Matthew 9:14-17; Mourning

Good Pharisees fasted on Mondays and Thursdays. This was not required by the Law, but it was their custom. The followers of John must have had a similar practice.

Not Jesus.

We are not talking about a national day of fasting, required by the Law, or about private times of fasting for various reasons. We are talking about customs, not law.

Fasting was a tradition related to mourning. Specifically, the Jews of the first century were mourning while waiting for God to rescue them. Even though the exile was technically over, it wasn’t really over. They were waiting for a real reestablishment of Israel as a real, independent nation.

Jesus says it isn’t time for mourning any more. He has come. He is the bridegroom. There will be times for mourning and fasting, but not now.

The two homespun pictures of cloth to patch a cloak and wine in wineskins are powerful images. The trick is in how to apply the images.

It seems to me he is announcing a new regime. The old customs and traditions won’t fit any more.

It’s time for a party, not for a funeral.

Matthew 9:9-13; Tax Collectors and Pharisees

Let’s call this an elliptical pericope because it has two foci. Some of you will get that, and some of you won’t. Those who don’t get it should probably be more proud of themselves than those who do.

Jesus calls one of the despised tax collectors, Matthew, to follow him. This call is similar to the call of the fishermen and I take it to be a call to close discipleship, to be one of the Twelve. Any commentary will give you a list of reasons that tax collectors were despised, but those reasons did not slow Jesus down.

It looks like there was a party celebrating this new disciple, probably hosted by Jesus or one of the disciples. Naturally, Matthew’s (former) colleagues were invited, or at least showed up. Can you imagine what it would have been like to attend a dinner party with Jesus? The talk must surely have been kingdom-oriented.

You have to imagine a public or semi-public setting for the dinner. Privacy is for moderns; there wasn’t much of it in the first century. The dinner came to be noticed by a group of Pharisees.

I try to not be too hard on the Pharisees. Yes, Jesus gave them a lot of grief, but it seems like they were the closest to the kingdom of all the first century Jews. They were serious, even hyper-serious, about the law. They were separatists, in that they did not want to incur uncleanness. They extended the priestly rules to themselves and others. They were pointed generally in the right direction, but a little misguided.

They would not have eaten with this group of tax collectors and sinners, and they wondered why Jesus would.

Jesus answers with his famous saying about the sick and the well and about who needs a doctor. And he gives them an assignment to go home and think about, quoting Hosea.

Do our churches, on a Sunday morning, look more like a group of Pharisees or a group of Jesus, disciples, and sick people?

Jesus did not disparage the law. But he had his priorities. Doing his mission of the kingdom was the highest priority. We need to set our own priorities accordingly.

Matthew 9:1-8; A Different Kind of Healing

It’s back in the boat and back across the lake and back to HQ in Capernaum. Not much of a vacation.

Back home, Jesus is met by some folks carrying a paralyzed man on a bed. Jesus perceives “their” faith, but instead of healing the man, he pronounces that his sins are forgiven.

Forgiveness of sins is nothing new to the Jews. They had provisions to be forgiven in their rituals and there are many stories of forgiveness in the OT that are not associated with the Temple at all. But forgiveness always came from God. Here was a man pronouncing forgiveness.

A scribe—a lawyer—took issue with it and thought that Jesus was disrespecting God by saying what he said.

Now, a fraud can easier get by with forgiving sins than physical healing because you cannot see the result. The scribe probably thinks Jesus is a fraud.

I can’t decide whether most of verse 6 is an aside to the reader or a response to the scribe, and neither can the scholars. But the point is that a physical healing would prove the truth of Jesus’ pronouncement of forgiveness.

So Jesus proves what he says by completing the physical healing. The man is healed, gets up, and walks home.

Like the demoniacs, there isn’t much detail about the healed man or his friends. But the disciples—present but unmentioned—learned some more lessons:

  • the kingdom is a spiritual thing as well as a physical thing
  • Jesus is able to do stuff like forgiving sin that only God can do
  • Jesus and the disciples will not always be understood
  • the authority exhibited by Jesus is amazing

Matthew 8:28-34; Demoniacs and Pigs

This is a story where it is difficult to not bring elements into my thinking from Mark and Luke. Matthew tells the story his own way, and I’ll concentrate on what Matthew says, not on what he doesn’t say.

The boat with Jesus and the disciples comes across the lake into the area called Decapolis, or Ten Cities. There they meet two (Matthew has this curious characteristic of doubling from the other gospels) demon-possessed men who cause trouble for travelers.

Matthew doesn’t say much about the men, but the demons in them recognize Jesus for who he is, the Son of God. They know they are doomed in the long run, but they see Jesus before they were expecting to, and ask to be moved into a herd of pigs.

Jesus obliges their request and they proceed to kill the pigs by drowning in the lake. Naturally, the people of the town are disturbed about their loss and ask Jesus to leave their territory, which he does.

It’s curious how little Matthew tells about the men, before or after their exorcism. But my job today is to extract some discipleship stuff from the passage, since this is what Matthew is teaching through his gospel in this section.

  • The disciples are with Jesus and observe all this. This is the first fully explained exorcism in the gospel, and they see what their own future ministry may entail.
  • Jesus cares more about people than pigs.
  • Some people care more about pigs than people.
  • When you help people, you will not always be welcome.

What else am I missing?

Matthew 8:23-27; The Storm

Time for another lesson in what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, the Christ.

Jesus got in the boat and his followers followed him. That’s what followers do. Perhaps it already looked stormy, I don’t know. But they followed him onto the boat and they set sail (?) for the other side.

A storm blew up. It must have been a bad one; Matthew describes it as some sort of earthquake at sea. That does sound bad. But Jesus was tired and asleep in the boat and didn’t notice the storm.

The disciples woke Jesus and informed him. Matthew uses a single word adjective to describe the name Jesus gives them: you-of-little-faith. Ouch.

If their faith was little, they did go to the right place with it. If their faith was little, the did get an answer to their prayer.

I am convinced that the size of our faith is not nearly as important as the direction it points. Who do you trust? That leaves room for growth in our faith. The disciples learned that lesson on that stormy sea.

Jesus made the storm stop. That proves that the disciples trusted the right person. A disciple of Jesus trusts him.

The storms will come. They may be bad. They may be dangerous. We might even be dumped out of the boat and into the sea. We might not even survive the storm. Jesus may calm the storm or he may not.

We keep trusting him. With whatever level of faith we have.

Side note: be careful what you pray for. If the wind dies, you might have a long way to row your boat.

Matthew 8:18-22; It’s Hard to Follow Jesus

Jesus has crowds following him. He’s working hard. And Matthew uses this occasion to show us Jesus doing some weeding. Not everyone who wants to be with Jesus is really fit and/or willing to truly follow.

We don’t hear much today about counting the cost of discipleship. Jesus wasn’t squeamish about it.

The scribe wants to follow Jesus everywhere he goes. Maybe he enjoyed the preaching. Maybe he sees a potential messiah. Whatever, he wants to follow. Jesus discourages him by pointing out the hardship that will come with following him. We aren’t told what the scribe did in response, but the picture seems to be that of Jesus discouraging him because he knows it wouldn’t work.

This is the first time in Matthew that Jesus calls himself “the Son of Man.” The first of many times. That title should elicit in first century Jews a memory of Daniel’s vision and a coming anointed one. That is quite a contrast with this essentially homeless traveling preacher and healer.

Next a disciple wants to take care of a family obligation. Jesus says this disciple has more important things to do. Permission for leave NOT granted.

Following Jesus is all-consuming. It’s more important than personal comfort and convenience. It’s more important that family and social responsibilities. It’s a narrow road and a rugged hike.

Count the cost.

This morning I smoked a poor man’s brisket—a chuck roast. And a chicken. Both came out great. Parts of the beef are more like brisket burnt ends, but still very tasty.

I just saw that I have 119 commentaries on Matthew, not counting the briefer single volume commentaries. I guess I need a lot of help.