17 November 2007

Gospel of St. Matthew Bible Study - Lesson 9

Father Echert's lecture on Chapter 9 of Matthew's gospel. According to the notes from the study, this chapter "juxtaposes more stories of miraculous healings with unprecedented forgiveness. Jesus, the great physician, not only demonstrates that he has the power to heal but also that he can forgive sins. The two are closely linked, and the Messiah has come to heal both body and soul. Today, the Church is called to continue Jesus' ministry through the two powerful sacraments of healing -- Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick."

Father said that physical suffering, even death, should be associated as a condition of sin, not always a personal sin, but how sin in the world affects us all.

Earlier, in the Old Testament and in the Old Covenant, God dealt with people more as infants. They had a strict structure to live in and punishment was more immediate. But, you can't punish adult children the same way. Job and the blind man in John's gospel (chapter 9) are two instances where their afflictions are not brought about by their own sins, but sin in general. These are examples of how we can be instruments of grace for others by our faith, example and bearing suffering well.

The paralytic man in Matthew 9, is cured spiritually and physically. He was given temporal and eternal life. The man could've been cured just by Jesus willing it, but Jesus shows He has power to heal physically and forgive sins by letting the people see the man was healed by the actions/words of Jesus, it was a sign.

"Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven." And behold some of the scribes said to themselves, "This man is blaspheming." But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, "Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise and walk." (Matt 9:2-5) Here we see Jesus showing he is God by forgiving sin which was usually the cause of physical ailments back then. Here we see Jesus is the great physician, curing body and soul. The scribes consider this blasphemy because God alone can forgive sin and they didn't recognize God was right before their eyes. Father also mentioned that blasphemy was a serious charge and without the Roman constraints on the Jews of the time, Jesus could've been put to death.

Jesus then tells the paralytic man to take up his bed, which is part of witnessing. Then it says, "And he rose and went home." This shows the effect of the miracle and the man's obedience. This demonstration is a sign for the weak of faith to ponder that here is someone who worked a miracle.

We then see Jesus calling Matthew the tax collector. Four other men immediately followed Jesus in this way: James, John, Peter and Andrew. These men had been disciples of John the Baptist and had been informed who Jesus was so when Jesus called them, it wasn't as if they were seeing Him for the first time.

Our group leader in our small group discussion asked us if we thought it was hard for Matthew to leave his job and follow Jesus. Once again, I'm the contrarian. They all thought it was easy, primarily because Matthew and others were followers of John the Baptist and knew who Jesus was, and also they said because Matthew was a tax collector, which was a despised profession, that he was more than happy to leave it. My thoughts are that Jesus called weak men, men just like the rest of us. They didn't have a supernatural knowledge of what was to happen; it was all an unknown. Anyone leaving behind a good job has anxiety about the new one because you don't know what lies ahead. Just because it was a despised profession doesn't mean he wanted to leave it, just look at lawyers! If Jesus came to earth today and asked us to follow him, would you be willing to drop everything and go? I don't think it is easy as one might think...and we have 2000 years of Church teaching and discovery behind us to provide a more informed perspective. These guys had to trust in Jesus a great deal and had NO idea what was in store for them.

However, JPII had this to say on the matter:
Drawn by the Master's invitation to follow him, without any delay Matthew "rose and followed him." From that moment there was a radical change in his life, in his way of thinking and acting. He became a disciple of Jesus and announced that Gospel, written by him, in which the Christian is presented above all as a follower of Christ, one who is aware of the commitments that come to him with acceptance of the Godpel and who carries them out with courage to the point of heroism, because to follow Christ is more important than any other duty.
Angelus, September 23, 1981

During this time, many Jews had two names, especially those who worked in professions where they would have contact with Gentiles, as was the case of Matthew. He was called Levi, but also Matthew, which probably came about because of his professional duties as a tax collector.

Father talked briefly about how faith is a supernatural grace. We can have the misguided assent of the will to believe in false religions which shows that this grace can be lost. If we reject even one of the dogmatic teachings of the Church, we forfeit that grace. There are some matters where you can disagree, but not when it comes to something divinely revealed since it comes from the Lawgiver, who is Himself divine.

It is also laughable to see the Pharisees accuse Jesus of being the "prince of demons" when he casts out demons. The Pharisees couldn't deny what Jesus had done, much to their chagrin, so they just attacking Jesus with these goofy claims. They don't seem to see that it would be contradictory to the devil's plan to cast out demons. Why would the devil be in opposition to himself?

We see Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners, intending to draw them out of their sin. His message was not, "Go ahead and keep on doing what you are doing." God's love is NOT unconditional. This idea is NOT biblical. A mortal sin cuts you off from God, period. Game over.

Jesus says, "I desire mercy, and not sacrifice." Father said this is what some use as a "proof text." Jesus didn't so away with sacrifice from the Old Covenant nor suspend the practice, since they continued to fast and abstain and then He institutes the non-bloody sacrifice of the Eucharist. This is a problem with Hebrew and shows the limitations of the language. The Hebrew language could not show preference, only contrast. Jesus is merely showing His PREFERENCE for mercy over sacrifice, not that sacrifice should be done away with. Other examples are God loving Jacob and despising Esau or how we are to love God and hate our parents (God PREFERRED Jacob, God PREFERS we love Him more than our parents). The limitations of the language cloud the real meaning. If our motivations are not from charity and mercy then they are of no value.

The images of wine in this chapter explain what the Pharisees were attempting to do by judging Jesus by the Old Covenant and those ritual laws. Jesus is the New Covenant and they must conform to Him, not the other way around. "And no one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; if it is, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved." Matt 9:16-17

Father then finished the last two minutes with talking about the "Matthew before Mark" argument. He talked specifically about the pericope (par ick opee) in verses 18-26. Typically, the shorter gospel is the earlier one. Over time (if you are a subsequent gospel writer), you add things. Mark has more details in many of his pericopes, and Father emphasized that these details are things that someone like Matthew, as a detailed tax collector, would not have left out. Mark is more detailed in his gospel than Matthew (eg: the age of the girl is known in Mark's gospel as 12, it is not mentioned in Matthew). Matthew tells us LESS, Mark tells us MORE.


No class next week because of Thanksgiving, but see you back here in two weeks, same bat time, same bat channel, for Chapter 10.

No comments: