Friday, January 29, 2010

Matthew 9:9–13

Matthew 9:9–13 (ESV) : Jesus Calls Matthew


In this passage Jesus meets a man named Matthew—the author of this book—who is a tax collector. According to this passage, Jesus simply says two words to Matthew: “Follow me.” Apparently they’re enough, though, because Matthew does leave his tax booth, and follow Jesus (verse 9 (ESV) ).

We then find Jesus, Matthew, and various other “tax collectors and sinners” (verse 10 (ESV) ) having a meal. This shocks the Pharisees, who ask Jesus’ disciples why he would be eating with such people. Jesus overhears the question, and tells them that people who are well don’t need a physician—people who are sick do. An obvious metaphor for righteousness; someone who’s righteous (if that were possible) wouldn’t need to be saved, but someone who’s not righteous needs saving. (Perhaps more importantly, in this context, people won’t go to a physician to ask to be healed unless they realize they’re sick.)

He ends the passage by telling them:

“Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (verse 13 (ESV) )

The quote is a reference to Hosea 6:6 (ESV) .


It’s important that Matthew was a tax collector because the Jews didn’t like tax collectors; you’ll often see tax collectors lumped together with sinners in the Gospels. (e.g. verse 10 (ESV) in this passage.) Jewish tax collectors were viewed as traitors by other Jews, because by definition they would have to be cooperating with the Romans, who were occupying the country and ruling the Jews. There was also the fact that there was a perception—perhaps justified—that tax collectors were crooked, and that they would take more money than was required and pocket the difference.

In the text of this passage, Jesus simply says the two words “follow me” to Matthew, and Matthew follows him. Does that mean that this is all Jesus said? It might not be; I don’t think we have to give up the inerrancy of the Bible if we wonder whether there was more to the conversation than these two words. At the very least, Matthew probably already knew who Jesus was, even if only by reputation. There might have been more words said than this; the point is that Jesus told Matthew to follow him, and Matthew did; this is a summary of the conversation, and not necessarily a word-for-word transcription. (Based on the way it’s phrased here, though, I am guessing it was a shorter conversation than one might expect, for a man to give up his livelihood and follow Jesus as a disciple.) If we assume that this is a summary, and not a word-for-word transcription, it doesn’t mean that the Bible isn’t true; it just means that it’s summarizing.

The point, though, is that the person Jesus chose to call, in this instance was a tax collector. He is not who people would have assumed Jesus would call to be an apostle. People probably would have assumed that he’d call Pharisees to be his disciples, but he didn’t; they didn’t even realize that they needed a physician.

Jesus tells the Pharisees that only people who are sick need a physician; people who are well have no need of a physician. This is a metaphor, and a perfect example of one that we don’t want to take too far—because if we do, it would seem that there are people who need saving, and people who are righteous enough that they don’t need saving. But that’s obviously not true; there has never been anyone (other than Jesus) who was righteous enough that they didn’t need saving from their sins. (Including the Pharisees.) The Pharisees just thought that they were righteous.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Matthew 9:1–8

Matthew 9:1–8 (ESV) : Jesus forgives a man’s sins, and then heals him


In the last passage, Jesus healed two men who had demons. In this passage, he returns to his own city and is brought a man on a mat, who is paralyzed. He sees their faith, and tells the man that his sins are forgiven.

Of course, this offends some of the scribes, who are there at the time. They think that he’s blaspheming; it’s not explicitly said in this passage, but in the parallel passages in Mark 2:1–12 (ESV) and Luke 5:17–26 (ESV) , they say it a bit more clearly: “Who can forgive sins, but God alone?”

Jesus knows that they’re thinking this, however, and he tells them that what they’re thinking in their hearts is evil.

But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. (verses 4–8 (ESV) )


Whenever I read this passage, my first thought is always about the paralytic on the mat: what did he think of Jesus telling him his sins were forgiven? I’m sure it’s not what he was expecting, he was probably expecting to be healed of his paralysis. It’s easy for me to look at this from a distance, and say of course it’s better to be forgiven from your sins and live as a paralytic than to be healed of your paralysis and still be condemned as a sinner; I’m guessing that he was probably still faithful to Jesus in his heart, because Jesus had no condemning words for the man. (Of course, in this case the man got the best of both worlds, and was healed and forgiven, so it’s a moot point.) Of course, I’m assuming the reason Jesus didn’t heal the man in the first place was so that he could have the conversation with the scribes. If he had simply healed the man right away it would have been a miracle, but it wouldn’t have sparked the conversation that followed.

When it comes to the scribes, why was it “evil” for them to question Jesus for forgiving the man’s sins? They are, in a sense, right: It would be blasphemy for anyone other than God to claim to be forgiving someone’s sins. If Jesus wasn’t God, then it would be blasphemy for him to say what he said to the man. So the “evil,” in this case, was not recognizing that Jesus was God. Jesus’ point seems to be that the miracles he’s performing should convince the scribes that he is who he says he is.

A final note: Although sin and sickness are not necessarily directly related—meaning your sickness might not be a judgement for a sin you’ve committed (see, for example, John 9 (ESV) )—they can be. The authors of the ESV Study Bible think that in this case, the man’s sickness might indeed be a direct result of his own sin, and that this may be the reason that Jesus tells him his sins are forgiven, instead of just healing him.