|Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at|
This text is part of the Gospel for Proper 5 A (9:9-13, 18-26). Most of the following notes are revisions of that posting.
(much of this information on the person of Matthew comes from Festivals and Commemorations: Handbook to the Calendar in Lutheran Book of Worship, by Philip H. Pfatteicher)
"Matthew" occurs in all the lists of the Twelve (Mt 10:1-4; Mk 3:13-19; Lk 6:12-16; Ac 1:13) and in our text (Mt 9:9). However, only in the Gospel of Matthew is he called a "tax collector." The parallel verses to our text in Mk 2:13-17 and Lk 5:27-32, Jesus calls a tax collector named "Levi," who throws a feast for Jesus, his disciples, and "sinners". Are "Levi" and "Matthew" the same person with two different names? Could Jesus have given Levi the nickname "Matthew," which means in Hebrew, "gift from God"? Could be. We know that he gave Simon the nickname, Peter.
There is little known of Matthew's life beyond the story of his calling. Tradition suggests that he was the oldest of the apostles. There are stories of his preaching in Ethiopia and Persia and dying a martyr's death. Eusebius said that Matthew first evangelized among the Hebrews and then among other people; Clement of Alexandria said that Matthew was a vegetarian. Heracleon says that Matthew died a natural death, but later legend dramatizes his death by fire or sword.
Since the second century, the authorship of the first gospel has been attributed to Matthew. It is the most Jewish of the gospels. Repeatedly he refers to what has been written in the Hebrew Scriptures -- a book that would only be authoritative for Jews. Matthew's version of the Lord's Prayer (Mt 6:7-13) assumes that the people already know how to pray (Compare Luke where the disciples ask, "Teach us to pray," Lu 11:1-4). Matthew's gospel, I believe, is placed first in the New Testament, because it is a bridge from the Old Covenant to the new. When he has Jesus saying, "You have heard that it was said...," he assumes that his hearers/readers had heard that it was said from their Hebrew school classes or synagogue services.
Matthew's Jesus is more of a teacher than in the other gospels. Jesus delivers five lengthy discourses in the narrative (perhaps related to the five books of Moses): 5:1-7:29; 10:1-42; 13:1-58; 18:1-35; 24:1-25:46. The concluding words of the book includes: "teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you" (28:20a).
Some themes that might be emphasized on this festival from the book attributed to him are:
renewed appreciation of our Jewish heritage
openness to the mystery of the glory of Christ
I will first look at the larger context of our text, then I will look at each of the events in our text:
the call of Matthew (9:9)
eating with tax collectors and sinners (9:10)
questioning of disciples about Jesus' behavior by Pharisees (9:11)
Jesus' answers to the Pharisees (9:12-13)
Matthew 8-9 contains three sets of three miracles:
1. healing a leper
2. healing the centurion's servant
3. healing Peter's mother-in-law & many others
1. calming the storm
2. exorcising demons
3. forgiving and healing the paralytic
1. raising a ruler's daughter from death & healing a woman
2. healing two blind men
3. exorcising a demon from a mute man
Between A & B, two would-be followers approach Jesus; but they are discouraged by Jesus (8:18-22). This Q saying may have been inserted here by Matthew because Jesus is going over to the other side or the lake (= to the Gentiles) and not all will be able to follow.
Between B & C,
(1) Jesus calls Matthew to follow and he does (9:9) -- in contrast to those who wanted to follow earlier (between A & B). Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners (9:10), which creates a conflict with the Pharisees (9:11) and Jesus answers them (9:12-13). This section (and the following one) with its conflict may have been inserted to continue the conflict with the scribes created by forgiving and healing the paralytic. Here "forgiveness" is enacted by eating with "sinners".
(2) Jesus is questioned by John's disciples about fasting (9:14) -- an ironic question to pose while Jesus is reclining at dinner. Jesus gives two answers: Now is not the time to fast (9:15). Something new is happening and it can't be sown on an old cloth or poured into old wineskins (9:16-17).
After C there is a summary statement about Jesus' preaching and healing and his compassion for the "sheep without a shepherd" (9:35-36); which leads into the need for more laborers for the plentiful harvest (9:37-38).
The last time this text came about, I was thinking about a short worship service for a synod committee that I had to lead, so I was thinking about this context as a model of our liturgy, which is simply outlined as: GATHERING, WORD, MEAL, SENDING.
There is a strong emphasis on the power of the WORD from 8:1-9:9.
8:1-4 Jesus cleanses a leper with a WORD: "Be made clean"
8:5-13 Jesus heals the centurion's servant with a WORD: "Let it be for you according to your faith."
8:14-17 Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law with a touch and casts out demons "with a WORD"
8:18-22 Those who wish to follow are unable to -- Jesus speaks harshly to them
8:23-27 Jesus calms the storm at sea with a WORD
8:28-34 Demons cast into swine with a WORD: "Go"
9:1-8 Jesus forgives and heals the paralytic with a WORD
9:9 Jesus calls Matthew with a WORD: "Follow me."
When Jesus speaks illnesses, weather, demons, sin, and a disciple obey him, yet other disciples who wish to follow are unable to meet Jesus' demands.
Then there is a celebration and conversations concerning a MEAL in 9:10-17 that includes Jesus (the bridegroom). While we often talk about Jesus being the host and we are the guests at our communion meals, I wonder if we might also contemplate the idea that we are like Matthew, hosting this joyous (and merciful) meal at which Jesus (the bridegroom) will be present, as well as a crowd of sinners and disciples. As hosts for this important person, we might be more inclined to make sure everything was done as well as possible as we prepare for this visiting dignitary.
It may be that the reason the "would-be-followers" in vv. 18-22 are unable to follow is because they considered themselves "the righteous," and could not adequately respond to Jesus' call. They considered themselves the "well" and weren't able to receive Jesus' healing/salvation.
The next three miracles could illustrate the SENDING -- taking the word out to the world.
After healing the woman and raising the daughter, "And the report of this SPREAD throughout that district" (9:26).
After the healing the blind men, "they went away and SPREAD the news about him throughout that district" (9:31).
In the third miracle, Jesus exorcises a demon of mute-ness; thus allowing the person to SPEAK. At the same as amazement over this miracle was being spread, the Pharisees were also SPREADING false conclusions about Jesus (9:33-34).
Thus, in this section we have an emphasis on the power of the WORD, which heals and is also so harsh that it drives people away. We have the celebration of a MEAL which includes Jesus, his disciples, and sinners. The fact that Jesus ate with such people, offended "the righteous" -- both those from the Pharisees and those from John the Baptist. It is not time to fast. It is time to partee!! (However, that probably would not be an effective invitation to Holy Communion. <g>) Finally, there is an emphasis on SPREADING the news about Jesus in the last three miracles; but it is also possible to spread misunderstandings about Jesus, too.
The call of a tax collector is also found in Mark 2:14 and Luke 5:27-28; but his name is Levi. Tax collectors were despised by the Jews because: (1) they worked for the occupying Roman government and often got their job by offering to collect more money than the next guy; and (2) they normally overcharged their own people for their own personal gain. Any money they could collect in excess of what the Romans wanted was theirs to keep. The "company" tax collectors kept in Matthew is not good: "tax collectors and sinners" (9:10, 11; 11:19); "tax collector and prostitutes" (21:32).
In all three reports, Jesus says, "Follow me," and he gets up and follows him. In Matthew, this call comes after winds and sea obey Jesus; demons have to obey him; and a paralyzed man walks at Jesus' command (whose sins have been forgiven). When Jesus speaks, his words have great power and authority over forces of nature, over demonic powers, and over sin and disease. Does his word also have the same power and authority over human beings? It does with Matthew. Jesus speaks and it happens -- perhaps more easily with "tax collectors and sinners" than with the righteous.
In 8:18-20; Jesus rejected those who suppose they can become disciples on their own initiative. Here Jesus calls the rejected.
Who were the "sinners"? As in 21:32 quoted above, they could have been prostitutes. It has also been suggested that they might have been bankers, who, contrary to Ex 22:25, charged interest on their loans to the poor.
This adjective hamartolos occurs in only in our text (9:10, 11, 13) and in 11:19 where Jesus is accused of being a friend of tax collectors and sinners.
The related noun hamartia is used in the story of the paralytic whose sins are forgiven by Jesus (9:2, 5, 6). It is used in 12:31 where Jesus declares that every sin will be forgiven, except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. It is used in 26:28 as part of the distribution at the Last Supper: "for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." (The boldface words are found only in Matthew.) The other two instances in Mt are 1:21 where Joseph is told to name the child Jesus, "for he will save his people from their sins" and 3:6 where those baptized by John are confessing their sins.
The related verb hamartano occurs three times in Mt. In 18:15 & 21, it refers to a member of the church ("brother") sinning against another member and the need to forgive often. In the other occurrence (27:4) Judas (one of the group) confesses, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood."
I present this extended study of the word group hamart- to indicate Matthew's emphasis on (1) sin within the community; and (2) the strong emphasis on the forgiveness of sin by Jesus and by the community.
Eating together was a powerful symbol. After the "Gentile Pentecost" at the house of Cornelius, when Peter returns to Jerusalem, he is criticized by some Jews: "Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?" (Acts 11:3). He isn't criticized for baptizing them, but for eating with them. This issue is also addressed by Paul in Galatians 2:12.
When parents discipline their children by sending them to bed without supper, I wonder if the hunger caused by missing one meal is as harsh as being excluded from the family table fellowship.
A sermon theme I've used from this verse is the fact that the disciples also had to eat with society's undesirables if they were going to eat with Jesus. "Would you have come to the party?" I ask. I'm afraid that there are people in our congregations who wouldn't come. They wouldn't want to associate with the "riffraff" sitting at the table with Jesus.
The disciples not only have to eat with the riffraff if they are to eat with Jesus, but they are asked to defend Jesus' (and their) behavior. Here is a perfect example of triangling in system theory. The Pharisees, who have a complaint against Jesus, don't approach him; rather they tell someone else (the disciples), who, presumably will tell Jesus. Jesus will respond to the disciples who bring the message back to the Pharisees, etc. My impression is that triangles like this happen once in a while in congregations <g>. Jesus destroys the triangle by answering the Pharisees directly.
The fact that the disciples are questioned about Jesus (and their behavior) may indicate that Matthew's church was being (or should be) asked similar questions about their table-fellowship: "Why do you eat with them?" Note also the corporate aspect of 9:8, where the crowds glorify God who had given such authority to human beings. Presumably it is the authority to forgive sins (9:6) that has been given to the church, which is acted out in the inclusive table-fellowship of the community.
Jesus did not come to be a judge, but a physician. I imagine that it could be very easy for physicians to be very judgmental. There are all kinds of things we can do to make ourselves healthier and prevent diseases. Good physicians will tell their patients: stop smoking, lose weight, eat healthier foods, keep sex within a marriage relationship, etc. Physicians give all kinds of wonderful rules so that our lives might be better. However, when somebody has lung cancer or emphysema, high blood pressure or cholesterol, or STDs; their primary job is to try and save the patient from the destruction of the disease. They may shake their heads and think "How stupid," but their calling with the sick is not to judge, but to save.
No where in our text does Jesus ask the tax collectors or sinners to repent of their sins. Neither did he ask that of the paralytic in the preceding text before he forgave and healed him. He simply saw "their faith."
The quote in v. 13 (repeated in Mt 12:7) is from Hosea 6:6 LXX. The Hebrew uses chesed where LXX has "mercy". Chesed means "loving kindness," "steadfast love," "showing kindness". I wonder what might happen if our stewardship campaigns stressed the "donation" of love or mercy rather than monetary sacrifices?
The term for "call" (kaleo) also carries the sense of "invite". It is used in both senses in 22:3, 4, 8 & 9. That parable suggests that the "righteous" are invited, but they are too occupied with their own concerns to bother answering the invitation to the wedding banquet. NOTE: in this parable it is presumed that the king had invited those who were invited, but it is the task of the slaves to call the invitees to the banquet (who refuse to come) and then invite everyone they find -- both good and bad -- to the banquet -- another table-fellowship image.
We are the sinners that Jesus has invited to the banquet and we are the disciples who participate in the banquet and we are the servants who invite others to the banquet.
Brian Stoffregen, Marysville, CA