take Jesus' advice here and learn what he means by "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." It's a reference to Hosea 6:6, which was written to people who did all their religious duties, sacrificed all the required offerings, but didn't really care about God or people.

God DOESN'T CARE about all the religious things you're doing and all the rules you're keeping, if you're not also loving others, helping others, etc. Or, let me put it this way: God doesn't care about you "working on your relationship with God" if you're ignoring the people around you.

Also I really like the doctor metaphor- a doctor doesn't judge or condemn you for being sick, but helps you with the practical steps needed to overcome it. People go to a doctor for help, and have to be honest about everything- you can't hide your sickness if you want to get well. And I'd like to believe all of that metaphor applies to Jesus and sin too.

Another important thing: this metaphor portrays sin as a sickness that must be addressed. Jesus isn't necessarily disagreeing with the label of "sinner."

So I get the metaphor about Jesus as a doctor who came specifically to heal the sinners, but how does that relate to "I desire mercy, not sacrifice"? Does it mean that people should be loving and merciful toward each other, rather than judging others as "sinners"?

At any rate, this again underscores one of the themes we've seen in Matthew: The kingdom of God has people you never expected.

Jesus questioned about fasting (Matthew 9:14-17)

Next, John the Baptist's disciples show up and ask Jesus why his disciples don't fast. Because like, everyone else fasts. So what's the deal?

Jesus' answer has 2 parts. First, "How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast." Jesus is "the bridegroom" here, and I suppose he's saying that his time with the disciples should be a happy celebration, and fasting doesn't really fit in with that.

(But wait- in Matthew 6, Jesus talked about "but when you fast..." So are his disciples fasting or not? I guess they did sometimes, but not as often as John's disciples would have liked.)

Next, Jesus gives 2 analogies: You can't sew a patch of new cloth on an old garment, because the new material will shrink. You can't pour new wine into old wineskins, because the wineskins will burst. (I don't know anything about wineskins so I'll just take his word for it.) In other words, Jesus' ministry is something totally new, and you can't expect it to follow the same patterns as other teachers'. You're comparing apples and oranges.

So in summary...

Jesus forgives sins and heals disabled people. He accepts the "sinners" and has a few things to say to those who are judging and condemning people. And he's NEW and DIFFERENT and UNPREDICTABLE.

So cool. :)

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This post is part of a series on the gospel of Matthew.

Previous post: "You of Little Faith..." (Matthew 8:18-34)

Next post: Too Sneaky For Jesus? (Matthew 9:18-26)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.

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