Matthew 9:32-34; Two Reactions

The healing/exorcism of the deaf-mute person is told with little style and action. The focus is obviously on the two different reactions to the miracle.

The crowds were amazed. They hadn’t seen anything like this before. It was another kingdom miracle.

The Pharisees, on the other hand, were not so pleased. They did not like this upset to the status quo.

So they resorted to ridicule.

Ridicule is the last refuge of those who are disenfranchised. Ridicule is the stock-in-trade of Twitter and Facebook arguments. Ridicule intends to tear others down.

I’m not sure if the Pharisees were tweeting to the crowds or to one another, but they ridicule Jesus by calling him names, by saying that his power comes from the wrong place.

In this case, Jesus doesn’t refute them. That will come later.

I suppose we see the same two responses to Jesus today. Mostly ridicule.

Matthew 9:27-31: Two Blind Men

Two blind men recognize Jesus as the Messiah (Son of David) and cry out for mercy. I think it’s interesting that Jesus makes them follow him back to the house before he helps them. I mean, they are blind.

Blindness is special. Healing of blindness is another sign of the kingdom. Healers of the day couldn’t help blind people, but Jesus did.

He probed their faith a bit and healed them with a touch.

He also asked them to keep it on the down low, probably because he didn’t want so much of the Son of David stuff and possibly because he didn’t want followers-on just because of the miracles. And blindness was definitely a special case.

They disobeyed. Which goes to show that people of faith don’t always obey. It would have been better, and expressed better faith, if they had obeyed.

The kingdom is coming and it is here.

Matthew 9:18-26; Two Kingdom Miracles

While Jesus was teaching about wine and wineskins, an opportunity to demonstrate came along. A leader (of the synagogue?) came and asked him to bring his daughter back to life.

That is faith. Healing is one thing. Raising from death is another altogether.

Jesus went with the leader to do the miracle.

On the way, a woman with a longstanding female bleeding problem encountered him and expressed her faith in what seems kind of a magical manner. Her disease is physical with social ramifications; perhaps that has made her reluctant to have normal social interactions. But Jesus honors her faith and heals her. He looks at her and really sees her. He offers her a “take heart”.

Her faith—any faith—is not magic. Faith is an awareness of the kingdom at some level, and a willingness to accept Jesus and his kingdom. It is taking sides with Jesus. It is loyalty to him. The leader expressed his faith by bowing before Jesus and asking him to do the impossible. The woman expressed her faith by trying to be unobtrusive and to stay out of the way, as she had learned to do. Jesus honored both.

Mourning had begun for the dead girl. Jesus sent the mourners away and simply took the girl by the hand and raised her.

The kingdom has come. New wine.

I’ll side with Jesus.

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 8:14-17; Jesus Heals

Upon arrival at Peter’s house in Capernaum, the group of disciples found Peter’s mother-in-law having taken sick with a fever. The wording implies a rather serious illness and an unexpected onset.

Jesus heals her with a touch. No word mentioned. No fancy-dan maneuvers. Just a touch.

The lady’s response was the proper one. She served Jesus.

That evening there were many more healings and exorcisms. He cured them all, Matthew says. No one was left out.

Today it doesn’t seem to work like that. I know that some are healed because I’ve heard their testimonies and I trust them. I also know lots of people who are not healed of serious illnesses. Many of you know that I have a terminal cancer; I’d love to be healed and I don’t doubt that God can do it, but so far I’m still sick. And that seems to be the norm, not the exception.

Still, I trust Jesus, by the way. I don’t need to be healed to believe in him.

These healings en masse are by way of announcement. The anointed one has come. The king has come. The kingdom is dawning. He took our infirmities and bore our diseases. I believe that with all I’ve got.

Matthew 8:5-13; The Centurion’s Servant

Matthew continues with the theme of authority.

A gentile centurion comes to Jesus. He shows great humility—sort of a role reversal—and great faith in Jesus. The servant of concern to the centurion is healed at a distance. I think healing at a distance is something of an anomaly. Most of the miracle stories in the gospels involve the touch of Jesus.

Jesus marvels at the faith of the centurion. Matthew doesn’t paint an emotional Jesus, but here you see a bit of emotion. Jesus says he rarely sees such faith, even in Israel, where one should expect more of it.

Jesus talks about how gentiles will have a place in the gathering of the kingdom. Some of the natural heirs of the kingdom will find themselves left out, much to their surprise and discomfort. That’s a spot of good news for people like me who are not Jewish. Also, it’s quite humbling.

Jesus has authority to teach, to heal lepers, and even to heal based on the faith of a gentile and at a distance. More to come.