It’s a Mystery, or This Walk of Faith is a Complex Business

June 5, 2005

Genesis 12:1-9; Matthew 9:9-13, and 18-26

 

In Genesis we heard how Abram listened to the LORD and left all that he knew to follow the LORD’s leading. It takes trust and faith to walk away from what you know. But Abram did. And he was Blessed. That doesn’t mean his life was perfect, you just have to read a few more chapters to know that! But is does mean the God was with Abram all along the way.

 

Now, Chapter 9 of Matthew is an interesting bump in the road of faith. This chapter raised a lot of questions for me. What is real faith? What does real faith look like? Who has real faith? How does our understanding of “real” faith shape our understanding of the life and mission of Jesus?

 

Chapter 9 opens with the story of the paralyzed man and the faith of his friends who bring him to Jesus for healing; although Matthew does skip the famous photo opportunity part about the friends digging through the roof to lower the man down into Jesus presence.

 

We have no idea what has paralyzed this man. Was it a physical problem? Was he paralyzed since birth? Was he paralyzed by depression, or some form of loss in his life? Was he paralyzed by his own belief system? We have no idea.

We just know that the man was paralyzed, and that his friends cared for him so much that they carried him to Jesus, believing that God could heal the man through Jesus.

 

Jesus seems touched by their faith. Jesus begins by telling the man “Take heart my child, your sins are forgiven”. Now this really bugs the religious people who are present. Who does Jesus think he is? What makes him think that he can forgive sins? After all, only God can forgive sins... At least that was how they understand their faith.

 

Needless to say, the scribes get a little bent out of shape and are thinking “Blasphemy”. Jesus responds to them saying: Is it easier to tell a man his sins are forgiven, or to say “Stand up and Walk”?

The scribes are apparently speechless, and Jesus pronounces that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins, and sends the man home walking. Those who saw glorified God. They knew they had witnessed something special.

 

SO are we like the paralyzed man? Is there something in our life that keeps us from being able to move forward without the help of our friends? Do we need forgiveness, or do we need someone to tell us to get up and move? What is real faith? Are we searching for the guidance of Jesus? Or are we like the scribes? Are the rules already at our finger tips & we just need to apply them?

 

So what does “real faith” look like here? Is real faith the faith of the men who brought their friend? Is real faith, the faith of the man who rose and walked at Jesus command? Is real faith, the faith of the scribes who brought their tradition? Is real faith, the faith of Jesus who trusted God and offered forgiveness of sin, and healing?

 

This walk of faith is a complex business. In our main text of the day, Jesus is walking and calls Matthew ( a dreaded Tax Collector) to join him. These days you might think, Jesus saw one of the main players at Enron, and invited him to a dinner along with all the former Enron employees who lost their pensions... And were none to happy to see the main player sitting at the head table.

 

So back to Matthew, who accepted Jesus’ invitation of ”Follow me”. By faith, Matthew followed Jesus. Matthew accepted the hospitality which was offered by Jesus. Hospitality was a big deal in Jesus time. Hospitality was expected. Hospitality was a duty, and included a duty to the poor, but at the same time, the Rabbis taught that you should keep away from an evil neighbor, or the wicked.

 

So when the Pharisees entered the courtyard, as custom allowed, they were shocked to see Jesus reclined at a meal, entertaining tax collectors and sinners. Jesus in the company of sinners was not what the religious leaders of the day would expect to see. Jesus was breaking their rules.

 

And when the Pharisees questioned Jesus’ disciples, Jesus bluntly told them that he came for those who were sick, or broken, not for those who were well, or whole. Jesus challenged the Pharisees to fully understand the scripture, and he quoted Hosea 6.6, The LORD speaking to Israel,

“For I desire steadfast love (mercy, in some translations) and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” Endnote

Or in the words of Jesus,” I will have mercy and not sacrifice, for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance”.

 

The delicious irony here is that we have Jesus in the middle of dinner with what appear to be unrepentant sinners of every sort; tax collectors, people who broke the laws of the synagogue, and were guilty of graft and extortion. Now, Jesus does not condone their actions, but he does remain among the unrighteous sinners. Yet it is the righteous sinners, to whom Jesus makes comments...

 

As the Interpreter’s Bible puts it: Some of the sinners were righteous, namely those who at that moment criticized Christ for seeking the company of unrepentant sinners. In truth, Christ’s call to the righteous must be in vain until they know their unrighteousness. Pride and lovelessness are perchance a greater affront than extortion. Endnote

 

Hmmm... those are pretty heavy words... Pride and lovelessness are perhaps a greater affront then those real visible sins of people who cheat and steal?

 

What does this mean for us? Matthew, a known sinner, follows Jesus in faith. Jesus accepts Matthew. The religious leaders of the day question Jesus, and Jesus acceptance of Matthew as an affront to their religion. Where upon Jesus, turns the tables and points back to the scriptures of Hosea (Which by the way deals God’s redeeming love for the straying Israel) Jesus point out that God desires steadfast love, or mercy, and knowledge of God, as opposed to sacrifices, or what have become empty rituals. Ouch...

 

Jesus stood with, and accepted, a known sinner. Being in relationship with Jesus transforms the lives of many sinners. Are we able to step out in faith and stand with known sinners? Can we stand with ourselves? Are we able to let Jesus work through our lives, to make a difference in the lives of those around us?

 

Or are we, like the Pharisees, still busy trying to point to the rules, and trying to regulate who gets to have God’s love and grace, according to us. Who are the Matthews, and who are the Pharisees in our lives? AND who has faith, the Pharisees, or Matthew? Do they both have faith, just differing in quantity and quality? Who gets to decide who has faith?

 

This walk of faith is surely a complex business! In the next story, Jesus explained to John’s disciples that fasting was fine for them, but it was not something that Jesus and his own disciples needed to do, and that is was okay for them to have different traditions. So Jesus not only had to deal with the religious hierarchy of his day, and he also had to deal with his contemporaries. Jesus was a person with deep faith, and lot’s of patience! Because, so far, the people with the most faith problems, seem to be the religious people.

 

And just as Jesus is multi-tasking, explaining that new wine can ruin old wineskins, and saying that’s why you put new wine into fresh wineskins, Jairus shows up. Now this sounds like one busy week of a Pastor, to me!

 

So here, we have Jairus, an actual ruler and leader in the synagogue, coming to Jesus for help,because his young daughter has died. In all of the other Chapter 9 situations so far, the religious leaders came to watch, or to monitor the nature of the proceedings for any religious violations. But now Jairus comes, and kneels, declaring his faith that Jesus’ touch can restore his child. And in an interesting turn, Jesus Follows him.

 

What does real faith look like? Is it a father going to someone who might be able to heal his child, even if it could ruin his livelihood? Is real faith a healer being willing to go to heal a child at the home of religious leader who could get him into deep trouble? Is real faith, a woman considered unclean by the standards of the day, a woman who was bleeding for 12 years, reaching out to touch the hem of Jesus garment to claim healing? They are on the way to Jairus’ house when Jesus senses the woman’s claim on his healing power. Jesus stops and speaks to her, he recognizes her, as a person, something that has probably not happened during the 12 years of her illness, because of religious rules around being unclean. Note that Jesus uses words similar to ones he used for the paralyzed man, “Take heart, or courage, daughter, your faith has made you well.”

 

When Jesus arrives at Jairus home, the hired mourners are there, another religious custom. Jesus tells them all to leave. And in private, Jesus heals Jarius’ little girl. He brings her back to life.

 

The next story in the sequence is about two blind men following Jesus crying loudly “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” Jesus asks them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this? They said, “Yes, Lord” Jesus touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith, let it be done to you.” And their eyes were opened.

 

Now “ Have mercy on us” is part of a universal prayer of the time. But perhaps we should look at these words, “Have Mercy on us” in the context of this whole line of faith we have been exploring.

 

Remember, early on, Jesus, quoted Hosea 6.6 to the Pharisees and told them to learn what it meant. “For I desire steadfast love (mercy) and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God ,rather than burnt offerings.” So the first question is “ Have the Pharisees learned anything yet?” Have the Pharisees learned to have Mercy yet?

 

Now even the blind men are calling out for Jesus to “Have mercy” Even blind men recognize the grace of God at work in Jesus. Even blind men recognize Jesus with a messianic title, as the “Son of David” .

 

I think that the not too subtle message here is that the religious leaders are still blind, they do not see the Love of God in the person of Jesus, while even the blind see, “according to their faith”.

 

So what is real faith? And who has real faith? And who gets to decide who has real Faith?

 

We have seen the faith of friends who bring a paralyzed one, one who could not come on his own strength; we have seen the faith of the scribes who relied on their traditions.

 

We have seen the faith of the sinner Matthew, who responded when Jesus said, “Follow Me”.

 

We have seen the faith of the Pharisees who relied on their own understanding of scriptures, We have seen the faith of John’s disciples who likened themselves to the pharisees in their fasting ritual, while Jesus said different rules applied for his own disciples.

 

We have seen the faith of Jairus, and the woman who hemorrhaged for 12 yrs.

 

We have seen real faith. We have seen many versions of faith. We have seen that some of these are competing versions of faith. How does our understanding of “real” faith shape our understanding of the life and mission of Jesus?

 

This walk of faith is a personal and complex business. It requires us to open our hearts and our minds. It requires us to open our eyes and see, with new understanding. It requires us to ask questions of our traditions. It requires us to learn more about our scriptures. It requires us to seek knowledge of God, and most of all it requires us to love our God, with steadfast love, or mercy.

 

God have Mercy on us all.

for we live in a broken world,

that hungers for your grace and love.

 

God have Mercy on us now

as we gather together at the Lord’s Table

to remember what Jesus Christ has done for us.

 

Let us join in saying the Lord’s Prayer:

Our father who art in heaven. Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,

for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.