At the beginning of today’s reading, when a paralyzed man is placed before Him, Jesus again makes an apparently unnecessary comment during an otherwise ordinary healing. Instead of telling the man to “Rise and walk,” Jesus assures the paralytic, “…Your sins are forgiven.” “Blasphemy,” the Scribes mutter under their breath. This sets up a tension that will drive the rest of the chapter, but there was no immediate need for Jesus to provoke them. Why did He? The answer might be embedded in His response.
Matthew 9 seems to be designed to heighten the distinction between regular citizens and the religious leaders. Just listen to how ordinary people approach Jesus: “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” … “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.”… “Have mercy on us, Son of David.”…and “Never was anything like this seen in Israel.”
Now compare that with the dialogue Matthew records from the Scribes and Pharisees: “This man is blaspheming.”… “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” and “He casts out demons by the prince of demons.” There is a clear fracture between Jesus and the religious leaders, but there seems to be an even greater one between these leaders and the common people. Listen as Matthew observes Jesus’ compassion on them: because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Jesus’ prayer at the end of chapter 9 marks a transition from public to private space. After praying for “the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest,” notice as twelve are called to Him as disciples and a few words later are sent out as apostles. This is no slip of the pen, but a commissioning: those who sat at Jesus feet were being sent out to the lost sheep of Israel. And they were not emptyhanded: to these twelve Jesus gave authority over unclean spirits…and to heal every disease and every affliction.
They were also sent with Jesus’ foundational message: “…the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand…” and with a solemn warning about how the world would receive them. “I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves”… “you will be flogged before governors and kings for my sake… For I have not come to bring peace, but a sword…”
Our verse for this week is Psalm 19:4: Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.
Matthew 9 and 10. Now let’s read it!
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.