Summary of the text:
The highlighted texts from Matthew 9 include Jesus’ call of Matthew, the tax collector, as well as two accounts of healings (the woman with the discharge of blood and the ruler’s daughter). At first glance these stories may seem unrelated, but the overarching theme of power of Jesus’ life to change people connects them together. Jesus interacts with, eats with, and touches those who are regarded as unclean, untouchable, cast away. His life and love cure the sickness, both spiritual and physical, of those who are in need of healing.
Theme: Jesus turning the world upside down (9-13): Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys? We humans often like to categorize people and put them in neat and tidy groupings. Often those in the “bad” category are those who are not like us, who do not share our morals, our social standing, our beliefs, etc. This tendency was as alive and well during Jesus’ time as it is during ours. Matthew 9:9 hints that something unsettling, something against the status quo is about to happen when Jesus calls, of all people, Matthew, a tax collector. Tax collectors, it seems, were not at the top of anyone’s list of possible friends (except perhaps among other tax collectors). They worked for the Roman government and were therefore scorned by their fellow countrymen. They were known for collecting excess taxes in order to line their own pockets. Religious teachers, especially, would have thought it was their job to keep themselves safe from the likes of tax collectors (and other “sinners.”)
In some ways, it is no surprise then that people are confused (even outraged) by the fact that Rabbi Jesus does just the opposite. He associates with these “sinners” and even eats with them! What is going on? The answer lies in the task for which Jesus has been sent. He doesn’t see himself as a religious teacher who must quarantine himself, keeping himself pure from the sickness and sin around him. Rather, he knows himself to be the doctor, sent to help and heal the sick. As N. T. Wright says, “There’s no point in a doctor staying in quarantine. He’ll never do his job” (N. T. Wright for Everyone, Matthew Part 1, page 101). The doctor puts aside questions of categories and seeks to heal those who are ill.
But, should Jesus’ way of interacting with those around him surprise them (or us)? The words of the Lord spoken through the prophet Isaiah remind us: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). We are quick to trust our own wisdom and judgment and so need to be reminded that God’s wisdom is far above our own. Reflecting on this truth is cause for us to humbly submit ourselves to following God’s way rather than insisting on our own. The life of a disciple, one who follows the Lord Jesus, is marked by humble submission to God’s wisdom that is very often at odds with the desires of our own hearts.
Theme: The flow of holiness: Purity laws were very important to the Jewish people. Much of the law provided regulations about uncleanness and impurity. One could become ritually impure by touching something that was unclean. To be unclean had not only physical consequences but religious consequences. So at all costs, it was important to avoid that which is unclean. One is reminded of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10) which tells of both a Levite and priest passing by a man who had been attacked by robbers. Both the Levite and the priest were at risk of becoming ceremonially defiled and thus unable to perform their duties. The consequences were too great a risk. Jesus lifts up the example of the Samaritan who comes to the aid of the wounded man, intent to give aid and promote life.
Jesus models the way of the Samaritan in his acts of love and healing. He does not avoid the touch of the crowds. He does not hesitate to lay his hands on the sick, the dying, or the (presumably) dead. Jesus touches them, and something marvelous and unexpected happens. Rather than being made unclean by contact with sickness and death, those who are touched by Jesus become well. His life and purity flows out to them and make them clean, whole, and full of life.
On full display are the grace and compassion of Jesus. By his words and actions Jesus reveals the Father to the people who have ears to listen and eyes to see. Moses heard Yahweh proclaim his name on the top of Mount Sinai: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6). Jesus makes this God known. Again, we find that our assumptions need to be scrutinized and corrected by Jesus. We need the Savior’s touch on our lives, and we need to be healed by the flow of his life and holiness into us as we abide in him.
Rachel Clark is a pastor in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia at New Monmouth Presbyterian Church. Rachel has a B.A. from Wheaton College and an M. Div from Princeton Theological Seminary.
She and her husband, Casey (with whom she co-pastors), have five children who keep them busy running around but also provide lots of laughter. In her free time, Rachel enjoys reading, hiking, baking, walking with friends, and playing board games.
Among her many accomplishments, Rachel played a pivotal role as a member of the 2006-2007 PTS intramural football championship team (The Golden Calves) alongside TPW founder Stu Strachan.
Key Sermon Illustration
After surviving the brutality of a Nazi concentration camp and losing many who were dear to her, Corrie ten Boom went on to speak of her experiences and the love of Jesus that sustained her throughout. She reflects on coming face to face after one of her speeches with an SS guard who she remembers from her horribly oppressive experience.
It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, a former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there – the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face.
He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein.” He said. “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!” His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.
Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him. I tried to smile, I struggles to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I prayed, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.
As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me. And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.
– Corrie Ten Boom in The Hiding Place
“Remember the Signs” from The Silver Chair
In CS Lewis’ The Silver Chair, Jill meets the lion, Aslan, high atop a mountain before her quest begins to save a prince. Aslan shares four important signs for her to remember along the way. These four signs are the keys to accomplish the purpose for which Aslan has brought her into Narnia. Without following his words, she’ll be lost, so Aslan has a stern warning for her:
But, first, remember, remember, remember the signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs. And secondly, I give you a warning. Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly: I will not often do so down in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearances. Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters.
In the book there are times when Jill and her companions think they know the way, and in their self-confidence they make their own path rather than pay attention to the signs. It is not even that they are trying to disobey Aslan, rather what they do is often an attempt to complete the mission of saving the prince. But whenever they try to race ahead and go it alone, they fall from the path.
We too may think we know better and will forget the words of Jesus and the call he’s given us in his Word. Even when we try to do what is right, if doing so means we forget his words, is that the way forward? We may want to know more than what God has told us, to see more clearly, or to get the bigger picture. But we must seek to be content with knowing that what he’s told us is enough. The way forward from there is to simply and humbly trust and obey.