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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Transforming Disciples into Laborers — Matthew 9:35-38; 10:1-42

In the order that Matthew has presented the events of Jesus' early ministry, up to this point Jesus' committed followers have essentially been mere observers and listeners: no work has been required of them. As Jesus will say in the episode we study now, "freely you have received." When people first encounter Jesus and put faith in him, they are—to use another metaphor from the New Testament—"newborn babies" and require time in the "incubator," so to speak. Until new believers know more fully who Jesus is and what he came to do for us, there is not much they can communicate to others. When Jesus called Peter and Andrew, he told them nothing about himself: he just said "Follow me," and they did. But in the following section of Matthew's presentation—chapters 5-7—they heard a somewhat detailed presentation of the kind of life they were expected to live. And in the next section—chapters 8-9—they saw many displays of Jesus' power to make impaired people whole again: people crippled in various ways—unable to see, hear, walk, talk, control their behavior, even people who had physically died. As the disciples watched Jesus make these people whole again, it must have been clear to them that Jesus had come to make them also whole again—to restore their lost abilities to see, hear and perceive reality through the lens of scripture, to restore their ability to "walk" in the sense of conducting their daily lives in a way that pleases God—in "righteousness." They also Jesus forgiving a man's sins before restoring him to health, and realized that this was the sequence they should expect, not only in their own lives, but also in those to whom they would eventually be sent.

But now it was time to push the fledgling birds out of the nest. There was work to do that Jesus was eventually going to turn over to them. For now, he would give them trial runs, and receive their reports on how it went. This is what the coming chapter is about. 

A Shortage of Laborers at Harvest Time, 9:35-38
35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:35-38 NIV)

The ESV and NRSV say Jesus went through all the cities and villages in Galilee. Although there is no evidence that Jesus ever visited Tiberias, which was the capital and headquarters of Herod Antipas on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, there were smaller cities and many villages in Galilee. All but the smallest of these would have had synagogues for Jesus to teach in.
According to [the Jewish historian] Josephus (Life 235[45]; War III, 41-43 [iii.2]), writing one generation [after Jesus], Galilee had 204 cities and villages, each with no fewer than fifteen thousand persons. [Josephus estimated the total population of Galilee in his day at three million.] At the rate of two villages or towns per day, three months would be required to visit all of them, with no time off for the Sabbath. Jesus "went around doing good" (Acts 10:38; cf. Mark 1:39; 6:6). The sheer physical drain must have been enormous. (Donald Carson, Matthew, on 4:23)
It is Jesus enormously taxing ministry described here that leads naturally to the following compassion and prayer. He cannot do it by himself. But even if he could have, Jesus came to train disciples, who would do this on a broader scale than Galilee, or even all of Palestine.

The compassion of Jesus is often mentioned by Matthew (Matt 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 20:34). Sometimes we may feel sorry for others in need or suffering but merely congratulate ourselves that we can feel this compassion. With Jesus the compassion involved doing something to relieve the situation. He never stopped with a feeling. Furthermore, he could see outward appearance to the reality within. As he looked about, he may have seen some people with illnesses, and others without jobs or food or shelter. But he saw them the way God sees them: as "sheep without a shepherd." Shepherds not only guided and fed the sheep: they protected them from harm. Sheep without a shepherd would be at the mercy of wild predators, i.e, wolves. The "shepherds" of Israel were her spiritual leaders: priests, prophets, teachers. By and large, in Jesus' day he judged most of them to be unworthy of their position. The people were left defenseless against sin and error. The East Mediterranean world in Jesus' day was full of religious ideas and exotic cults, and pagan philosophies. Do we see those around us today as sheep without Jesus as their shepherd? What predators can you think of who are eager to exploit people without Jesus to protect them?

The imagery changes from sheep to fields ready for harvesting but too few laborers available to reap it. A crop left unharvested would be ruined by weather and rampaging wild animals (e.g., rodents and other vegetarian animals). Where will the harvesters come from? Jesus speaks these words to "disciples" in a broader sense than the inner circle, the Twelve. But he doesn't ask for volunteers. Instead, he asks them all to pray that the "lord of the harvest," that is, the one currently doing the harvesting, namely Jesus himself, to send out additional harvesters into the fields. He will not send out all of those whom he is asking to pray. Instead, for now he will select Twelve. Later—according to Luke—he will select a larger number.

Commissioning the Twelve Apostles, ch. 10

And this leads in the next chapter to Jesus' appointing the Twelve! As we shall see, this was a special mission directed only to Jews, preparing the Jewish people of Palestine to make the big decision of either accepting Jesus as their messiah or rejecting him.

For this and other reasons we should not rashly equate how Jesus equips the Twelve for their mission and how he tells them to proceed with how he would want missionaries today to operate. This is not necessarily how God equips the saints today to evangelize, nor how he expects us to operate. But we may see some general principles, if we consider the passage judiciously.

Granting them powers, 10:1-4
1 He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. 2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.  (Matthew 10:1-4 NIV)
If we have only Matthew's text before us, we know how he has trained the Twelve to this point. What he now adds to their equipment is the "authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness", i.e., the same kind of authority that he himself displayed in chapters 8 and 9. Now the Twelve will be extensions of Jesus himself, multiplying his coverage of the huge harvest field of Galilee. Notice how Jesus trusted them. Even fully equipped, it was possible that they would prove to have little faith, to be greedy or angry at the responses. But Jesus had faith in them, and this says something about how he saw their hearts.  Bear in mind, however, that among the Twelve at this time was Judas Iscariot, who would eventually betray Jesus. Jesus also trusts you and me, even though he knows our propensity to fail him. He wants us to learn faithfulness along with compassion for others and willingness to look foolish by offering them our friendship, prayer and the gospel.

The distribution of the conjunction "and" in Matthew's list of the Twelve suggests that Jesus sent them out two-by-two (we are told this explicitly in Mark 6:7), and that the order given here shows what each pair was. Other lists of the Twelve that have a different order (especially Mark 3:16-19 and Acts 1:13 do not reflect the pairings for this specific two-by-two mission. In those other gospels therefore at least the first three or four names probably reflect the order of seniority or even of rank. In the other lists Andrew is not in second place, the first three positions going to Peter, James and John. But for this mission Jesus paired the brothers: Peter and his brother Andrew, James and his brother John, etc. Some of the other pairs may have been brothers, but most probably were chosen by Jesus because the two would work well together, or complement each other. When sled dogs are harnessed in pairs, it is common to pair an experienced dog with a younger, less experienced one.
Dog sled teams are put together with great care. Putting a dog sled team together involves picking leader dogs, point dogs, swing dogs and wheel dogs. The lead dog is very treasured, and seldom will mushers ever let these dogs out of their sight. Indeed, trained lead dogs become part of the family household. Important too is to have powerful wheel dogs to pull the sled out from the snow. Point dogs (optional) are located behind the leader dogs, swing dogs between the point and wheel dogs, and team dogs are all other dogs in between the wheel and swing dogs and are selected for their endurance, strength and speed as part of the team. (Wikipedia, "Sled dog.")
Perhaps Jesus did that here too. Peter was like the "lead dog."

Their Mission, 10:5-15
5   These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6  Instead, go to the lost sheep of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. 9 “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— 10 no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. 11 Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. 12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. 15 Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. (Matthew 10:5-15)
The geographic and ethnic limits of this mission are set here: "the lost sheep of Israel." The field is not the world, not even all of Palestine. It was necessary for Jesus to make this clear, because some of the Twelve had been with him previously in Samaria, where he had successfully witnessed (John 4:1-42). But that was not to be the focus now. After the resurrection he would send them to Samaria and to the ends of the Earth (Acts 1:7-8; cf. 8:4-25). But not now. “Let the children [i.e., Israel] be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs,” he once said to a Syro-Phoenician woman (Mark 7:27 NRSV). Once the "children" have rejected it, it will be offered to others, many of whom will gladly take it! These "others", scattered throughout the earth (Matt 28), would also include Jews, but also many other ethnic groups.

Their activity, like that of Jesus, will be a mix of preaching (i.e., proclaiming, not giving sermons), teaching, healing, and driving out demons. Their proclamation—like his—will be that the kingdom of God has come near in the person of Jesus, whom God has sent. The Jews of Galilee will not see Jesus personally, only his agents. But they will learn that it is he who will save Israel from her sins. They will be prepared for the joyful day when Jesus would enter Jerusalem to shouts of "Hosanna" (21:1-11), and for the sadder day when Pilate would ask the representatives of the Jewish people, "What shall I do with Jesus of Nazareth, who is called the Christ [i.e., messiah]?" (27:21-23).

Proclaiming such a message about the promised Davidic kingdom, and Jesus as the promised king would be very dangerous, because of the presence of Roman soldiers in Galilee. According to Rome, there was only one great king, the Roman emperor. Only petty kings like Herod whom the Roman emperor had approved were allowed to exist. Jesus had no such official permission. To proclaim him as the Davidic king would be seen as an act of treason against Rome.

They were not to accept payment for their acts of healing or exorcism, although this was regularly done by healers and exorcists in that period. The ability to heal had been given to them without charge from Jesus; so they must not make a profit for themselves from it.

They should depend in most respects upon God to provide local hospitality for them, and therefore not take along with them elaborate supplies to enable them to camp outside the towns by themselves or in an inn. Their mission would depend to a great extent on becoming temporary members of the families of the communities they visited. It would be counter-productive for them to stay in the local Marriott Express!

They were to rely on the practice of hospitality, which was obligatory among the Jews of that era. Homes that took them in would be given their blessing. If members of such homes eventually rejected the message, the blessing would simply return to them without benefiting these unbelievers. If the family believed, the blessing would remain and be effective.

If, on the other hand, no member of the community would take them in or listen to their message, or believe in Jesus, they were to leave that town and shake the dust of its streets from their shoes and clothes, as a sign of God's coming judgment upon it. Its fate will be worse in the day of judgment than that of Sodom and Gomorrah, who had proven so inhospitable to the angels who had visited Lot to warn him to flee from the judgment to come upon those cities (Gen 19:1-29). You remember how God rained fire and burning sulphur from heaven on those two cities, a picture of hell itself. Later, Matthew will record how Jesus himself called down God's judgment on the towns of Chorazin and Capernaum, because they had heard his message and seen his miracles, and yet refused to repent and believe. There too he made the comparison to the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah (11:20-24).

We too need to do more than share a few Bible verses with those around us without Christ. We need to enter their very homes and become members of their families—figuratively, if not literally. How otherwise are they to know that we really care about them?  Isn't this what Jesus did for us? He came from heaven into our "home" on earth. He became human and thus a member of our family. This is God's way of being a Good Shepherd to the lost sheep. It also be ours.  

Their Persecutions, 10:16-25
16 I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 “Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 22 All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. 23 When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes. 24 “A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household! (Matthew 10:16-25 NIV)
After commissioning his disciples to show compassion and expose themselves to risks for the sake of the gospel, Jesus gives the other side of the advice: there are also situations in which they should be careful, and to be prepared for danger and threats. 

There is a transition here from the historical situation of this first mission of the Twelve in Galilee to the post-resurrection ministry of the apostles and other early Christian missionaries. Then they would be arrested, flogged and imprisoned, at first by unbelieving Jewish authorities, and eventually by gentile authorities as well. Of course, the Book of Acts is full of examples of this (see Acts 5:17-42; 7:54-60; 8:1-3; 12:1-19; 14:1-7; 16:16-40).

God through Matthew is not just concerned with the Twelve, or even with the First Century church, but with the Church through all the age leading up to the second Coming of Jesus.  We too should be aware that we go not only among lost sheep for whom we have Christ's compassion, but also among dangerous wolves. We should be prepared for this opposition—be "on guard" as the verse says. We will not be popular with everyone, when we share God's message of hope in Jesus. But we need not be afraid:

Whom to Fear, 10:26-33
26 “So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. 32 “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven. (Matthew 10:26-33 NIV)
I'm sure that when Peter, Andrew, James, John and the other Galileans responded to Jesus' invitation, "Come, follow me," they envisioned some hardships, and separation for a time from their families. But probably very few, if any of them thought they would be killed for following Jesus! So what Jesus had just said in (vv 16-25) must have sent chills up their spines! Yet he reminds them that there are worse things than losing your life physically, just as we are trying to offer the lost sheep a way to find something better than physical life on earth. As Jesus says, "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell." That "One", as the capital letter in some versions indicates, is not Satan, but God himself. He alone is able to condemn to eternal punishment and loss. Paul would write, "Knowing the fear of God, we persuade other humans" (…). It is the fear of God that frees us from lesser fears.

What to Expect: Not Peace but a Sword, 10:34-39
34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— 36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ 37 “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  (Matthew 10:34-39 NIV)
Verses like this expose the superficiality of those who consider the main mission of the Church today to be the promotion of world peace. The Church's members should not be war-mongers, but neither should they ignore the plain words of Jesus here. His advent brought a permanent division among the peoples of the Earth. Those who believe in him and those who do not. As believers in Jesus we seek to live at peace with all people. But we also understand that hatred of the truth of the gospel and of the scriptures will constantly cause hostilities. And we refuse to dilute that in our message which causes such hostility. It is therefore unrealistic—and in fact un-Christian—to expect that there will be or even should be a peaceful reaction to what we proclaim. The "sword" Jesus refers to in v 34 is probably not armies fighting against each other, but the sword of the executioner or of the individual terrorist who kills individual Christians and missionaries in order to stop them from spreading the gospel and teaching the truth of the scriptures. We can read about this "sword" bringing death to the early evangelists in Acts (for example, Stephen and James [Jesus' brother]), but we also read about it today, such as the Christian missionaries tortured and murdered in Turkey in April of 2007 by a small mob of Muslims, whose criminal actions were not punished by the Turkish authorities. See the news coverage at the time here.  This too is the "sword" that Jesus warned us about. Where truth is confronted by falsehood, there will never be "peace": there cannot be, and there should not be.

Their Rewards, 10:40-42
40 “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me. 41 Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. 42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:40-42 NIV)
This saying of Jesus preserved here in Matthew is echoed in other gospels by the same truth in other words. "He who receives you, receives me," because you represent me. In the Gospel of John, Jesus puts it in different words:
18   “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. 19 If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘Servants are not greater than their master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. 21 But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me" (John 15:18-21 NRSV).
In ancient times, as in modern ones, mistreatment of the ambassadors of a state constituted an act of war on that state. We—like the Twelve were—are ambassadors of Christ. When we act in that capacity—as witnesses and as exemplifying his life and teachings, and opposition comes for that reason, this is an act of war against Christ himself, and it will bring down God's judgment upon those who make war on him.

On the positive side, those who welcome Christ's disciples and their message, do honor to him and receive rewards as if they had done these things to Christ himself. What effect do you think Jesus wanted these words to make on the Twelve? How about on us? How does this reassure us? How does it challenge us? Think of the various ways in which Jesus refers to his own in these verses: "you" (v 40), "a prophet" (v 41), "a righteous man" (v 41), "little ones" who are "disciples" (v 42). Why do you suppose this is so? Is it not because, when we live like Christ and speak like him, the world's reaction to us will be exactly what it would be, if indeed we were Christ?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Effects of Jesus' Miracles, Part 2 - Matthew 9

[This week's posting is by a guest writer, my wife Wini Hoffner, who kindly taught our choir Bible Study this past Sunday in my absence. I'm sure you will enjoy this excellent study.]


            In Harry’s introduction last week to Matt. 8-9 remember he pointed out that having finished giving his teachings of chapters 5- 7, Jesus descended from the "mountain," and "many  crowds" began to follow him.  Matthew’s purpose in chapters 8-9 is to show how Jesus interacts with these crowds and how they respond. Some of the  miracles of these two chapters involve groups of people; some involve individuals, and we see how each of these reacts to Jesus in a different way: faith, hesitant faith ("little faith"), misunderstanding, disagreement, and finally hostility.

            In 8:22 Jesus had crossed the Sea of Galilee (calming the storm) to the region of the Gadarenes on the southeast shore of the sea (sending the demons into the herd of pigs). 

            The pigs’ stampede dramatically proved that the former demon-possessed men had indeed been freed of their demons, but the crowds reaction to this amazing miracle is very telling and reveals the real values of the people in the vicinity. Their income is their only concern. They preferred pigs to people and they ask Jesus to leave that vicinity.

            Begged to leave (8:34), Jesus embarked in the boat he had so recently left and returned to “his own town,” that is, Capernaum on the western shore of the lake where he had been living since 4:13.

1   Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. 2 Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” 3 At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!” 4 Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? 5 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 6 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.” 7 And the man got up and went home. 8 When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men. (Matthew 9:1-8 NIV)   
             His return to Capernaum sparked his return to the scrutiny of the scribes, those experts in the law of Moses , "some" of whom are extremely critical and hostile toward him. It also brought about a return of the crowds, seeking healing for loved ones. Matthew chooses here one such incident, because it will show both model faith in Jesus by the men who bring the paralytic on a stretcher and blind and hateful opposition to him by his critics among the scribes.

            When the paralyzed man is brought and placed before Jesus, he notices the faith of the men who have brought him. It is because of their  faith, that he acts on behalf of he paralyzed man. This is not surprising, since we have seen this already in the case of the Roman centurion, whose remarkable faith persuaded Jesus to heal his slave back in his house.

            Though it is obvious why these men have brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus (because they believe Jesus can heal him of his paralysis), Jesus says nothing about his physical problem, but instead addresses his spiritual one, and he tells him that his sins are forgiven. Perhaps the onlookers conclude that the man’s physical handicap is a result of his sin, and that may have been the case, but Jesus doesn’t say so.

            His declaration of forgiveness of sin brings an angry muttering  from the scribes as they say among themselves: “This fellow is blaspheming!”

            Jesus knows what they are saying: more to the point, what they are thinking and why. “Knowing their thoughts” indicates that Jesus not only knew what they were thinking, but that he also knew the condition of their hearts.

            Jesus had seen the faith of the paralytic and his friends, now he saw the evil thoughts of some of the teachers of the law. They refused to see what was being revealed before their eyes, and their hearts were filled with rebellion and unbelief.

            The scribes have said “This fellow is blaspheming!” because he pronounced the man’s sins forgiven, and only God can forgive sin therefore Jesus was equating himself with God, which would be blasphemy.

            Jesus challenges their indignant unbelief by asking whether it is easier to pronounce a person forgiven or to pronounce him healed. Whichever might be easier to do it was obviously easier to “say” that someone’s sins were forgiven since no one would be able to verify whether they were really forgiven or not.

            Saying "Rise and walk" was the more difficult thing to say, because if the man was unable to do so,  it would show that the speaker had no such power. Jesus has shown here that by saying the more “difficult words” whose results they immediately saw, then they must believe that when he said the "easier" words, "Your sins are forgiven," the result—though not immediately visible—is immediate and real. Which means, that Jesus is God, for only God can forgive sins.

Questions: What was Jesus’ primary concern for this paralyzed man?
            Does God always heal our physical infirmities, even in answer to prayer?
            What about our prayers for forgiveness and spiritual healing?  

            Jesus’ primary concern for this paralyzed man was not his physical state, but his spiritual state. God does not always heal our physical infirmities, even when we pray for healing, but he will always grant spiritual healing to anyone who asks.

            The crowd were “filled with awe”... literally, they were “afraid”.
Men should  fear the one who has the authority to forgive sins. Just so, we should be filled with awe and praise every time we think about the fact that God has forgiven our sins.
            We have seen so far how Jesus demonstrated his authority over the wind and waves, then his authority over the demons who were under Satan’s authority, and now he displays the very authority  of God to forgive sins. But despite these stupendous signs of the advancing kingdom, we are going to see the King facing increasingly bitter opposition.

The Calling of Matthew
9 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. 10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” 12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 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)

            Jesus follows up the pronouncement of sins forgiven by calling a notorious sinner to follow him.

            Matthew was a tax collector. He probably sat at the toll booths on the landing stage at the lake where he would collect customs from commercial ships as they arrived. Tax collectors were despised and even considered traitors because by collecting taxes they were of course collaborating with the Roman occupiers of their country. They regularly defiled themselves by contact with Gentiles and they were often dishonest and unscrupulous, charging unfair tariffs and keeping the excess for themselves.

            Now Jesus looks straight into the eyes of a man whom everyone would have considered a “sinner” perhaps even a criminal, and says: “Follow me.” Matthew “got up” and followed him... just as the paralytic “got up”. He asks no questions, makes no excuses (as did the man in 8:22 who said he must wait till his duties to his father were finished). He simply follows.  Obviously, he must have heard and perhaps seen Jesus at his teaching and healing. Who in Capernaum had not? Probably he thought that Jesus would have nothing to do with an outcast such as himself. So when the opportunity came for him to associate with this compassionate and wise teacher, he took it.

            Later Matthew throws a party for Jesus and invites some of his fellow tax collectors and other “sinners” so that they can hear Jesus and also become his followers.

            The Pharisees hear about this party and they confront, not Jesus himself, but his disciples, with their criticism. They often do this early in Jesus’ ministry, but later they will boldly confront and question Jesus personally.

             When Jesus himself heard of this criticism, he confronted his critics, calling them “righteous” because that is their perception of themselves.

            Then he says:  But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’
            “Go and learn” was a standard charge from rabbis to their disciples. Jesus is dealing the Pharisees a double rebuke by treating them first as learners rather than teachers and second as beginners who have yet to learn Scripture correctly” (Blomberg).

            These Pharisees think they are well (righteous) and don’t need healing, whereas the “sinners” gathered in Matthew’s house knew they were sick and so welcomed the Great Physician into their homes.

            The Pharisees were more concerned with their respectability, their appearance of righteousness. Jesus was concerned with the poor, the outcasts, the needy. We as followers of Jesus must have the same concerns and be willing to leave our comfort zone to reach out to people very different from us but with the very same need of a Savior.

            Next Jesus will be questioned, not by people who are openly hostile to him, but by ones who do not quite understand what he is all about.
Jesus questioned about fasting

14 Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 15 Jesus answered, “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. 16 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. 17 Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:14-17 NIV)      

John the Baptist’s disciples are puzzled over the fact that Jesus’s disciples do not fast. John’s ministry is one of repentance, which included fasting and mourning one’s sins. But as he himself stated, his ministry was a preparation for the Messiah’s coming. Now the time for joy has arrived. John himself recognizes this in John 3:28-29 where he says:

28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.’ 29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.  (John 3:28-29 NIV).

            So Jesus explains to John’s disciples that his disciples (the “guests” of v. 15) are participating in that joy of having the bridegroom with them.  He is the messiah, the end- time bridegroom. Those who now recognize him as such are the "friends of the bridegroom" assisting him in the wedding celebration. Those attending a wedding and refusing the food because they were fasting would be guilty of one of the most serious insults to the bridal couple and their friends.

            The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them. This foreshadows the crucifixion. At that time fasting and mourning will be appropriate, although short-lived.

            Reinforcing the point that a new age has arrived Jesus gives two further illustrations of the incompatibility of the old and new: the new patch on an old garment, and new wine in old wineskins. The new patch would shrink and tear away from the old garment and further damage it, and the new wine while still fermenting and expanding would burst open the old wineskins.

            Instead of patching up the old religious system Jesus has come to offer something new, the forgiveness of sins for all people through his own sacrifice. This new message of love and faith would not fit into the old religious traditions. Instead it is a new and living message and must be offered anew to each generation.
            As Christians  we should look at the people around us in a new way with  our lives reflecting the joy of salvation and the lively presence of Jesus.

Final three healing miracles

            In this final section of chapter 9 we have three healing narratives in which we find explicit references to the faith of those healed and the strongest statement to date of the crowds’ positive response to Jesus’ healing. But this is immediately followed by the strongest statement to date of the Jewish leaders’ opposition. An ever-increasing polarization is beginning.
18 While he was saying this, a ruler came and knelt before him and said, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.” 19 Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples. 20 Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. 21 She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.” 22 Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed from that moment. 23 When Jesus entered the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd, 24 he said, “Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. 25 After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up. 26 News of this spread through all that region. (Matthew 9:18-26 NIV)

            The “ruler” of v. 18 is identified by Mark and Luke as Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, one who is responsible for the order and progress of worship. He doesn’t come to Jesus while his daughter is ill to ask for her healing, for she has already died. This synagogue ruler has apparently come into contact with Jesus or at least has heard about him and he believes  that Jesus can bring his daughter back to life. Jesus will explicitly allude to this faith in v. 22 when he brings the girl back to life.

            This is the first recorded account of Jesus restoring a dead person to life. Later, when Jesus answers John the Baptist's question if he was the messiah, he alludes to this as a messianic credential, when he says "the dead are raised" (11:5).

            Upon hearing Jairus plea Jesus and his disciples immediately set out for Jairus’ home. As they make their way some of the crowd follows and surrounds them, and among them is a woman who has been suffering from continual hemorrhaging between her menstrual periods. This physical affliction would have left her weak and miserable, but in addition to that she would be viewed as ritually unclean, an even greater stigma than her physical problem. Like Jairus this woman believes  in Jesus’ power to heal and in fact thinks that all she needs to do is just touch the edge of his cloak and she will be healed. Jesus recognizes that someone has touched him (Mark says that “he realized that power had gone out from him”), and he turns to her and says: “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed from that moment.

            Resuming his journey, Jesus comes to Jairus’ house and finds the place full of a raucous gathering. I’ve been to a couple of Irish wakes that would fit the description of v. 23. Loud mourning and wailing at the home of the deceased were characteristic in Jesus’ day. “Even the poorest people were required to hire at least two flute players and one wailing woman to perform these services.” (Blomberg)

            Jesus ejects this crowd, saying the girl is not dead but asleep. The crowd mocked Jesus, not just because he had said, “The girl is not dead but asleep,” but even more because they thought that this great healer had arrived too late.

            Jesus’ words “she is asleep” confirmed that death - confronted with his power - is not final.

            Like the woman with the hemorrhage, this dead girl would have brought defilement on anyone who touched her, but at Jesus’ touch the body, far from defiling him, came to life.

            In v. 26 we have this strong statement of the crowds’ positive response the Jesus: “News of this spread through all that region.”
27 As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!”  28 When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” “Yes, Lord,” they replied. 29 Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith will it be done to you”; 30 and their sight was restored. Jesus warned them sternly, “See that no one knows about this.” 31 But they went out and spread the news about him all over that region. 32 While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus. 33 And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.” 34 But the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.” (Matthew 9:27-34 NIV)

            The two blind men address him as “Son of David”, which was a popular Jewish title for the coming Messiah, and they call out to him for mercy, ie. compassion.

“This is the first time Jesus is called 'Son of David' (v.27), and there can be no doubt that the blind men were confessing Jesus as Messiah. They may have been physically blind, but they really “saw” better than many others” (Blomberg).

If Jesus was really the Messiah, the blind reasoned, then he would have mercy on them; and they would have their sight.” Blomberg
Question: Why does Jesus ask them “Do you believe that I am able to do this” ?

            (1) it revealed that their cries were not merely those of desperation only but of faith.
            (2) it showed that their faith was directed not to God alone but to Jesus himself, to his power and authority.

            He touched the blind men’s eyes, but the healing also depended on Jesus’ authoritative word. “According to your faith” does not mean “in proportion to your faith” but rather “since you believe, your request is granted”—cf. “your faith has healed you”.
            The focus here is on not only the blind men’s faith but on Jesus’ authority as well.
            Jesus performs the healing in private and as the men walk away Jesus sternly warns them to tell no one.

Question: Why did he say this?  To avoid misplaced loyalty.

John in his Gospel tell us that right after feeding the five thousand Jesus withdrew to a mountain because he “knew they would try to make him king by force” (John 6:15).

            But these men disobeyed and spread the news all over the region. As a result hostility began, as we shall see in a moment.

            Even as these two are leaving Jesus, a deaf mute who is demon possessed is brought to Jesus. Matthew gives us no details about this exorcism and healing but simply says that when the demon was driven out the man who had been mute spoke. Once again crowds everywhere are buzzing with this amazing news. But their amazement ominously sets the stage for the Pharisees’ cynical remark of v. 34 which signals the beginning of hostility which will escalate throughout the rest of this Gospel.

            These chapters give abundant evidence that the kingdom is advancing.
Remember Isaiah 35:5-6 predicts the healing of the blind and deaf mutes in the messianic age.
5 Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.  6 Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. (Isaiah 35:5-6 NIV)

            And when John sent his disciples to ask Jesus “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” by way of assurance that he was the one:

4 Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. (Matthew 11:4-5 NIV)

“Lines are beginning to be drawn. The majority will side with Christ at least superficially. By the end of Matthew’s Gospel, the majority will oppose him.” (Blomberg)

            Jesus said to the scribes, “Go and learn”. We need to give ourselves diligently  to learning the truth as it is revealed in Jesus.
            How do we respond to what we know, and do we keep on learning?