Healing and Forgiving a Paralytic, 1-8
9:1 After getting into a boat he crossed to the other side and came to his own town.
His own town = Capernaum.
9:2 Just then some people brought to him a paralytic lying on a stretcher. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Have courage, son! Your sins are forgiven.”
“Your sins are forgiven” – Jesus does not say that the man’s sin caused his disease. But he links his authority over the one to indicate his authority over the other.
‘Physical healing is not the most important gift God can give. Among the first words Jesus said to the paralyzed man were “I have forgiven your sins.” Then he healed the man. We must be careful not to concentrate on God’s power to heal physical sickness more than on his power to forgive spiritual sickness in the form of sin. Jesus saw that even more than physical health, this man needed spiritual health. Spiritual health comes only from Jesus’ healing touch.’ (HBA)
This could be understood as ‘God forgives you’ (a prophetic statement similar to Nathan’s in 2 Sam 12:13). The passive expression was characteristically Jewish way of making a pronouncement while avoiding saying the divine name. It would have been understood as, ‘God forgives you.’ The tense signifies, ‘God forgives you at this moment.’ (Lane) However, the statement could also be understood as ‘I forgive you’, which is clearly an assumption of the divine prerogative. The scribes obviously chose to understand it in this sense, since they were already looking for reasons to condemn Jesus.
Jesus’ response seems unexpected and incongruous. However, the OT frequently links healing with forgiveness, so that healing is often an outward sign that forgiveness has taken place, 2 Chron 7:14; Ps 103:3; 147:3; Isa 19:22; 38:17; 57:18-19. Indeed the terms ‘forgiveness’ and ‘healing’ are sometimes used interchangeably, Ps 41:4; Jer 3:22; Ho 14:4. ‘Jesus’ healing miracles are sacraments of forgiveness’ (Cranfield).
‘It’s a shocking statement. Those who were there at the time were shocked because only God can forgive sins, so they regarded it as blasphemy. Jesus, however, proves his authority to forgive by then healing the man. The miracle demonstrates his unique identity. But we also find Jesus’ words shocking because we think we know what this man needs. There he is, lying in front of Jesus, unable to walk. Surely he needs to be healed. But he has a much bigger need. We all do. We need to be forgiven. Our sin separates us from God and incurs his judgment. A lifetime of paralysis is a terrible plight. But far worse is an eternity in hell.’ (Chester, Tim. Do Miracles Happen Today? Page 41)
The forgiveness of sins takes priority over the healing of the body. Such forgiveness is a deeper need on our part, and a surer sign on Christ’s part, than the healing of the body. Indeed, we must always feel uneasy about supposed miracles which are not rooted in this deeper moral soil. They are, are John is apt to tell us, ‘signs’ pointing to the person of Christ and his spiritual mission, and not merely ends in themselves.
The Jews tended to make a very direct connection between sin and affliction: the greater the affliction, the more serious the sin must have been which caused it, Job 4:7; 22:5-10; Lk 13:4. Jesus himself combatted this error on a number of occasions, Jn 9:1-2. Still that there is a general connection between sin and suffering is not to be doubted: if there had been no sin, there would have been no disease. Jesus’ reaction here may well have been with a view to bringing to the surface this relationship, asserting that the forgiveness of sins has priority over physical healing, and perhaps addressing a particular need in this man.
William Lane comments: ‘Healing is a gracious movement of God into the sphere of withering and decay which are the tokens of death at work in a man’s life. It was not God’s intention that man should live with the pressure of death upon him. Sickness, disease and death are the consequence of the sinful condition of all men. Consequently every healing is a driving back of death and an invasion of the province of sin. That it why it is appropriate for Jesus to proclaim the remission of sins. It is unnecessary to think of a corresponding sin for each instance of sickness; there is no suggestion in the narrative that the paralytic’s physical suffering was related to a specific sin or was due to hysteria induced by guilt. Jesus’ pronouncement of pardon is the recognition that man can genuinely whole only when the breach occasioned by sin has been healed through God’s forgiveness of sins.’
‘All the miracles of healing are in a sense parables of the soul’s deliverance from sin, and therefore the prominent place they occupy in the Gospel story is amply justified.’ (Bruce, The New Testament Documents)
Note that Jesus does not merely proclaim forgiveness, as Nathan had done to David, 2 Sam 12:13; he actually provides it.
Wright, assuming that this was ‘probably Jesus’ own house’ suggests that the words of forgiveness were first of all for the man having been the cause of damage to the roof. Then, Wright speculates, there was something in Jesus’ voice that made those around him realise that some deeper kind of forgiveness was also meant. It was this that made the onlookers uneasy. This interpretation seems to introduce an unnecessary complication, and not warranted by the text itself.
Question: if Jesus could pronounce forgiveness of sins before crucifixion, then why was it necessary for him to be crucified?
9:3 Then some of the experts in the law said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming!” 9:4 When Jesus saw their reaction he said, “Why do you respond with evil in your hearts? 9:5 Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? 9:6 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—then he said to the paralytic—“Stand up, take your stretcher, and go home.” 9:7 And he stood up and went home.
Experts in the law – A closed order of legal specialists who had been set apart by the laying on of hands. Jesus came into conflict with them because of his refusal to observe the oral law, which they regarded as binding.
This marks the beginning of human opposition to Christ in this Gospel. The opposition grows in intensity: it begins with the Teachers of the Law thinking to themselves; next they complain to the disciples, Mk 2:16; and then to Jesus himself about the disciples, Mk 2:24; but before long they are accusing him of being in league with the devil, Mk 3:22. But all of the these are but the festering of the murderous hatred which was there at the beginning.
Jesus brings an unavoidable conflict with him. This conflict is between love of God and love of self, between divine law and human tradition, between freedom and bondage, between outward act and inner attitude, is inevitable. When we call a truce in such a battle it is a sure sign that we in danger of sacrificing the whole Christian enterprise.
“Which is easier…?” – The point is that both are impossible for man, but easy for God. The scribes could do neither, but Jesus could do both. And both signify the presence of God’s kingdom, Isa 53:5-6; Jer 31:34; Eze 36:25-27; Mic 7:18; Zec 13:1.
‘Some Jewish teachers accepted miracles as verification that a teacher was truly God’s representative; others did not regard miracles as sufficient proof if they disagreed with the teacher’s interpretation of Scripture.
Jewish teachers knew that only God could ultimately forgive (on the Day of Atonement in response to sacrifice); but they also recognized that healing ultimately came from God. Both were from God but could be announced through God’s agents acting according to his will. Josephus shows us that many false prophets in Jesus’ day claimed to work miracles but actually failed to work them; some of Jesus’ critics may have placed him in this category. His act in front of these witnesses, however, should have challenged them to rethink their case.’ (IVP Bible Background Commentary)
“But so that you may know” – Presumably spoken to the teachers of the law, although some (e.g. Cranfield and Lane) think that this is an editorial commentary. This would seem to define the main purpose of the miracle in this instance. One purpose of Jesus’ miracles was to attest to his deity. One reason he healed men’s bodies was that they might know that he also has power to heal their spirits.
“The Son of Man” – A favourite self-designation of Jesus. However, in most instances it ‘provides the key to Jesus’ self-disclosure to his disciples’ – it seems unlikely that he would have used it himself before his critics. It may be a Marcan explanatory statement (others of which are found in Mk 2:15; 2:28; 7:3-4,19; 13:14) (Lane). The phrase itself is probably derived from Dan 7:13. It portrays Christ especially in his perfect and representative humanity. Yet even in his humanness he has “power on earth to forgive sins.” No angel, no minister, no earthly priest has the power to forgive sins. But Jesus has, and it is to him we must apply for forgiveness. The best of men are but signposts and witnesses to this divine forgiveness.
9:8 When the crowd saw this, they were afraid and honored God who had given such authority to men.
Men – i.e. to a member of the human race.
The Call of Matthew; Eating with Sinners, 9-13
9:9 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax booth. “Follow me,” he said to him. And he got up and followed him.
A man named Matthew – Matthew (called Levi in Mark and Luke) would have been a sort of customs official in the border-town of Capernaum. The fact that the author of the first Gospel refers to him in the third person is no evidence that Matthew cannot have himself been the author: it is reasonable to suppose that Matthew declined to identify himself directly because he wished the spotlight to fall entirely on Jesus.
It is quite possible that it was Jesus himself who gave the name ‘Matthew’ (meaning ‘gift of Jehovah’) to Levi. Cf. Mk 3:16; Jn 1:42. However, it is also possible that he had two names from the beginning; cf. Jn 11:16.
The tax collector’s booth – Levi was a collector of taxes under Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. His booth was probably on the major route which linked Syria and Egypt and which passed through Capernaum. Taxes were collected on merchandise that passed on this route.
‘The custom-house has usually been a place noted for plundering and for unjust exactions, and was at that time particularly infamous. In the choice of Matthew out of that place, not only to be admitted into the family of Christ, but even to be called to the office of Apostle, we have a striking instance of the grace of God. It was the intention of Christ to choose simple”] and ignorant persons to that rank, in order to cast down the wisdom of the world, (1 Cor 2:6) But this publican, who followed an occupation little esteemed and involved in many abuses, was selected for additional reasons, that he might be an example of Christ’s undeserved goodness, and might show in his person that the calling of all of us depends, not on the merits of our own righteousness, but on his pure kindness.’ (Barnes)
Matthew got up and followed him – This looks like a remarkably sudden response. However, it may well be that Matthew already knew Jesus. (Peter, Andrew, James and John had known Jesus for something like a year before their call (Mt 4:18-22; Jn 1:35-51).
Hendriksen comments: ‘It is well-nigh certain that Matthew, who lived and worked in Capernaum, the very place which Jesus had chosen as his headquarters, had had frequent previous contacts with the Master and that when the call came he had already surrendered his heart to him and the cause he represented.’
Matthew would have been skilled in writing and numeracy, and able to communicate in more than one language. He would have been able to contribute these skills in a number of ways, but not least in becoming one of the Gospel-writers. And yet, says Hendriksen, he may have been a man of few spoken words: ‘Peter speaks with great frequency (Matt. 14:28; 15:15; 16:16, 22; 17:4; etc.). Andrew, at times (Mark 13:3; John 1:41; 6:8, 9; 12:22). So also do the brothers James (Mark 10:35–39; Luke 9:54) and John (Luke 9:54; John 13:23–25). So do Philip (John 1:45; 12:22), Thomas (John 11:16; 14:5; 20:24–29) and Judas the Traitor (Matt. 26:14–16, 25; 27:3, 4; John 12:4, 5). Even Nathanael is not completely silent (John 1:46–49), nor is Judas the Greater (John 14:22).’ But no word from Matthew’s lips is recorded.
A certain humility on Matthew’s part is apparent: he refers to himself in the third person; he describes the meal he provides (v10) in much less lavish terms than the other two Evangelists. Then again, it is the other Gospels that tell us that he ‘left everything’.
9:10 As Jesus was having a meal in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with Jesus and his disciples. 9:11 When the Pharisees saw this they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 9:12 When Jesus heard this he said, “Those who are healthy don’t need a physician, but those who are sick do. 9:13 Go and learn what this saying means: ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Jesus was having a meal in Matthew’s house – The Gk. says simply ‘in the house’, but Lk 5:29 clarifies that it was Matthew’s house. See also Mk 2:15. The turn of phrase in the present account suggests a connection between the owner of the house and the writer of Gospel.
The same house is mentioned again, in a similar way, in Mt 9:28; Mt 13:1, 36; Mt 17:25.
It would have been unthinkable for a pious Jew to eat with a tax collector.
Hendriksen suggests that this may be considered as a kind of ‘farewell’ meal, marking the dramatic change from the old life to the new.
‘The other evangelists tell us, that Matthew made a great feast, which the poor fishermen, when they were called, were not able to do. But when he comes to speak of this himself, he neither tells us that it was his own house, nor that it was a feast, but only that he sat at meat in the house; preserving the remembrance of Christ’s favours to the publicans, rather than of the respect he had paid to Christ. Note, It well becomes us to speak sparingly of our own good deeds.’ (MHC)
Tax collectors and sinners – Notorious sinners and also those who refused to observe the law of Moses as interpreted by the teachers of the law, Jn 7:49. The term was applied to tax collectors, adulterers, robbers, and the like. Jesus welcomes notorious sinners, without condoning their behaviour, v17. Such people are ‘the lost’ who must ‘be found’, Lk 15:1-4 19:10.
The term is used here for people dismissed by the Pharisees as inferior because they had no interest in the scribal tradition. Such people, for example, did not eat their food with ceremonial cleanness, and it was a disgrace for a Jesus to share in a meal with them. The rabbis had a rule which said, ‘The disciples of the learned shall not recline at table in the company of the people of the soil.’ Cf. Jn 7:49.
Men who collected taxes for the Romans had a bad reputation for extortion and malpractice. The presence of ‘many’ tax collectors is suggestive of the former occupation of the writer of this Gospel.
“Sinners” were those whose daily occupations rendered them ceremonially unclean and not, in Pharisaic eyes, to be associated with. To what extent they violated not only the ‘traditions of the elders’ but also the law of God itself is difficult to determine; it is reasonable to suppose that they did both.
‘They who are effectually brought to Christ themselves, cannot but be desirous that others also may be brought to him, and ambitious of contributing something towards it. True grace will not contentedly eat its morsels alone, but will invite others. When by the conversion of Matthew the fraternity was broken, presently his house was filled with publicans, and surely some of them will follow him, as he followed Christ. Thus did Andrew and Philip, Jn 1:41,45; 4:29. See Jud 14:9.’ (MHC)
‘Unlike some church people in many parts of the world, Jesus was totally relaxed in the presence of ‘sinners’ and outsiders of every kind. They loved to be with him.’ (Green)
Jewish tax collectors and their families were despised and treated as outcasts. They could not act as witnesses and were expelled from the synagogues.
These terms denote two well-known groups of people who were despised by the Pharisees.
Accepting for the sake of the argument the Pharisaic distinction between the ‘righteous’ and the ‘sinners’, Jesus explains why he is associating with the latter: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” – Variations of this maxim can be found in both Jewish and non-Jewish sources. Its validity would not have been questioned by the Pharisees.
Pharisees – ‘Both in the dubious company he kept (9–13) and in his apparently lax attitude to the traditional duty of fasting (14–17), Jesus offended their sense of propriety. But in this he was deliberately challenging and superseding their outmoded understanding of the will of God.’ (NBC)
‘A proud generation of men, conceited of themselves, and censorious of others; of the same temper with those in the prophet’s time, who said, Stand by thyself, come not near me; I am holier than thou: they were very strict in avoiding sinners, but not in avoiding sin; none greater zealots than they for the form of godliness, nor greater enemies to the power of it. They were for keeping up the traditions of the elders to a nicety, and so propagating the same spirit that they were themselves governed by.’ (MHC)
‘Christ was quarrelled with. It was not the least of his sufferings, that he endured the contradiction of sinners against himself. None was more quarrelled with by men, than he that came to take up the great quarrel between God and man. Thus he denied himself the honour due to an incarnate Deity, which was to be justified in what he spake, and to have all he said readily subscribed to: for though he never spoke or did anything amiss, every thing he said and did was found fault with. Thus he taught us to expect and prepare for reproach, and to bear it patiently.’ (MHC)
‘Sin is the sickness of the soul; sinners are spiritually sick. Original corruptions are the diseases of the soul, actual transgressions are its wounds, or the eruptions of the disease. It is deforming, weakening, disquieting, wasting, killing, but, blessed be God, not incurable.’ (MHC)
The healthy – ‘There are multitudes who fancy themselves to be sound and whole, who think they have no need of Christ, but that they can shift for themselves well enough without him, as Laodicea, Rev 3:17. Thus the Pharisees desired not the knowledge of Christ’s word and ways, not because they had no need of him, but because they thought they had none. See Jn 9:40,41.’ (MHC)
‘I used to bristle when I heard someone accuse Christianity of being a “crutch” religion, a faith that attracted the poor and the crippled and those who could not quite make it on their own. But the more I read the Gospels and the Prophets, the more willingly I admit to a “crutch” faith. Those who make such disdainful comments about Christianity are usually self-confident, successful over-achievers who have made it on their own by looking out for number one, without asking anyone for help.
Frankly, the gospel has little offer people who refuse to admit need. Blessed are the poor in spirit, Jesus said, and those who mourn, and the persecuted. Basic repentance requires me to come prostrate before God and admit that God, not I, is best qualified to tell me how to live. (Perhaps for this reason Jesus singled out the wealthy as the group least likely to enter the kingdom of heaven.’ (Yancy, Church Why Bother?, p56)
‘When he associates on intimate terms with people of low reputation he does not do this as a hobnobber, a comrade in evil, “birds of a feather flocking together,” but as a physician, one who, without in any way becoming contaminated with the diseases of his patients, must get very close to them in order that he may heal them!’ (Hendriksen)
‘There are, of course, no ‘healthy’ under God’s expert examination, but there are lots of people who think they are. Such people do not see their need of a doctor, although they harbour germs of the same fatal disease of sin which they condemn in its cruder forms in others. There is no room for the Pharisee spirit in the kingdom. The word means ‘separated ones’, proud that they stand out from the crowd and are good people. Such an attitude stinks in God’s nostrils. The kingdom is a one-class society—for sinners only.’ (Green)
“Go and learn what this means” – Carson (EBC) suggests that this may be slightly sarcastic, for the Pharisees prided themselves on their knowledge of and adherence to Scripture. There are, in every age, those who know a great deal about the Bible and yet do not perceive its real meaning.
‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’ – In accordance with semitic idiom, Jesus (and the underlying passage from Hos 6:6) means, ‘I desire mercy more than sacrifice’ (not, ‘I desire mercy but not sacrifice’). France asserts: ‘the validity of sacrifice is not the point here or indeed anywhere in Jesus’ teaching’. Blomberg comments: ‘Hosea did not abolish the sacrificial cult but graphically emphasized the priority of interpersonal relationships over religious ritual.’
“I have…come” – This hints (as Blomberg notes) at Jesus’ pre-existence. Mounce agrees: ‘The pronouncement reveals a consciousness of having come to this world from a heavenly sphere. There is no reason to assign this insight to the faith of the early church (as some do), unless one begins with the assumption that Jesus was no more than a man or that he was unaware of his divine origin.’
“I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” – This saying is left hanging in air are here, but completed in Lk 5:32 – ‘…but sinners to repentance.’
This is why Jesus is associating with such people: it is to meet their need. He befriends them, not to show approval for their life-styles and behaviour, but to bring healing and forgiveness. “I did not come to call the righteous” – that is, those who think they are righteous.
Christ’s invitation is not to the self-righteous, but to sinners. And these are not told to repent and then come, but to come, that they might repent. Here is the fundamental difference between the religion of Christ, and all others, including Rabbinism. These latter demand life, the former imparts it. Indeed, the very word ‘Pharisee’, meaning ‘separated one’, implies the exclusion of sinners.
Of course, no person is righteous by nature, Ps 14:3; Rom 1:18-32; 3:10-18. The Pharisees, however, were righteous in their own eyes.
There is, of course, a difference between ‘call’ as ‘invitation’, and ‘call’ as ‘summons’. The former meaning applies here. The latter meaning, which is sometimes referred to as ‘effectual calling’ is prominent in the Epistles, as in Rom 4:17; 8:30; 9:11, 24; Gal 1:6, 15; Eph 1:18; 4:1, 4; Phil 3:14; 1 Thess 2:12; 4:7; 2 Thess 1:11; 2 Tim 1:9. But even in the Gospels we are taught that divine enablement is required in order for a person to respond savingly to Christ’s inviation, Mt 7:7; 19:25, 26; Lk 11:13; 12:32; 22:31, 32; Jn 3:3, 5; 6:44; 12:32; 15:5.
Luke adds ‘to repentance’, making explicit what is already implicit in Matthew and Mark.
Blomberg trenchantly comments: ‘Jesus’ fraternizing with disreputable people remains a scandal in the predominantly middle class, suburban, Western church. Many of us, like the Pharisees, at best ignore the outcasts of our society and at worst continue to discriminate against them. We do well to consider substantially increasing our spiritual, evangelistic, and social outreach to minorities, the homeless, prostitutes, addicts and pushers, gays and lesbians, AIDS victims, and the like, as well as to the more hidden outcasts such as divorcees, single parents, the elderly, white-collar alcoholics, and so on. We must get to know them as intimately as Jesus did—only close and trusted friends shared table fellowship over meals. We dare not join with sinners in their sinning, but we may well have to go places with them and encounter the world’s wickedness in ways that the contemporary Pharisees in our churches will decry.’
Hendriksen concludes: ‘Here in Matt. 9:13 the glorious purpose of Christ’s incarnation and mission receives beautiful expression. The passage makes clear that not to those who consider themselves worthy but rather to those who are in desperate need the invitation to salvation, full and free, is extended. It was sinners, the lost, the straying, the beggars, the burdened ones, the hungry and thirsty, whom Jesus came to save.’
The Superiority of the New, 14-17
9:14 Then John’s disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples don’t fast?”
Jesus did not disapprove of fasting in itself, Mt 6:16-18.
The required public fasts were only three in number: the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:29,31; 23:27-32; Num 29); the day before Purim; and the ninth of Ab, commemorating the fall of Jerusalem.
In the time of Christ, the Pharisees fasted twice a week (on Mondays and Thursdays), Lk 18:12. They would wear sackcloth, rub ashes on their faces, and sucked their cheeks in to look as gaunt and as miserable as possible – so as to show God (and people) how pious they were.
John’s followers were probably fasting in mourning for him.
‘It is common for vain professors to make themselves a standard in religion, by which to try and measure persons and things, as if all who differed from them were so far in the wrong; as if all that did less than they, did too little, and all that did more than they, did too much, which is a plain evidence of their want of humility and charity.’ (MHC)
9:15 Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot mourn while the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days are coming when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and then they will fast.
The bridegroom – The Messiah is not represented in the OT as a bridegroom. But God himself is. As Edwards (Pillar, Mark) says, ‘At the baptism Jesus is declared to be God’s Son and is endowed with God’s Spirit. His divine status and empowerment combine in his exousia, his divine authority, to defeat demonic powers (Mk 1:25) and even to forgive sins (Mk 2:10). The imagery of the bridegroom recalls not a messianic function but the person of God himself. In this suggestive metaphor Jesus continues, naturally and without arrogance, to presume the prerogatives of God to himself. The upshot of the wedding imagery is thus not unlike the forgiveness of sins in Mk 2:7, which invited hearers to supply their own answer to Jesus’ identity. Both episodes are provocations to see that the role and mission of God are now present in Jesus.’
Here, then, Jesus identifies himself with the OT bridegroom, Isa 5:1; 54:5–6; 62:4–5; Ezek 16:6–8; Hos 2:19, who is God in covenant relation with Israel. See also Mt 25:1-14; Rev 21:2. Jewish weddings were particularly joyous occasions. Celebrations could last up to a week, and fasting was unthinkable, since fasting was associated with sorrow.
The bridegroom will be taken from them – An early prediction of his own death.
Edwards (Pillar, Mark), remarks that this is ‘an abrupt and dismaying image. In a normal wedding it is the guests who finally leave the groom and bride to begin life together. But Jesus interjects the alien thought of the groom being forcibly removed from the wedding celebration.’
All three Synopists give the three parables (bridegroom, unshrunk cloth, new wineskins) explaining Jesus’ behaviour in feasting with Levi on a Jewish fast-day, Lk 5:36. We should not miss his emphasis on the spiritual rather than the ritualistic and ceremonial.
The presence of Jesus brings wonderful joy.
Then they will fast – ‘This expression has led many to suppose that from the time when our Lord Jesus Christ left the world, literal fasting from meats and drinks at certain seasons, was to be the duty of all Christians.
There seems no ground for this sweeping conclusion. That fasting and abstinence were occasionally practised by believers after our Lord’s ascension is clear and plain. That all who may find the practice useful and helpful to their souls at the present day are right in fasting, if they do it without ostentation, is also plain. But the utter absence of any direct injunction, or command to keep fasts in the Church of Christ, either in the Acts or Epistles, and specially in the Epistles to Timothy and Titus, makes it clear that the matter is one which should be handled with caution, and on which every one must be “persuaded in his own mind.”
The words before us appear to have a deeper meaning than any mere abstinence from food. They seem to foretell that the period of time between our Lord’s first and second advent must be a time of mourning and humiliation to all true believers. They describe the state of mind in which all true Christians should live until their Lord returns. It is a time for daily and hourly self-denial, and mortification. The time of fulness and satisfaction cannot be till we see the Bridegroom amongst us again.’ (Ryle)
Although, as noted, we think first of the period between Jesus’ arrest and his resurrection as a time of grieving, there will be other times of trouble, when fasting will be appropriate. ‘“Conflicts on the outside, fears within,” is how Paul described the long haul and lonely watches of Christian discipleship (2 Cor 7:5). It was with reference to sustaining the life of faith and growth into Christ-likeness that fasting continued to be practiced in early Christianity. The discipline of physical privation in fasting was an aid to watchfulness, contrition, and strength and sensitivity in Christian life.’ (Edwards, Pillar, Mark)
Hendriksen: ‘The important truth which Jesus here reveals and which makes the passage so practical and filled with comfort especially for today is that for those who acknowledge Christ as their Lord and Savior the proper attitude of heart and mind is not that of sadness but that of gladness. If it be true that “God with us” (Immanuel) spells joy for believers, should not “God within us” (the situation on and after Pentecost) awaken in every child of God joy unspeakable and full of glory? It was in order to bring such abounding joy that Jesus came on earth and that he, through his sacrificial death, brought salvation full and free. See Luke 2:10: “good tidings of great joy”; Lk 24:52: “they … returned to Jerusalem with great joy”; John 15:11: “that your joy may be full”; Jn 17:13: “that they may have my joy made full in themselves.” The apostles learned that lesson (Rom. 5:11; 15:13; Gal. 5:22; Philippians, the entire epistle; 1 Peter 1:8; 4:13; 1 John 1:4; 2 John 12).’
9:16 No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, because the patch will pull away from the garment and the tear will be worse.
9:17 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the skins burst and the wine is spilled out and the skins are destroyed. Instead they put new wine into new wineskins and both are preserved.”
They put new wine into new wineskins – Wineskins were made from goat skins. When new wine was put in them, gas was produced, which caused the skin to stretch. If new wine was put in a skin which was already stretched, the skin would burst. The religious leaders of the day had become like old skins: they could not accept the new life which Jesus offered.
Restoration and Healing, 18-26
9:18 As he was saying these things, a ruler came, bowed low before him, and said, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her and she will live.”
‘The variety of methods which Christ took in working his miracles is perhaps to be attributed to the different frame and temper of mind which they were in who applied to him, which he who searcheth the heart perfectly knew, and accommodated himself to. He knows what is in man, and what course to take with him.’ (M. Henry)
Ehrman sees a ‘clear contradiction’ between Mark’s account (Mk 5:21-34) and Matthew’s. But we may regard Matthew’s version as a simple abridgement, with consequent telescoping of detail. Sometimes, in the Gospels, ‘a passage may be so abbreviated that it seems to contradict a fuller parallel. Mark has Jairus and his companions come to Jesus twice, once to tell him of his daughter’s illness and once to say that she has died. (Mk 5:21-43) Matthew so compresses the account that Jairus comes only once and tells Jesus right at the outset of the story that his daughter is dead. (Mt 9:18-26) This type of literary abridgment was common in antiquity and not perceived as misleading or in error (cf. Lucian, How to Write History, 56). Similar telescoping appears in Matthew’s account of the withered fig tree (Mt 21:18-22; cf. Mk 11:12-14,20-21) and in Luke’s account of Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin, if Luke is not in fact using a different tradition altogether, rather than Mark (Lk 22:66-71; cf. Mk 14:53-15:1).’ (Blomberg, DJG)
9:19 Jesus and his disciples got up and followed him.
‘Observe, when Jesus followed him, so did his disciples, whom he had chosen for his constant companions; it was not for state, or that he might come with observation, that he took his attendants with him, but that they might be the witnesses of his miracles, who were hereafter to be the preachers of his doctrine.’ (M. Henry)
9:20 But a woman who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. 9:21 For she kept saying to herself, “If only I touch his cloak, I will be healed.” 9:22 But when Jesus turned and saw her he said, “Have courage, daughter! Your faith has made you well.” And the woman was healed from that hour.
The edge of his cloak – Probably the fringes or tassels at the corners of Christ’s mantle. These were religious reminders to the wearer to observe the commandments, Nun 15:37-39.
Even touching the edge of his cloak was to invite criticism, for in her menstruous condition she was ‘unclean’. But Jesus allows it, just as he allowed himself to touch someone with leprosy.
There may be superstition in this action, but there is also real faith.
9:23 When Jesus entered the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the disorderly crowd, 9:24 he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but asleep.” And they began making fun of him. 9:25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and gently took her by the hand, and the girl got up.
Flute players – It was customary, even among the very poor, to hire two or more flute players at times of mourning.
“The girl is not dead but asleep” – Cf. Jn 11:11. Jesus is not saying that the diagnosis had been false; but that the death, though real, was temporary.
‘He gives a good reason why they should not thus disquiet themselves and one another; The maid is not dead but sleepeth. 1. This was eminently true of this maid, that was immediately to be raised to life; she was really dead, but not so to Christ, who knew within himself what he would do, and could do, and who had determined to make her death but as a sleep. There is little more difference between sleep and death, but in continuance; whatever other difference there is, it is but a dream. This death must be but of short continuance, and therefore is but a sleep, like one nights rest. He that quickens the dead, may well call the things which be not as though they were, Rom 4:17. 2. It is in a sense true of all that die, chiefly of them that die in the Lord. Note, (1.) Death is a sleep. All nations and languages, for the softening of that which is so dreadful, and withal so unavoidable, and the reconciling of themselves to it, have agreed to call it so. It is said, even of the wicked kings, that they slept with their fathers; and of those that shall arise to everlasting contempt, that they sleep in the dust, Dan 12:2. It is not the sleep of the soul; its activity ceases not; but the sleep of the body, which lies down in the grave, still and silent, regardless and disregarded, wrapt up in darkness and obscurity. Sleep is a short death, and death a long sleep. But the death of the righteous is in a special manner to be looked upon as a sleep, Isa 57:2. They sleep in Jesus; (1 Thess 4:14) they not only rest from the toils and labours of the day, but rest in hope of a joyful waking again in the morning of the resurrection, when they shall wake refreshed, wake to a new life, wake to be richly dressed and crowned, and wake to sleep no more. (2.) The consideration of this should moderate our grief at the death of our dear relations: “say not, They are lost; no, they are but gone before: say not, They are slain; no, they are but fallen asleep; and the apostle speaks of it as an absurd thing to imagine that they that are fallen asleep in Christ are perished; (1 Cor 15:18) give place, therefore, to those comforts which the covenant of grace ministers, fetched from the future state, and the glory to be revealed.’ (M. Henry)
They laughed at him – ‘Now could it be thought that such a comfortable word as this, from the mouth of our Lord Jesus, should be ridiculed as it was? They laughed him to scorn. These people lived in Capernaum, knew Christs character, that he never spake a rash or foolish word; they knew how many mighty works he had done; so that if they did not understand what he meant by this, they might at least have been silent in expectation of the issue. Note, The words and works of Christ which cannot be understood, yet are not therefore to be despised. We must adore the mystery of divine sayings, even when they seem to contradict what we think ourselves most confident of. Yet even this tended to the confirmation of the miracle: for it seems she was so apparently dead, that it was thought a very ridiculous thing to say otherwise.’ (M. Henry)
After the crowd had been put outside – ‘Scorners that laugh at what they see and hear that is above their capacity, are not proper witnesses of the wonderful works of Christ, the glory of which lies not in pomp, but in power. The widow’s son at Nain, and Lazarus, were raised from the dead openly, but this damsel privately; for Capernaum, that had slighted the lesser miracles of restoring health, was unworthy to see the greater, of restoring life; these pearls were not to be cast before those that would trample them under their feet.’ (M. Henry)
She got up – ‘How wonderful that sight must have been! Who that has ever seen the dead can forget the stillness, the silence, the coldness, when the breath has left the body? Who can forget the awful feeling that a mighty change has taken place, and a mighty gulf been placed between ourselves and the departed? But behold! our Lord goes to the chamber where the dead lies, and calls the spirit back to its earthly tabernacle. The pulse once more beats; the eyes onces more see; the breath once more comes and goes. The ruler’s daughter is once more alive, and restored to her father and mother.’ (Ryle)
9:26 And the news of this spread throughout that region.
Healing the Blind and Mute, 27-34
9:27 As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, shouting, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” 9:28 When he went into the house, the blind men came to him. Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” 9:29 Then he touched their eyes saying, “Let it be done for you according to your faith.” 9:30 And their eyes were opened. Then Jesus sternly warned them, “See that no one knows about this.” 9:31 But they went out and spread the news about him throughout that entire region.
This particular episode is unique to Matthew, although there a similar incident is recorded in Mt 20:29–34, which is paralleled in Mark and Luke.
Two blind men – Isa 35:5f speaks of the healing of the blind and deaf in the Messianic age.
“Son of David” – This appellation occurs often in Matthew’s accounts of healing. It is not possible for us to know exactly what these men meant by this title, although it was certainly an exalted one.
When he went into the house – Jesus may have waited in order to test the strength of their desire to be healed. But, in context, it is more likely that he wished for the healing to be private, rather than public (cf. v30).
“According to your faith” – ‘In response to your faith’, not, ‘in proportion to your faith’ (Blomberg)
Jesus warned them sternly – The Gk suggests the snorting of a horse.
“See that no one knows about this” – ‘It would hinder the true messianic work of Jesus should he gain undue fame as a healer.’ See also the resultant hostility recorded in v34. This strict command was bound to be difficult for the men to obey (how do you hide such a healing?), and they do not even attempt to keep it quiet. There is a tension between the desire to avoid inappropriate publicity and to witness to Jesus’ healing power.
9:32 As they were going away, a man who could not talk and was demon-possessed was brought to him. 9:33 After the demon was cast out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowds were amazed and said, “Never has anything like this been seen in Israel!” 9:34 But the Pharisees said, “By the ruler of demons he casts out demons.”
Could not talk – Morris says that the underlying term means both ‘deaf’ and dumb’. But the following verse emphasises the latter part of the condition.
This is one of a few instances (see also Mt 12:22) where demon-possession manifests as a physical condition. Usually, in the Gospels, the two are distinguished (e.g. Mk 9:17ff).
“Never had anything like this been seen in Israel!” – For Morris, this reaction reflects on lack of real authority in the existing leadership, and the authority that is inherent in Jesus’ actions. Morris quotes Ladd:
‘The scribes taught and nothing happened. Jesus spoke and demons fled, storms were settled, dead were raised, sins forgiven … His authority in deeds and words was nothing less than the presence of the Kingdom of God’
One event produces two very contrasting reactions.
The Pharisees said, “By the ruler of demons he casts out demons” – This verse is omitted in some manuscripts, but is repeated in Mt 12:24. It is appropriate here, given the mounting opposition against Jesus (vv. 3,11,14).
Workers for the Harvest, 35-38
9:35 Then Jesus went throughout all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and sickness.
Their synagogues – This expression, occurring three times in Matthew, and paralleled once each in Mark and Luke, hints that the early Christians (or at least, the ‘Matthean community’) was no longer meeting in the synagogues but had been expelled from them. ‘The best model is seeing Matthew’s community meeting across the street from the synagogue (separated) but contending that they are the rightful members of that synagogue from which they have been expelled. They did not leave; they were forced out. But in being forced out, they continued to think of themselves as Jews, as true Jews, as the fulfilled Judaism, the Judaism that brought into reality the dreams of their prophets.’ (DLNT)
9:36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were bewildered and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 9:37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. 9:38 Therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.”
‘Some of us preachers, quite frankly, are short of compassion, of Christ-like love. We see the evils, and we denounce them – quite rightly; but we lack the response of Jesus, who, looking on crowds of men and women, sees sheep without a shepherd, and is moved with compassion. Jesus denounces, but he weeps over the city.’ Carson, in When God’s Voice is Heard (eds Green & Jackman), p155.
“Ask the Lord of the harvest…to send” – Those who are here asked to pray for workers to be sent are in the very next chapter themselves sent. As Green remarks, ‘We must be willing to answer our own prayers and, like Isaiah, to say, ‘Here am I. Send me!’ [Isa 6:8]. The disciples must have been very surprised. It is one thing (and relatively comfortable) to pray that the Lord of the harvest will do something about it. It is quite another thing (and rather forbidding) to hear him say to us, ‘Go.’ We must be prepared to share in answering our own prayers.’