June 11, 2023
Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26
Last Sunday was Trinity Sunday in our liturgical cycle of the year. Our first reading was the same as that read as the first reading of the Easter Vigil – the creation story as told in the first chapter of Genesis. On the first day of creation, we are told that God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that it was good. Each successive day, God speaks. And it was so. And God saw that it was good. Everything that God made.
In our reading today from the ninth chapter of Matthew’s gospel, as well as in the previous chapter, he seems to be making the point that this is true of Jesus as well. Jesus speaks and things happen. Chapter eight begins with Jesus coming down from the mountain where he has been teaching a long session which we commonly refer to as the Sermon on the Mount. As he comes a great crowd continues to follow him. As he goes along, first a leper comes up to him seeking healing. Jesus stretches out his hand to the man, touches him and says, “Be clean.” Immediately he is healed. Then a Centurion comes seeking healing for his servant. Jesus offers to come with him to his house, but the man declines, telling Jesus that he only needs to say the word and it will happen. “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word and my servant will be healed.” After a long reply, Jesus says, “Go, let it be done for you according to your faith.” And the servant was healed at that hour.
The events continue. Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever, then calms the storm as he and the disciples cross to the country of the Gadarenes. It is here that two demoniacs approach him identifying him as the son of God. Jesus sends the demons into a heard of swine with merely the word, “Go.” Returning across the sea to his own town, Jesus meets a paralytic man carried by his friends. First, he tells the paralytic that his sins are forgiven. Challenged by the scribes, he asks which is easier, to say his sins are forgiven, or stand up and walk. He then says to the man, “Stand up, take up your bed and go home.” And it is so. While faith seems to have been a factor in some of these events, it is not identified in all of them. In fact, when the disciples waken Jesus during the storm at sea, he says to them, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” Then he proceeds to rebuke the wind and calm the waves. Yet, surely in each instance each person demonstrated their faith in the belief that Jesus could act to make them whole.
Now we come to the calling of Matthew whom Jesus meets as he’s walking along the road. Matthew is sitting in his tax collector’s booth. Like those of the others whom Jesus has healed, he lives on the outer edge of acceptable society, linked with sinners and the unclean. We hear Jesus say to him, “Follow me.” And he does. Later Jesus and the disciples are dining at Matthew’s house (as Mark tells us in his version), along with “many tax collectors and sinners.” Some Pharisees, who are obviously checking up on Jesus, ask the disciples why Jesus, a teacher, is eating with such unacceptable riffraff. Jesus responds to them directly, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” We hear Jesus quoting the final verse of our reading from Hosea: “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” He’s letting them know that their sacrificial offerings and self-righteousness are not what God seeks, nor does it open them to receive. As the commentator Brian Stoffregen suggests: “Jesus speaks and it happens — perhaps more easily with ‘tax collectors and sinners’ than with the righteous.”
In all these actions and in Jesus’ words to the Pharisees, we clearly hear Jesus identify the heart of his mission. “He has come to seek out the lost. He has come to extend God’s love to those who are considered by their peers – and likely by themselves – to be unlovable. He has come to heal the broken-hearted, to restore the outcast, and gather together all those who have been scattered and shattered by the trials and tribulations of this life.
And for this reason, it is also the scene that points out what gets Jesus into so much trouble. We saw … when Jesus made bold to forgive and heal a paralytic who had been brought to him – that the religious authorities are offended by Jesus’ audacity to forgive sin. And now matters only get worse, as he doesn’t simply perform some religious rite of absolution but actually treats all the people he meets – including those the good, synagogue-going folk like the Pharisees would consider immoral – with profound respect. He treats them, that is, as if they weren’t the awful sinners the Pharisees know them to be but instead as precious children of God.” (David Lose, In the Meantime)
At the end of the meal a leader of the synagogue arrives seeking Jesus to come to his house for his daughter has just died, trusting that Jesus will be able to save her. Jesus gets up at once to go with him followed by his disciples. On the way a woman who has been unwell with a hemorrhage, approaches Jesus with faith that if she can just touch his cloak, she will be healed. Sensing her presence, Jesus turns and addresses her as daughter: “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.
As Jesus approaches the house he can hear flute players and a crowd making a commotion. When he tells them: “Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” They laugh at him. When the house is cleared, Jesus goes in, takes the girl by the hand, and without saying a word, the girl gets up. Two women – one a cherished daughter who has died, the other an older woman who has suffered much of her life. The first Jesus raises from the dead and restores to her family; the second is healed and restored to her community, no longer an outcast within their midst. “The first has someone to advocate for her; the second must advocate for herself. Correspondingly, the first is entirely passive in her healing, while the second is quite active.”
Now, having compared and contrasted all this, we might notice one more thing, perhaps the binding similarity of these two stories. Both of these women are daughters. The first is born the daughter of a synagogue leader who comes beseeching Jesus on behalf of his beloved child. The second is called daughter by Jesus, restored to health and wholeness and commended for her great faith.
Might it be, then, that at the heart of these two mutually interpreting stories, and in all the healings, calming of seas, and callings, is Jesus’ promise that, whatever our outward similarities and differences, to God we are all beloved children? That we all are therefore worthy of dignity and honor? That God loves each and all of us the same?
God sees everyone that God has made and called them good. Whether straight or gay, male or female, trans or nonbinary or any other way of expressing ones identity, whether Democrat, Republican, Independent or Socialist, regardless of ethnicity or color of skin. However we or they may have erred and gone astray, we are all the beloved children, worthy of God’s healing action and our advocacy. As the banner that hangs on the UCC church around the corner of my house states: God is still speaking. And as we know, when God speaks it happens, if only we have eyes to see and ears to hear, hands to act and voices to raise. May it be so.