|Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at|
Frequently the Gospel Lessons assigned for Propers contain a multitude of events. It is certainly true with this lesson.
I will look at each of the events in our text, with brief comments about the verses skipped over (14-17):
Matthew 8-9 contains three sets of three miracles:
1. healing a leper
2. healing the centurion's servant
3. healing Peter's mother-in-law & many others
1. calming the storm
2. exorcising demons
3. forgiving and healing the paralytic
1. raising a ruler's daughter from death & healing a woman
2. healing two blind men
3. exorcising a demon from a mute man
Between A. & B., two would-be followers approach Jesus; but they are discouraged by Jesus (8:18-22). This Q saying may have been inserted here by Matthew because Jesus is going over to the other side and not all will be able to follow.
Between B. & C.,
(1) Jesus calls Matthew to follow and he does (9:9) -- in contrast to those who wanted to follow earlier! Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners (9:10), which creates a conflict with the Pharisees (9:11) and Jesus answers them (9:12-13). This section (and the following one) with its conflict may have been inserted to continue the conflict raised by the scribes with the forgiving and healing of the paralytic. Here "forgiveness" is enacted by eating with "sinners".
(2) Jesus is questioned by John's disciples about fasting (9:14) -- an ironic question to pose while Jesus is reclining at dinner. Jesus gives two answers: Now is not the time to fast (9:15). Something new is happening and it can't be sown on an old cloth or poured into old wineskins (9:16-17).
After C there is a summary statement about Jesus' preaching and healing and his compassion for the "sheep without a shepherd" (9:35-36); which leads into the need for more laborers for the plentiful harvest (9:37-38). NOTE: This summary is the first part of our text for next week.
The call of a tax collector, named Levi, is also found in Mark 2:14 and Luke 5:27-28. Melina and Rohrbaugh (Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels) write about tax (toll) collectors:
Unlike the system of powerful, wealthy, tax-collecting associations of the Republican period (509-31 B.C.), under Imperial Rome native entrepreneurs (sometimes cities) contracted with the roman administration to collect local taxes. Such individuals were required to pay the tax allotment in advance and then organize collection in the contracted district in hopes of turning a profit. Evidence indicates that such ventures were risky, open to abuse, and often far from profitable. That some became rich is evident from Luke 19:2, but many clearly did not. The tax collectors familiar in the Synoptic tradition were for the most part employees of the chief tax collector and were often rootless persons unable to find other work. Evidence from the late Imperial period suggests that cheating or extortion on their part would be less likely to benefit them than the chief tax collector for whom they worked.
Taxes in the first century were both direct and indirect. Direct taxes were levied on land, crops, and individuals. Indirect taxes included tolls, duties, and market taxes of various kinds. Toll collectors sitting in customhouses (Matt 9:9) collected levies on goods entering, leaving, or being transported across a district as well as those passing crossover points like bridges, gates, or landings. Tradesmen, craftsmen, and even prostitutes paid taxes on all goods and services. ...
Though often part of the abuse that such a system brought, few tax collectors would have been rich, and many were doubtless quite fair and honest. In assessing the low moral opinion of tax collectors so frequent in ancient texts we must therefore be careful to ask who is making the judgments. Recent scholarship suggests that while late second-century and third-century rabbinic moralists only attacked toll collectors when they were dishonest, tradesmen almost always did. Likewise the rich and educated universally held toll collectors in contempt. Since the very poor, including day laborers, had little or nothing on which such duties could be levied, we would not expect them to be among those who despised tax collectors. [pp. 82-83]
However, Matthew includes tax collectors with "sinners" (9:10, 11; 11:19) and with prostitutes (21:32). They did not keep the best company. They may not have been wealthy, but they certainly were not seen as "righteous" -- perhaps because of their constant contact with the Romans and possibly Roman money.
In all three synoptic accounts, Jesus says, "Follow me," and the tax collector gets up and follows him. In Matthew, this call comes after winds and sea obey Jesus; demons have to obey him; and a paralyzed man walks at Jesus' command (whose sins have been forgiven). When Jesus speaks, his words have great power and authority over forces of nature, over demonic powers, over sin and disease, and now, over a tax collector. Jesus speaks and it happens -- perhaps more easily with "tax collectors and sinners" than with the righteous.
In 8:18-20 Jesus had rejected those who think that they can become disciples on their own initiative. Here Jesus calls the rejected.
What about people who are not believers? Does this text suggest that Jesus has not called them to follow? That Jesus' words are not all that powerful -- at least with many human beings?
My answer is that we can only respond about ourselves who are believers. We are believers because of Jesus. Jesus called (perhaps before we were born) and his word accomplished his purpose. As such, we might understand this process more as a doxology -- words of praise over what God has done for us; than theology -- words trying to understand God. We praise Jesus for having called us to follow, to bring us into our saving relationship with God. What about those who don't believe? My answer: "I don't know, but I give thanks and praise for what God has done and is doing in my life."
Who were the "sinners"? As in 21:32 quoted above, they could have been prostitutes. It has been suggested that they might have been bankers, who, contrary to Ex 22:25, charged interest on their loans to the poor.
This adjective hamartolos occurs in only in our text (9:10, 11, 13) and in 11:19 where Jesus is accused of being a friend of tax collectors and sinners.
The related noun hamartia is used in the story of the paralytic whose sins are forgiven by Jesus (9:2, 5, 6). It is used in 12:31 where Jesus declares that every sin will be forgiven, except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. It is used in 26:28 as part of the distribution at the Last Supper: "for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." (The boldface, italicized words are found only in Matthew.) The other two instances in Mt are 1:21 where Joseph is told to name the child Jesus, "for he will save his people from their sins" and 3:6 where those baptized by John are confessing their sins.
The related verb hamartano occurs three times in Mt. In 18:15 & 21, it refers to a member of the church ("brother") sinning against another member and the need to forgive often. In the other occurrence (27:4) Judas (one of the group) confesses, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood."
I present this extended study of the word group hamart- to indicate Matthew's emphasis on (1) sin within the community; and (2) the strong emphasis on the forgiveness of sin by Jesus and by the community.
Eating together was a powerful symbol. After the "Gentile Pentecost" at the house of Cornelius, when Peter returns to Jerusalem, he is criticized by some Jews: "Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?" (Acts 11:3). He isn't criticized for baptizing them, but for eating with them. This issue is also addressed by Paul in Galatians 2:12. When parents discipline their children by sending them to bed without supper, I wonder if the hunger caused by missing one meal is as harsh as being excluded from the family table fellowship.
A sermon theme I've used from this verse is the fact that the disciples also had to eat with society's undesirables if they were going to eat with Jesus. "Would you have come to the party?" I ask. I'm afraid that there are people in our congregations who wouldn't come if "those" people are going to be there.
Besides eating with the riff-raff with Jesus, the disciples are asked to defend Jesus' (and their) behavior. Here is a perfect example of triangling in system theory. The Pharisees, who have a complaint against Jesus, don't approach him. Rather they tell someone else (the disciples), who, presumably will tell Jesus. Jesus will respond to the disciples who bring the message back to the Pharisees, etc. Would triangles like this happen in any of our congregations <g>. Jesus destroys the triangle by answering the Pharisees directly.
The fact that the disciples are questioned about Jesus (and their behavior) may indicate that Matthew's church was being (or should be) asked similar questions about their table-fellowship. Note also the corporate aspect of 9:8, where the crowds glorify God who had given such authority to human beings (plural!). Presumably it is the authority to forgive sins (9:6) that has been given to the church, which is acted out in the inclusive table-fellowship of the community.
Jesus did not come to be a judge, but a physician. I imagine that it could be very easy for physicians to be very judgmental. I've stated that my doctor and I agree: I should be exercising more.
There are all kinds of things we can do to make ourselves healthier and prevent diseases. Good physicians will tell their patients: stop smoking, lose weight, eat healthier foods, practice safer sex, etc. Physicians give all kinds of wonderful rules so that our lives might be better. However, when somebody has lung cancer or emphysema, high blood pressure or cholesterol, or STDs; their primary job is to try and save the patient from the destruction of the disease. They may shake their heads and think "How stupid," but their calling with the sick is not to judge, but to heal/save.
Nowhere in our text does Jesus ask the tax collectors or sinners to repent of their sins! Neither did he ask that of the paralytic in the preceding text before he forgave and healed him. He simply saw "their faith." There is no indication that the other tax collectors gave up their profession or that they followed Jesus. Did Jesus continue to eat with this or similar groups? He is accused of being "a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners" (11:19b). This leads me to wonder what kind of parties did they have!
The quote in v. 13 (repeated in Mt 12:7) is from Hosea 6:6 LXX. The Hebrew uses chesed where LXX has "mercy". Chesed means "loving kindness," "steadfast love," "showing kindness". I wonder what might happen if our stewardship campaigns stressed the "donation" of love or mercy rather than monetary sacrifices? (Actions of mercy for another may involve the giving of money.)
The term for "call" (kaleo) also carries the sense of "invite". It is used in both senses in 22:3, 4, 8 & 9. That parable suggests that the "righteous" are invited, but they are too occupied with their own concerns to bother answering the invitation to the wedding banquet. NOTE: in this parable it is presumed that the king had invited those who were invited, but it is the task of the slaves to call the invitees to the banquet (who refuse to come) and then invite everyone they find -- both good and bad -- to the banquet -- another table-fellowship image.
Who are the sinners (or shunned people) that Jesus has invited to the banquet? What is our role in calling them to respond to that invitation?
The next two sections are omitted in the reading. Scribes had questioned Jesus in 9:3. Pharisees in 9:11, and now disciples of John the Baptist (9:14). Robert Smith (Matthew) comments: "The Pharisees ask why Jesus feasts with sinners; John's disciples ask why Jesus feasts at all" [p. 140].
Answer 1: fasting is connected with mourning and it is not the time to mourn. Jesus is present. The Messiah has come, not as a vengeful judge, but as a bridegroom coming to marriage feast. Is it time to fast and mourn now? Are we living in a time when the bridegroom has been taken away? I would suggest not, based on Matthew's final word from Jesus, "I am with you always." The bridegroom was taken away on the cross, but returned with the resurrection.
I've often wondered what our regular Sunday worship services would be like if we spent as much time (and money?) preparing for them as we do for weddings.
Answers 2 & 3: cloth image & wine image -- Clearly in these images there is a contrast between something old and something new -- and they are incompatible with each other. What is the "new"? Patte (The Gospel According to Matthew) answers: "In view of the preceding verses, it is Jesus' ministry as manifestations of God's mercy. (cf. 9:13, a summary of all of Jesus' interrelations with sick and sinners). This radical newness does not fit with the old. Indeed, it has a power such that it tears apart of breaks the old" [p. 131].
A truth Luther discovered, and continues in our congregations today is that it is often easier to start something brand new than to try and reform the old. Can a group who considers their faith to one of judging others who are not as "righteous" as they be transformed into a community who are committed to showing mercy to all people?
Can a group of church members who have been meeting together for 40 years be open to new members? Usually a new group has to be formed that will include all the new people, where they can establish relationships with each other, rather than trying to "catch up" on the many years that the oldsters have known each other.
This is a much abbreviated telling of the miracle than in Mark 5:21-43. The father here is called simply "a ruler" or "leader". (NRSV adds "of the synagogue".) The daughter has already died. His request is not for healing, but for a resurrection. The fact that she has already died creates a different significance of the interruption of the bleeding woman than in Mark.
One suggestion is the contrast of approaching Jesus, the male leader comes openly to Jesus. The bleeding and thus unclean woman sneaks up from behind. Since an unclean (male) leper had approached Jesus openly in 8:2, the difference may be the male/female contrast.
The male/female contrast may also be indicated by the word tharsei -- "take heart". Matthew uses this word three times. Once it comes from Mk's account (Mt 14:27 // Mk 6:50); but the other instances, Mt adds it to Mk's accounts:
9:2 -- "Take heart, son, your sins are forgiven you."
9:22 - "Take heart, daughter, your faith has saved/healed you."
Does this word and the nearly parallel sentence structure indicate an intentional connection between these two miracles?
Another possibility is with the term "daughter". As the leader felt about the death of his daughter (9:18); so Jesus feels about the sick women, whom he calls "daughter" (9:22). He does not see her as a socially unclean outcast (which is how the law defined her), but a "daughter" who needs healing.
In both healing stories, extraordinary power is manifested by Jesus -- raising the dead and a healing by touching only the hem of his cloak. Although, in Matthew, the healing of the woman takes place after Jesus declares, "Your faith has made you well."
There is also the contrast of "faith". It is clear that the bleeding woman has it and it is connected to her healing; but what about the dead girl? Perhaps her resurrection comes about because of the faith of others, like the forgiving/healing of the paralytic (9:2)? While the girl's father may have faith in approaching Jesus, the people around the dead girl model unbelief when they laugh at Jesus for suggesting the girl might only be sleeping.
The pist- ("faith") word group first appears in Mt in ch. 8-9.
The centurion has such a faith as not found in Israel and his servant is healed (8:10, 13)
The friends of the paralytic have faith that can be seen by Jesus and he is forgiven/healed (9:2)
The bleeding woman's faith heals/saves her (9:22)
Two blind men believe Jesus can heal them and are healed (9:28, 29)
The next reference to "faith" is 15:28.
Can the faith of one person affect God's treatment of another person? That seems to be the case in the first two "faith" stories listed above. How important is the faith of the church community for each other and for those not in that community? Do we believe for the infant who is baptized? Do we believe for young children when they are communed? Do we believe for the comatose member in the hospital?
However, in contrast to these examples of faith, repeatedly the disciples are described as having little faith (8:26; 14:31; 16:9; 17:20). Perhaps if we want to see examples of great faith, we had better look beyond of present day disciples to the "unclean" or outcast or homeless or welfare people of our day. Perhaps like the thinking of the scribes (9:3), Pharisees (9:11), and disciples of John (9:14); the "faith" of many modern day disciples may cause them to question and criticize rather than to believe and participate in the new merciful thing that Jesus is doing with sinners and outcasts.
Matthew connects this event to Jesus' feast with tax collectors and sinners and the following discussion by the genitive absolute in v. 18: "While he was speaking these things to them." What might be some connections?
One, it is not the time to mourn (9:15) so Jesus sends away the professional funeral mourners (9:24) with a statement that seems absurd and causes them to laugh. The "new" (9:16-17) thing that Jesus is doing causes questions (9:3, 11, 14) or (ridiculing) laughter (9:24) by those stuck in the old way of thinking. It is neither the time to mourn, nor to laugh. (Although the word implies "make fun of" or "ridicule" rather than laughing for joy or laughing because something is funny.)
Two, the "uncleanness" of the sinners, the corpse, and the bleeding woman and Jesus' willingness to defile himself by "touching" those who are unclean.
I've struggle with ways of presenting "uncleanness" to people today. In a sermon I defined it as "things that cause us to say 'ugh'." I also warn you ahead of time about the pun last paragraph.
Sometimes when we see something disgusting we say, "Ugh!" Parents may add, "Don't touch it!" You're walking in the woods or hiking on a mountain and see some droppings on the ground, you go, "Ugh!" and try not to step in it. Unless you're a biologist who has to study such animal by-products, you aren't about to touch such things. There are some icky things in the world that we try to avoid.
For reasons we don't fully understand, the ancient Hebrews felt the same about a few things. Certain animals, foods, diseases, body fluids, and dead things made the people say, "Ugh! Don't touch them!" Such things were "unclean" or "impure". If you touched them you became unclean. If you had one of the diseases, you became unclean. Anything or anyone that you touched became unclean. Being unclean was the opposite of being holy. Being unclean meant that you couldn't come to the holy temple to worship the holy God. Anything unclean was unfit or unworthy to be in the presence of the holy God. If you were unclean, you had to go through a rite of purification or cleansing in order to be welcome back into society and into the presence of God.
The use of the word "unclean" can be misleading. It doesn't mean "dirty" like a two-year-old playing in the mud. Being unclean refers to the relationship between people or things and God. In some ways it may be like someone telling another, "Don't touch me!" There is something about the relationship that is estranged. Unclean things and people were estranged from God and each other. They weren't supposed to touch each other.
In some ways their view of unclean things is like our saying, "One bad apple spoils the whole bunch." Contact with one of these unclean things made you an unclean person. There is some truth to this. If you hang around someone with a contagious disease, you are likely to end up with the same sickness. If you hang around with the wrong group of people, their bad influence may "spoil" you. There are some good reasons to stay away from certain people and things.
Jesus mixes everything up. Jesus doesn't become unclean by contact with the unclean people. They don't bring him down to their level. Jesus' holiness transforms their uncleanness. The flow of blood is stopped. The woman is healed. The corpse comes back to life. The young girl gets out of bed. God participates in a feast with tax collectors and sinners. With people in situations that others said, "Ugh" to, Jesus has no ughs!! He has a hug -- or at least a healing touch. Jesus' holiness transforms the people's uncleanness. Jesus raises them up to his level. Jesus makes them worthy to be in the presence of God. Jesus, as the one good, holy apple, can make all the bad apples become good.
Sometimes our lives may seem full of ughs. We may think that we are terrible, rotten, ugh-ly people. Jesus doesn't think so. To him, there are no ughs. Whomever he touches becomes clean and holy and beautiful.
Faith Lutheran Church, 1000 D St., Marysville, CA 95901