Matthew 9:1-17

Gospel Readings:

Matthew 9:1-8
Matthew 9:9-13
Matthew 9:14-17

Devotion 1

Wait: Take time to sit in silence together, allowing space for God’s voice to be heard.

Read: Matthew 9:1-8

We pick up the narrative this week with another story which Matthew has taken from Mark’s Gospel, and told it in a way which brings out what he wants to highlight for his community. The episode begins as Jesus is approached by “some people [who] were carrying a paralysed man lying on a bed.” The men, of course, are seeking healing for the man—perhaps their relative or fellow villager. However, Jesus’ first words are perhaps surprising, reaching deep into the man’s heart and dramatically exposing a simmering social issue.

We might remember the connection which was assumed in the ancient world between one’s physical condition and sin, that is, that sickness and disability were presumed to be the effects of sin. In Judea and Galilee, more specifically, if one was sick, then the way out was to be found through greater participation in the temple system. Crossan explains:

There is, first and above all, a terrible irony in that conjunction of sickness and sin, especially in first-century Palestine. Excessive taxation could leave poor people physically malnourished or hysterically disabled. But since the religiopolitical ascendency could not blame excessive taxation, it blamed sick people themselves by claiming that their sins had led to their illnesses. And the cure for sinful sickness was ultimately in the Temple. And that meant more fees, in a perfect circle of victimization.1

Jesus words of forgiveness, however, break this cycle of victimisation, proclaiming that there is forgiveness outside of the temple system. The people of Galilee need no politico-religious institution to broker their forgiveness from God. This, of course, is not the message the temple elite want the people to hear. The scribes, who represent the temple interests, call Jesus’ pronouncement blasphemy. “From their point of view, the temple is the only place where sins can be forgiven and purity restored. This is the exclusive right of priests using the sacrificial system.”2  The question which the story raises then, in light of the scribes’ challenge, is, Does Jesus have the authority to proclaim forgiveness of sin? Of course, the rest of the story answers the question with a resounding Yes!3

This is a story of God’s activity which takes place outside of official channels. Yet there is more to Matthew’s telling of the story. At the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, we were told that Jesus’ mission would be to “save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). As he approaches his death, Matthew’s Jesus will again recall this mission, symbolically enacting the pouring out of his life “for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:28). Salvation from, or forgiveness of sin is a mission which frames Matthew’s Gospel. We might also remember that for those steeped in Israel’s tradition, that the outworking of win was , ultimately, defeat and exile at the hands of Babylon. Forgiveness of sin, then, meant restoration and return from exile.

Jesus words, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven”, then, not only tell the story of an individual suffering under the weight of physical disability. They tell of Jesus proclaiming the end of domination and subjugation. God is acting to put things right! Does Jesus have the authority to proclaim such liberation? For the scribes, who benefit from the power arrangements of imperial domination, the answer is No! And they, along with other ruling elite groups, will take whatever action they must to ensure Jesus’ dangerous influence is quelled. But the secret is out. God is doing a new thing. The crowds have seen it. And perhaps worst of all (for the scribes!), this authority which Jesus manifests is given not only to Jesus, but to “human beings.”

Reflect:

  • What strikes you in this story?
  • In what ways have you encountered the kind of opposition which the scribes represent in this story?
  • In what ways do Jesus words and actions encourage or challenge you?
  • Are there ways in which you sense God is inviting you to live out this story?

Pray

Share Communion 

Close with the Lord’s Prayer

 

1.  John Dominic Crossan. The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Peasant (San Fransisco: Harper Collins, 1991), 324.

2.  William R. Herzog II, Jesus, Justice and the Reign of God: A Ministry of Liberation (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2000), 127.

3. Pressing the issue deeper, we need to ask, does Jesus’ pronouncement of forgiveness uphold the assumption of the connection of sin and disability, or subvert it? If the text does assume that the man is paralysed because of his sin, then this can have important negative connotations in how we understand disability and sickness today, and opens the way for spiritual abuse. Though it is not explicit in this text, it seems that Matthew’s Gospel subverts this cultural assumption (see especially Mt 5:1-12).

Devotion 2

Wait: Take time to sit in silence together, aware of God’s presence in a broken world.

Read: Matthew 9:9-13

Today’s reading begins with Jesus approaching “a man called Matthew.” Matthew, we are told, was a tax collector, and from what we know of Roman taxation, Matthew would have collected tolls on transported goods, having been contracted to collect a certain amount and pocketing the surplus.4 Needless to say, the peasant population of Palestine viewed such characters with contempt. In Matthew’s Gospel, it seems that tax collectors are counted among the enemies of the community (cf. Mt 5:46).

That Jesus calls a tax collector to follow him is shocking. That he, just like the fisherman, and in contrast to the would-be-disciples of Matthew 8:18-22, follows Jesus immediately is even more so. For Jesus, this call to follow humanises the enemy, refusing to believe that, though he plays a part in a system of domination and exploitation, he is unable to respond out of his God-given dignity. For this new disciple, following Jesus represents “abandoning his invested interests… disrupting his life based on greed and exploitations, and forsaking the imperial structure which his occupation sustains.”5 He has renounced his part in structural evil.

In the next scene, we find Jesus and his disciples in a setting of radical, boundary crossing hospitality. Here are other tax collectors—none of them said to be followers of Jesus—and “sinners.” Though it is difficult to establish just who those “sinners” might be, it seems that, given the term is almost always used in Matthew alongside tax collectors,6 it refers to those who have some connection with the Roman occupation. By the Pharisees, who were concerned with the purity of the Jewish people, these “sinners” were seen as unclean and shunned.

Jesus, however, has other ideas. By quoting Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” he turns the Pharisees’ concern for purity on its head, revealing the heart of God. This mercy, says Carter, “is not pity or condescension, but doing God’s justice, which challenges the exclusionary practices and structures of the imperial status quo and seeks to establish a life-giving community of shared resources and sustaining relationships.”7 And for the God whom Jesus reveals, this mercy always trumps purity.

Reflect:

  • Are there people in your world whom you find it difficult to imagine responding to the way of Jesus?
  • In what ways are you challenged by this picture of boundary crossing hospitality?
  • Are there ways in which you sense God is inviting you to live out this story?

Pray

Share Communion

Close with the Lord’s Prayer

 

 4. Warren Carter, Matthew and the Margins: A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2000), 218.

 5. Carter, Matthew and the Margins, 218.

 6. The only exception to this is in 26:45, where it is used to describe, perhaps ironically, those who come to arrest Jesus.

 7. Carter, Matthew and the Margins, 221.

Devotion 3

Wait: Take time to sit in the silence of repentance together, aware of our inadequacy and God’s grace.

Read: Matthew 9:14-17

While still in the setting of the dinner with tax collectors and sinners, the disciples of John approach Jesus with a question about fasting: “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus’ reply is perhaps surprising. Having practiced fasting (Mt 4:2) and taught the way of appropriate fasting (Mt 6:16-18), Jesus answer here indicates that there is an appropriate time for not fasting. The image of the bridegroom may draw on prophetic images of God as bridegroom (Isaiah 62:5), but it may also be a symbol of celebration and joy. If so, it points to a truth that we who seek to follow on the radical path of discipleship can easily forget: there is a time to celebrate the wonder of God’s creation, provision and activity in the world. There is a time to breathe in the goodness of God’s shalom in the world—even though it is so tragically incomplete.

Reflect:

  • Read the passage again. What words or phrases strike you in today’s reading?
  • In what ways might we be “fresh wineskins”?
  • Take a moment to consider how you might “breath in God’s shalom” this week.

Pray. 

Share Communion

Close with the Lord’s Prayer

 

Devotion 4

Wait: Take time to sit in the silence of gratitude together, giving thanks for the ways you’ve experienced God’s loving kindness.

This week’s Common Value: Restorative Hope

Read: Daniel 7:1-28

Ask: How might we participate in God’s hope this week?

Pray

Share Communion

Close with the Lord’s Prayer