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Tuesday, June 18th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 9

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

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The Mission of the Twelve (9:36-11:1)

The evangelist has grouped in chapter 10 some teachings relating to the disciples, of which some are peculiar to him (Matthew 10:5-8; Matthew 10:23) while others are found also in Mark or Luke in different contexts. All three Gospels mention the call of the Twelve and then being sent on mission, but the instructions mentioned in Mark 6:7-11 and Luke 9:1-5 are much briefer. On the other hand, there is a marked parallelism between Matthew 10:1-15 and the mission of the Seventy which is related by Luke alone (Luke 10:1-12). In Matthew, however, the mission is centered on Israel, while in Luke it is situated at the entering into Samaria and seems directed toward the evangelization of the Gentiles (70 is the symbolic number of the nations). This difference corresponds to the precise aim of each of these Gospels.

Verses 1-8

The Healing of the Paralytic

(Matthew 9:1-8; see Mark 2:1-12; Luke 5:17-26)

This story contains, with respect to the preceding stories of healing, several characteristic traits. The first is the stress placed not so much on the faith of the sick man himself as on that of those who brought him to Jesus (see Mark 2:3-4). These men recognized the power of Jesus, expecting everything from him. In the second place, Jesus begins by proclaiming to the paralytic the forgiveness of his sins. In so doing, he goes directly to the heart of the predicament of this man; for his worst ill was not the wasting of his physical powers but the judgment of God which rested upon him. Whether the sickness was, in this particular case, a direct consequence of sin or not, for Jesus sickness and death are ultimately the fruits of sin, for God is the God of life. With sovereign authority, but also a great gentleness ("Take heart, my son"), Jesus lifted the interdict which rested on this man and declared to him that he had found pardon at the judgment seat of God. But who could say that, save God? The reaction of the scribes was immediate: "This man is blaspheming." The attitude of Jesus can be understood only if he is "the Son of man" in the Messianic sense the heavenly Judge delegated by God to judge the actions and the thoughts of men at the last day.

Thus and this is the third important trait of this story the question already posed by all of Jesus’ teaching and deeds is precisely put: Whence comes his authority? Who is this? (Matthew 7:28; Matthew 8:27). At the same time the opposition looms which will one day condemn him as a blasphemer (vs.3; see 26:65-66). The accusation is not yet formulated, but Jesus reads the thoughts of the scribes who surround him, and these thoughts are "evil." They spring up out of envy and not from a legitimate concern for the honor of God. Jesus responds by an act. The miracle of physical healing here is like the seal of God placed on the inner change wrought in the life of this man the concrete manifestation of his pardon. The man obeyed, arose, and went home. The crowds were seized with fear and glorified God who had given such authority "to men." They did not yet know the importance of the term "Son of man" which Jesus had just used, or the unique character of his authority. But they recognized that God was at work in this man, and in that they rejoiced

Verses 9-17

Two New Causes of Conflict

(Matthew 9:9-17; see Mark 2:13-22; Luke 5:27-39)

The call of Matthew is told in few words. At the summons of Jesus, he immediately left his profession, which was a very remunerative one (see Luke 19:2; Luke 19:8). He was a publican or tax officer, a collector of duty. One bought this position, a practice which gave opportunity for much abuse. Furthermore, the tax collector was in the employ of the detested Roman authority. His profession defiled him. For these reasons, publicans were regarded as a species of outcast by strict Jews, who avoided all contact with them. Jesus not only invited a publican to follow him, he also made him one of the twelve Apostles (Matthew 10:3).

Further still, Jesus welcomed tax collectors and "sinners" (people of obviously bad life) to his table. They came spontaneously, it seems, and gathered around him and his disciples. The pious Jew, afraid of defiling himself, shunned inviting anyone to his table who did not practice the ritual laws. The Pharisees strove to constitute a community of "pure ones." Jesus thus breached all the religious and social prejudices of his time. He made friends of all these doubtful people. He accomplished the miracle that they felt themselves "at home" with him.

The Pharisees were astonished. They did not question Jesus directly, but spoke to the disciples. We see them here, full of a scandalized solicitude: "Why does your teacher. . .?" Jesus, hearing their remarks, replied: "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick." It is for "the lost sheep" of Israel that he has come (Matthew 10:6; Luke 15:4-7). It is toward them that his tenderness and his love carry him. They feel this, and they come to him. There was in this no condescension on Jesus’ part, none of the self-righteousness which crushes the person to whom one speaks.

Who are the "well" in this matter? Jesus recognizes in the Pharisees men who know the Law of God. He is not necessarily speaking ironically. The citation from Hosea (vs. 13; see Hosea 6:6) expresses his profound thought. He who does not show mercy to his neighbor multiplies sacrifices and offerings in vain. Jesus had nothing to say to those who believed themselves to be righteous, but spoke rather to those who knew themselves to be poor and guilty and who had need of pardon. We find again in this teaching the dominant thought of the whole Sermon on the Mount.

In the following episode (vss. 14-17) it is no longer Jesus and the Pharisees who have words with each other, but Jesus and the disciples of John the Baptist, who speak both for themselves and for the Pharisees. The debated question is that of fasting. It is to be noted that Jesus does not deny the legitimacy of fasting but its present appropriateness. The passage is weighted with Messianic significance, for he compares his coming to a wedding. For his disciples, the dawn of the Kingdom has come. It is a day of joy! How could they fast? The day will indeed come "when the bridegroom is taken away from them." This is a veiled allusion to his approaching death. The image of the wedding may seem strange to us. It strikes its roots into the Old Testament where the love of God is compared to that of a fiancé (Jeremiah 2:2; Ezekiel 16:8). The image of a wedding is found again in relation to the royal banquet (Matthew 22:2-3). For Jesus to say that the bridegroom was there was to declare the arrival of the Messianic Age, a time of consummation and joy. And this note of joy remains the dominant one of the Apostolic Church, which awaited her Lord as a bride awaits her bridegroom (see John 3:29; Matthew 25:1; Revelation 19:6-8; Revelation 22:17).

The double parable of the Garment and the Wineskins sets forth the revolutionary element in the attitude of Jesus: the new times demand a new deportment, another style of life. The Messianic Age signifies a renewal of all things. The two images are suggestive. One does not sew the new onto the old; the fabric would tear. One does not pour new wine into old wineskins; it would burst them! Such is the dynamic of the Kingdom.

Do we know this revolutionary power of the gospel, this fresh and free manner of approaching men and of judging traditions, which gives to all things their true meaning?

Verses 18-35

A Raising and Three Healings (9:18-35)

The story of the raising of the daughter of the ruler of the synagogue is told in the Gospel by Mark in a much more lively and moving fashion (Mark 5:21-24; Mark 5:35-43). Matthew retains only the essential facts: the faith of the father; the word of Jesus, "the girl is not dead but sleeping"; and the deed itself. The saying of Jesus has sometimes been interpreted as though this were a case of catalepsy. This does not seem to be the thought of the evangelist. Jesus is the great conqueror of death; so in this sense death, in the absolute and terrible meaning of the term a definitive end does not exist. The dead "sleep" while awaiting the final resurrection (Daniel 12:2; see John 5:26-29; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14). The raising of the girl, as all the healings wrought by Jesus, is a sign of the omnipotence of God in the work of Jesus, a prior sign of that Kingdom where sickness and death will be no more.

The healing of the woman (vss. 20-22) , in Matthew as in Mark, is inserted into the story concerning the raising of the child (see Mark 5:25-34). Once again we have in Matthew only a very abbreviated echo of Mark. The story here lacks the deeply human note the agony of the woman that her illness rendered her "unclean," her daring to touch Jesus, the reaction of Jesus to her touch. But in both stories, Jesus sees in the woman’s faith the cause of her healing. She had believed on him, and she had been heard.

The story of the healing of the blind men (vss. 27-31) is found in almost identical form in Matthew 20:29-34, which may be a second telling of the same event. The writer likely places it here because the cure was a characteristic sign of the Messianic Age: "the eyes of the blind shall see" (Isaiah 29:18; see also Isaiah 35:5; Isaiah 42:7). Physical blindness is often regarded as a symbol of spiritual blindness (see John 9). Up until now the total behavior of Jesus, including his words and his acts, manifests an authority which could only be that of the One sent by God; but his Messiahship has not been recognized as such by those whom he has healed. The blind men, by calling him "Son of David," proclaim his royalty. They thus unveil the hidden meaning of everything which has already been related. Jesus bids them to be silent. The Messianic secret must be kept until the ministry of Jesus is completed (Matthew 16:20). Jesus himself will disclose it at the final trial (Matthew 26:63-64).

Once more the evangelist underlines the faith of those who are healed. This faith consists in recognizing in Jesus the One sent from God, the almighty Master of life and death. The question posed for the two blind men is likewise posed for us: "Do you believe" in his power?

Verses 32-34 tell of a "dumb demoniac." To be dumb is to be tragically cut off from one’s fellow men; and this illness was viewed as the work of a demon. The crowds marvelled at this cure. But the opposition was there, sullenly saying, "He casts out demons by the prince of demons." This theme will be developed later (Matthew 12:22-30). It is here as an announcement of a deep hostility which will eventually stand out more and more vigorously.

Verse 35 sums up the activity of Jesus in practically the same words as those by which the writer had introduced the first stage in his public ministry (Matthew 4:23).

Verses 36-38

The Time of Harvest (9:36-38)

Crowds thronged Jesus in such numbers that he was obliged from time to time to cross to the other side of the lake (Matthew 8:18; Matthew 14:13). The Gospel pictures him as moved with "compassion" before this intense yearning of people who were distressed, thirsting for deliverance, ’languishing and dejected, "like sheep without a shepherd." God’s people no longer had sure guides, but were at the mercy of exploiters or of blind leaders. The image of the flock is taken from the Old Testament: God is called the "Shepherd of Israel" (Psalms 80:1); this title was also given to the leaders to whom God entrusted the care of his flock (Numbers 27:15-17); the wicked shepherds who allowed Israel to be "scattered upon the mountains" are severely judged (1 Kings 22:17; Ezekiel 34; Jeremiah 23:1-4). The coming Messiah, the New David, had as his mission precisely to gather and to heal the scattered flock (Ezekiel 34:10; Ezekiel 34:23-24; Jeremiah 23:5). It is with a view to this "gathering" that Jesus has come; and that is the mission which he is going to entrust to his disciples (see Matthew 10:6; Matthew 15:24; Matthew 18:12-14; John 10).

"The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few" (vs. 37; Luke 10:2). The image of the "harvest" calls to mind the decisive moment when the grain is cut, gathered, sorted that is to say, the end of the world, the Judgment (Matthew 3:12; Matthew 13:30; Matthew 13:39-40). In Jesus, God calls; the gathering and the sorting of the end-time has begun. But there is an overwhelming disproportion between the immensity of the field and the small number of the harvesters. Jesus did not say, as he might have been expected to, "Recruit harvesters," but "Pray . . . the Lord of the harvest ..." His first watchword in the face of the needs of the hour was an invitation to prayer. To be sure, this was a call to active prayer, which implies a total expendability. But the harvest is the work of God.

The forlornness of the crowds without a shepherd or actually delivered over to false shepherds is perhaps greater today than ever. Do we sense the immeasurable yearning of a world that knows not where it is going? Are we moved by its distress as Jesus was?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Matthew 9". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/matthew-9.html.
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