Matthew 09 – Mercy not Sacrifice

Everyone deserves care.

Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town.Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”

At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!”

Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” Then the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to man.

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

14 Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?”

15 Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.

16 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. 17 Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”

18 While he was saying this, a synagogue leader came and knelt before him and said, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.” 19 Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples.

20 Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. 21 She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.”

22 Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed at that moment.

23 When Jesus entered the synagogue leader’s house and saw the noisy crowd and people playing pipes, 24 he said, “Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. 25 After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up.26 News of this spread through all that region.

27 As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!”

28 When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?”

“Yes, Lord,” they replied.

29 Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you”; 30 and their sight was restored. Jesus warned them sternly, “See that no one knows about this.” 31 But they went out and spread the news about him all over that region.

32 While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus. 33 And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”

34 But the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.”

35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Jesus spends some time talking about people’s faith while healing them in this chapter.  He forgives the sins of the paralytic before he heals him, he tells the bleeding woman that her faith has healed her, he straight up asks the blind man if he believes that he, Jesus, can heal him.  Faith is wonderful and can do some amazing, even miraculous, things.  But I want to make something very, very clear: Faith is not a prerequisite to care, and this chapter does not prove otherwise.  Everyone deserves care.  There is a very specific reason Jesus focuses so much on faith and healing in this section.

Framing these questions of belief are two instances of the “teachers” (other learned men of some authority) and the Pharisees grumbling about Jesus.  First they say he blasphemes by forgiving the sins of others.  Which, when you think about it rationally, is kind of out there.  Anyone who forgives someone else’s sin is basically taking on the power of God.  I think it’s a power God wants us to share, because forgiveness is better for everyone involved. But that’s not the only reason Jesus told the paralytic his sins were forgiven.  He was making a point because he knew the teachers were watching.  He straight up tells them “But so you may know that the Son of Man has authority on Earth,” and then turns around and lifts the paralytic up.  Jesus is showing those who doubt, whose hearts may be hardened, that he has power over body and soul.  But they don’t listen, because once again at the end of the chapter, instead of being amazed by the miracle of speech being restored to a mute man, the Pharisees say Jesus’ drove the demon out by the power of the “prince of demons.”

Every single one of these healings, including the one where Jesus asked the blind man not to say anything, was watched by or relayed to the Pharisees.  Jesus was making a bold claim that he was the Son of Man, with authority on Earth.  By linking questions of faith with these closely-watched and much talked about healings, Jesus was making it clear that it was through God he was able to do these things.

But I think the part of the chapter we need to focus more on is when Jesus says “it is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick…I desire mercy, not sacrifice.  For I have not come to call the righteous, but the sinners.”  The chapter also closes with Matthew reminding us that when Jesus “saw the crowds, he had compassion on them.”  He didn’t ask them what church they went to, or say they needed to come back more sober, or ask what health insurance they’d be using.  He healed them.  He had compassion on them.  He had mercy on them.  He sought out the sinners, including Matthew himself. (Tax collectors, such as Matthew, were often despised due to their corruption, and for siding with the Romans against their own people.  They were more like mobsters than accountants.)  Through Jesus’ mercy, they became believers.  He may have asked a few if they believed to make a point to the Pharisees, but the more important thing is he healed them.  Regardless of station in life-from the completely helpless paralytic to the Synagogue ruler-Jesus healed them.

Forcing someone to believe isn’t leading them to true faith.  Showing compassion, regardless of situation or predicament, in the name of Jesus Christ is a far more effective way to show the world what he is all about.  I remind you again: Jesus tells us plainly, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”  We need to show mercy to those who need it.  We don’t have a major leprosy problem anymore, nor do we encounter the demon-possessed on a regular basis (I don’t think), but we still have people that society ignores, belittles, and shoves out of the way: addicts, sex workers, homeless, and those struggling with mental illness are just a few examples.  Instead of looking down our noses at them we need to help them.  This is why I particularly like the Housing First approach to ending homelessness, where homeless individuals are provided housing immediately, and only after that is achieved do they begin addressing issues of substance abuse or mental health from a stable environment.  It’s also why I like Planned Parenthood, because it is made very clear from their mission that they are there to serve women no matter what their situation, not judge them for it.  We need more programs like this, especially in and around the health care industry.

The “sinners” of Jesus’ time often weren’t “sinners” at all, but rather at the mercy of medical ailments we now fully understand.  A woman suffering a bleeding condition and a paralytic man wouldn’t be considered sinners by the majority of society today.  I pray that we are soon able to treat the “sins” of mental illness and addiction as matter-of-factly (and under full, affordable insurance coverage) as hypertension or near-sightedness are currently treated.  And how will that happen?  It will happen faster if more of us are willing to sit with the sinners and tax collectors, as Jesus was.  If we provide them with mercy, instead of sacrificing them to the system, we not only show them that individually they are of value, but also show society at large that everyone matters.  Are you, or is someone close to you effected by homelessness? Sexual violence? Mental illness? Chronic conditions? Addiction? STDs? Then speak up.  Let society know that everyone in these groups is worthy of compassionate, merciful care.  Jesus thought so, so we should, too.

Matthew 5:38-42 – An Eye for an Eye

Non-violent resistance. Loud, poignant, effective nonviolent resistance.

FYI this is a rather swear-y post with more than one F-bomb. If that isn’t your thing, you may just want to skip this one.

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

This part of the Bible always bothered me.  It bothered me that Jesus would so meekly submit to wrong-doing, and ask us to give away everything, to literally stand naked and helpless, in order to be a good Christian.  Then I heard a different interpretation of the “turn the other cheek” admonition.  I don’t remember where I originally heard it -perhaps on the History Channel years ago, but best I can re-trace it now, it seems to come from the writings of Dr. Walter Wink.  To summarize: In Jesus’ time, it was acceptable and normal to reprimand a subservient person (a wife, a slave) with a backhand slap from your right hand.  This specification is important, because one’s left hand was reserved only for unclean tasks.  So, if your master or husband slapped you across the right cheek with the back of their right hand, and you then offer them your left cheek, they either have to use their left hand to back-slap you, inherently admitting their actions are unclean and wrong, or straight up attack you with an open palmed attack.  Now, this certainly doesn’t get the slap-ee out of trouble, if anything, it invites more pain to come, but it does make the point I’m a person, damn you, pay attention!  In other words, non-violent resistance.

Nonviolent resistance is what these four verses are all about.  Another article I read pointed out the very specific examples used by Jesus are extreme illustrations.  Remember, Jesus does love hyperbole.  Perhaps these exact instances will never happen to you, but you can apply the principles in your own life.  First example: If you are being sued for your clothing, you probably are very poor and lack anything else of value.  By handing over all your clothes, standing naked in the street becomes a non-violent testament to the unfairness of the law and the hard-heartedness of the person suing you.  If you are being forced into service for one mile, walking two with the enforcer allows for one full mile of uncomfortable thought on their part.

Additionally, the translation “do not resist an evil person” is not fully agreed upon, both the literal translation and it’s meaning.  Some, like Dr. Wink, think it simply cautions us against the use of violence.  Others think it should be translated closer to something like “adopt a defensive position.”  Either way, it does not mean meek acceptance of how the world is.

Jesus is asking a lot of us in the passage.  I say that with all sincerity and gravity.  He is asking us to adhere to nonviolence, yes, but definitely not meekness.  He is asking us the very opposite.  He is asking us to put our instinct of self-preservation aside, and to stand up to the wrongs we face.  Look your accuser in the eye, and make them pay some fucking attention.  This is scary, and can result in very real physical harm.  Just think of all the Civil Rights protesters who were water cannoned, attacked by dogs, and harassed by Klansman.  Think of all the women who have had acid thrown on them for their audacity to say no to a suitor or report their rape.

Thank God we haven’t had anything that terrifying happen to us, but recently, Chris and I got a small taste of what it’s like to be the subject of someone’s maleficence.  Someone, we don’t know who, filed a bogus Worker’s Comp claim on us.  There are militant vegans who are opposed to animal husbandry in general with whom Chris has exchanged words.  There are a bunch of Good Old Boys who Chris has pissed off in his writings about race and what it means to be a farmer and black.  And who knows who else we have pissed off being an inter-racial, inter-faith couple with loud opinions.  So take your pick.  Chris had to go to court and prove that we are not a multi-state business employing over two dozen people (we just got our first employee, other than ourselves, last year, and we’re definitely only farming in Virginia).  And it was scary.  We didn’t know what we were up against.  Turns out some jackass just turned in a bunch of pictures of people from our own social media, including a picture of Chris’ grandfather on a tractor taken long before Chris was even born, citing him as an “employee.”  So it got thrown out.  But when I called my mom to tell her about the outcome, she asked if we were going to be more careful about what we put out on social media.  Fuck no, we’re not going to be more careful about what we put out on social media!  Ok, I didn’t swear at my mom, but I just get so angry thinking that someone was trying to scare us into silence.  To whatever fuckface tried to that, guess what: We’re going to keep at it.  You might be able to wound us, you might even find a way to shut down the farm completely, but you’ll never stop us.  We have the safety net of family, careers we could fall back into should farming fail, entrepreneurial spirits and just enough recklessness and faith to keep up our nonviolent resistance to the bitter end.

What injustices do you see in the world that you can stand up to?  That’s a huge question.  But it is one that Jesus asks of us.  If you need to work up your courage, I suggest reading my post about pluralistic ignorance (how more people than you think privately disagree with an idea or situation, but lack the courage to speak up about it). That post also has four ways you can act against injustice without speaking, if confrontation scares you shitless.  But the point is to act.  Do not sit meekly by. Wherever and whenever you are able, it is our duty, if we proclaim to be Christian, to resist the injustices we see in this world.  So get out there.  Resist.

Matthew 5:13-16 – Salt and Light

A call to help others fully realize their own best selves.

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

In other words, we are to bring flavor and brightness to the world.  It’s not exactly “let your freak flag fly,” but I do think Jesus would appreciate the diversity of people in the world fully expressing themselves.  Can’t you just imagine Jesus hanging out at the local library for Drag Queen Story Hour, blessing all the children and those spreading love and acceptance?

But life isn’t one big Mardi Gras parade.  While I truly believe this passage is saying to not hide your light but to let it shine; to bring your own unique flavor to the world – this passage calls us to go far beyond just personal self expression.  It calls us to help others to fully realize their own best selves, too.  This can mean lots of things, but most of all it means activism.  It means supporting girls’ and womens’ education in places where they are not currently given those opportunities.  It means allowing refugees easier access to our country, so they can escape oppression and make safer and better lives for themselves.  It means Autism Acceptance, an Autistic-led movement to counter basic awareness, that allows for full expression of Autistic behavior (in a safe way) and participation in society.  Maybe it even means Universal Basic Income – a concept I’ll admit I have not researched much but one that does hold immediate appeal.

Yes, go be that City on the Hill.  Stand up for what you believe in, especially if you are in a place of privilege – because for many, it is too dangerous for them to go to school, express their love, or even just walk down the street.  We all need to work together to make this world as bright and flavorful as it can be.