Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Mt 9:1-17 for Jan 12

"It's in Matthew somewhere. Can't remember exactly." As Johnson said, the next best thing to knowing something is knowing where to find it. This passage is in that territory where we're always "remembering" that Jesus said this somewhere. Where did Jesus say flat-out to somebody, "your sins are forgiven?" Where does it show Jesus associating with non-religious people? HERE!

This first story should be a FAMOUS story too, and it would be more, if it didn't not upset our predispositions. We have the same predisposition about forgiveness as these scribes (9:3), or tend to: compare Mark 2:7, which elaborates their (and often, our) thinking: "who can forgive sins but God alone?"

The way we dovetail with that is a) our individualism about faith and forgiveness: we tend to think, for somebody to be forgiven, it requires their own faith (or faith plus yadayadayada) in all cases. But look at 9:2! Does it say "seeing their faith, Jesus said to them ...?" No, the punch of the story is who the forgiveness lands upon: "seeing their faith, He said to the paralytic...." Their faith ... and the paralytic's forgiveness! And healing, to seal the point for the skeptics ... "so that you may know" (9:6).

Another way we dovetail with these scribes is b) our indefinite postponements, our intractable bent to always say "maybe" to the question "are my sins forgiven?" or some variant of that, like "so far," or "no one knows, not even you or me, whether I'm real or a fake...."

In that sense, the crowd's reaction to the incident in 9:8 is more theologically astute than the scribes' one, and often ours. Their reaction was to think of it as blasphemy. What is the logic behind that? If we go by their assumption, it is that if only God alone can forgive sins, then Jesus "must be" claiming to be in xyz direct relationship to God, and that's impossible, because Jesus is a man, therefore blaspheming God. That's their logic.

Did the crowd then, fall into that category? No! They believed that Jesus proved His authority to forgive sins, and, accepted that God had given Him that authority. They accepted at face value the statement Jesus makes about Himself in 9:6, "the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins."

So this story is a great example of how we can learn from examining our presuppositions critically. Was the crowd right, then, "glorifying God, who had given such authority to men" (9:8). Yes! They did not "veto" the facts by a prior system, an "a priori."

Often this story is given as an example of Jesus claiming to be God. In this story, that is not the case. That's what these scribes thought they had here, and many commentators. Did the crowd have it worked out exactly who Jesus was, His divinity, etc? No. But they did not use a system to deny that Jesus had the "authority on earth to forgive sins."

Don't also the next two sections (9-13, 14-17) also show this new versus old thinking theme? The "point" of all this is not all something so trite as "think new thoughts." It is not merely that we should not try to fit what Christ is doing and who He is to our prior thoughts. That is true, but the perspective is different....

The perspective is that of Christ Himself. He is the bridegroom in the presence of Whom it is impossible to mourn (9:15). He is the doctor for the sick. Sick people are too sick to do all this "new thoughts" thinking, but at that time, the doctor was present, right there, and He cures the paralytic! The bridegroom is as of then on the planet! And He among the "sons of the wedding place" (9:15, lit.), forgiving sins directly. Not only curing the sick, but dining with them. They are with the bridegroom, and cannot be mourning. Thus there is this matter of wine. He is the new wine. And the new patch of cloth. And he is not using old wineskins or an old garment. Your sickness will not deter Him. And faith in Him matters.

The difference in the perspectives is evident in many sermons. Many sermons are of the self-contradictory form: "only God can forgive sins; you need to do 1, 2, 3, for that to happen." Other sermons are of the form "God has done 1, 2, 3 for your forgiveness. He did that for your forgiveness to happen. Are you confident in what He has done?"

Why are "sinners" (9:11), not "the righteous" (9:13), characteristically "dining with Jesus" (9:10) in the gospels? We've talked about presuppositions, but there is another hint in 9:14 at a second reason. To see that, we can ask ourselves the following question: when "some of the scribes" (9:3) said that Jesus blasphemes, is it that they had a theory that ANY forgiveness claimed, any time, for any reason, is blasphemy? No. There was a system or set of systems for it. Sometimes it involved, among other things, the fasting that the disciples of John ask about in 9:14.

The direct forgiveness shown by Jesus is not only from a different presupposition than then current; it is a manifestly contrasting system to that which was then current. If we're not with the doctor, we'll try different things, some of which, like fasting, are not wrong in themselves. But when it turns out that the systems were not "who but God alone," but "who but God alone, in the old way," the new wine could not be held by such a system.

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