Today’s Gospel reading is from the beginning of chapter 9 of the Gospel of Matthew. Let’s take two steps back and get some perspective on where this healing narrative falls in the development of Matthew’s Gospel.
We know that Matthew gives us the beautiful Sermon on the Mount in chapters 5 and 7 of his Gospel. Beginning in chapter 8 and carrying through chapter 9 we are caught up in the love of the heart of the Divine Physician.
First, he healed a man with leprosy: “If you are willing you can make me clean.” “I am willing, be clean!” Jesus said (cf. vs. 1-2).
Next the Divine Physician heals the servant of the centurion from afar because of the centurion’s great faith (vs. 5-13).
After the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, a great crowd descended on the house begging Jesus to drive out evil spirits and heal the sick. Jesus healed all who came to him. Then he got into a boat with his disciples, and he calmed a great storm. Their hearts were filled with awe. Jesus is Master of the powers of nature, of evil, and of sickness (vs. 14-16, 23-27).
Chapter 8 ends with Jesus healing two men possessed by demons, sending them into a large herd of pigs. Then we are told that the whole village came out to see what was going on and pleaded with him to leave. The joy and awe that has surrounded Jesus’ healing is met here with rejection and expulsion (vs. 28-34),
So Jesus entered a boat to cross to the other side.
At this point we come to today’s Gospel in which Jesus forgives a paralytic of his sins and then heals him, “Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.” The crowds are in awe, but the scribes accuse him of blaspheming. It is becoming more and more clear that we must make a choice regarding Jesus.
Tomorrow’s Gospel will be the calling of a tax collector, a sinner, Matthew. Tax collectors worked for the foreigners who ruled over the Jews, so this made them traitors. They weren’t paid a wage by the Romans, but were expected to take extra money and keep some for themselves. They were hated and considered sinners. And yet this one sinner “got up and followed” Jesus immediately when he said to him, “Follow me.” We then see Jesus entering into the community of tax collectors and sinners, eating with them, because “the sick” “need a physician” (Mt 9:9-13).
The story of the paralytic should wake us up to the decision we each need to make. Where is it that you need forgiveness? What has paralyzed you? Are your limbs lifeless because you have used them in your own pursuits rather than the will of God? Sin is more than just a failing. In little ways, or in grave, sin distances us from God. Sin makes us spiritually weak. We are so important to God, so dear and precious to the Father, that he sent his Son to heal us. Jesus came to call us out of all that holds us back from giving ourselves completely and in trust to God. The Son of God enters into communion with us, the community of sinners, and he says, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and be healed.” And then he says, “Follow me.”
Where is Jesus today asking you to follow him?
Photo Credit: © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / CC BY-SA 3.0