It is Friday, January 12, 2018! According to our schedule, we should read Matthew 9:1-17, and Genesis 29, 30. I discovered the flaw in my project. I am able to read these chapters, but I am not able to comment on them each and every day. There is too much to be said and too little time and space to say it. So I have to skip a lot of passages and I am not going to catch up.
That is why today I only want to make a few comments on the passage in Matthew.
Obviously, the first seven verses remind us of the healing of the paralytic in the gospel of Mark. If that is the case, that this paralytic is the same as the one in Mark, it is interesting to note that Matthew does not pay any attention to the crowded house and the hole in the roof. He seems to be more interested in the dialogue that takes place.
As elsewhere, I believe that the power of physical healing that Jesus displays here is meant to give evidence of Jesus’s authority for redemption. Notice that the people who bring the paralytic to him, merely expect a miraculous healing. When Jesus sees the extent of their faith, I think he realizes that they misunderstand the real problem the paralytic is facing. It is one thing to be cut off from ordinary life as a paralytic would be. But it is another thing to be cut off from God as well.
In his social environment, there will be many people who would blame him for his paralysis, reasoning that he must have done a particular sin to earn a divine judgment in the form of his almost complete paralysis. But even though there is not a hint of Jesus affirming that you, the healing that he provides does address the problem of sin and not just his medical condition. Against those who would argue that the paralysis is caused by his sin, as well as to show that the problem is not our physical suffering but our estrangement from God, Jesus proceeds to pronounce forgiveness.
Now notice, that she does not pray for the man to be forgiven, but actually proclaims forgiveness as one who is its source. It is a declaration by which a new condition is achieved. “Your sins are forgiven” is the act of forgiveness itself.
Therefore it is understandable, that the “experts in the law” say to themselves that Jesus is blaspheming. Unless Jesus is God, they are quite right. How could Jesus know, however, that they were saying that to themselves? It is suggested in the third verse, that Jesus supernaturally hears their mumbling to themselves. The fact that he can hear that, refutes their charge against him.
Jesus certainly has the authority to forgive sins. He does not connect that authority to his divine status however in Matthew. The sixth verse shows in referring to himself as “the Son of Man”. As in Daniel 7:13-14 this Son of Man actually received divine authority. The image of the Son of Man in Daniel mixes human and divine imagery – he rides a cloud which only God can do. That is the basis of his authority. I doubt very much that we find here an Aramaic “bar enash” which simply would be the equivalent of a first-person reference to himself, just “I”.
Jesus now interrogates the experts in the law. His first question is piercing: “why do you respond with evil in your hearts?” Why weren’t they just happy with this pronouncement? Maybe first of all, because this decree of forgiveness could only be given by God, through the ritual in the Temple maybe. And the evidence for God’s forgiveness would be the miraculous healing, that is, God taking away the punishment for this sin. How could it be possible that Jesus forgives, outside of Temple ritual, usurping divine authority, and without showing that by removing the punishment? All of which leads to the conclusion that Jesus is indeed blaspheming and speaking words without any force. In a sense they are saying, that a mere statements by a human being that sins are forgiven is indeed easy. No one can tell whether or not that statement has any foundation in reality. In that sense it is easier. If however only God can forgive sins, that statement must be the more difficult. Only someone with special divine authority would be able to say it without blaspheming. To say “stand up and walk” is more difficult because it requires visible evidence. In another sense however it is easier, because it merely addresses a bodily problem.
The demonstration of the authority of Jesus now comes with an accommodation to the expectations of his audience. In itself there is no need to heal the paralytic. That seems to be presupposed here. The only motivation for his healing, is the necessity to demonstrate Jesus’s authority in the proclamation of forgiveness.
Again we find a demonstration of the divine power and authority of Jesus, now in the method of healing. Jesus commands – “stand up, take your stretcher, and go home.” The healing is instantaneous – “he stood up.” The response is complete obedience – “[he] went home.”
In contrast to the experts in the law, the crowd seems to understand, at least to some degree, what has happened. “They were afraid and honored God who had given such authority to men.” It may be that this reflects the fact that the crowd took the meaning of “Son of Man” as the Aramaic term for me, person. Where Jesus refers to his exceptional authority, the crowd merely looks upon him as an example of something generic.
This must give us pause. It may be better to be an expert in the law, zealous for the honor of God than to be ignorant and merely impressed by a spectacular miracle. Even though the experts in the law contradict Jesus, and deny his status, they do understand the implications of these words and actions. That may lead them to conversion. The relative indifference and ignorance of the crowd, however, remains focused on the incident itself, without being led to an encounter with the divine person performing the miracle.