Reading for Thursday, June 21: Matthew 9
The healing stories recorded in ch9 point to a deeper restoration. The paralytic, prior to his physical healing, is told “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven,” (v2). The woman with the bleeding condition hears these words: “Take heart, daughter, your faith has healed you,” (v22). Jesus tells the crowd that the little girl has not been claimed by death; rather, she is only asleep (v24). Even the blind men are told, “According to your faith will it be done to you,” (v29). Matthew seems to be going out of his way to illustrate faith as the antidote to our greatest ailment: sin.
This fits with Matthew’s placement of his own conversion story in this chapter. Sitting at his tax collector’s booth, Matthew receives the word of the Lord: “Follow me,” (v9). Nothing is ever the same for Matthew. But he notes that his acceptance of the Lord’s call cost Jesus some street cred, at least in the eyes of the Pharisees. “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” Spoken by the religious “elite”, these words were intended to minimize Jesus and His followers as less than legitimate in the eyes of Jerusalem’s “upper crust”. But what’s intended as derision couldn’t be closer to the truth. Jesus clears His throat and comes to the defense of his ragamuffin crew of disciples: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” This is a matter of interpretation, but I understand Jesus here as delivering a pointed indictment of the Pharisees and their supposed “righteousness”. “You’re so righteous that you don’t even understand your need for a doctor,” he says. “But I come to those who desire mercy, those who are aware of their sin, those who possess the humility of spirit to recognize their need.” Jesus is addressing the faith of Matthew, who stood and left his tax collecting life behind for the sake of the Gospel call. Could the same thing be said of these Pharisees? Would they forsake their lofty position as “respected” men in Judaism’s power structure to bind themselves to a homeless itinerant preacher from Galilee? Matthew drives the point home with even greater force: Will you and I abandon everything — our self-made projections of status and position and claiming to “have it all together” — for the sake of the one who bids us with the same call to follow Him? Will we leave behind our security? Our sanity? Our safety? Will we be willing to risk it all in order to taste the freedom that Christ intends?
This is why Matthew writes.
Because this is why Jesus came.
He came to issue the most challenging words ever spoken: “Follow me.”