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Matthew 9:1-8 Exegetical
The Gospel of Matthew is often called the most 'Jewish' of the Gospels, because it begins with noting Jesus' connection to the Davidic line of kings. This connection is used as a testimony to Jesus' spiritual authority and leadership. The Gospel presents Jesus as a fulfillment of Davidic prophesy. While all of the Gospels contain this theme to some degree, in Matthew it is particularly manifest. As exemplified in the Sermon on the Mount, one of the most notable features of the Gospel, Matthew is a document that often features Jesus as a preacher and a teacher, or a 'rabbi,' above all else. "We also assume that the evangelist [Matthew] is a Jewish-Christian. And his community, while certainly including a Gentile presence and engaging in a Gentile mission, is predominantly Jewish-Christian. That community seems to stand within the broader Jewish community despite a bitter polemic with the parent group" (Deutsch 1990: 14). Those who deny Jesus are seen as betraying the essential nature of the Jewish Messiah. There is no suggestion that Jesus is beginning a new faith or a new ministry, and the stress is upon disagreements between Jewish community members.
The Gospel of Matthew is heavily dependent upon the earlier Gospel of Mark as an original source, in terms of how it structures its narrative. "Matthew absorbs not only the plot and structure of Mark, but also its basic theological concerns, such as the rejection of Jesus in Israel, the mission to the Gentiles, the cross, and the role of suffering in discipleship. Matthew's Gospel is also a transformation of Mark's Gospel" in which Jesus as the personification of the greatest aspects of Jewish history is at the forefront (Luz: 2004: 125). The themes of the redemption of the spirit and how Jesus' miracles are used to exemplify higher spiritual truth as well as evidence of Jesus' role on earth are exemplified in one incident in Matthew 9:1-8, in which Jesus heals a paralyzed man.
In the Gospel, Jesus is often presented as a teacher, giving instruction and disseminating wisdom to his disciples and followers, some of whom understand him, others of whom do not. In the story of the paralyzed man, Jesus uses the incident to teach about the fact that honoring the spirit is more important and more difficult than honoring the flesh. Jesus first forgives the paralyzed man his sins; then he tells him to rise and walk. "For which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" -- he then said to the paralytic -- 'Rise, pick up your bed and go home.' And he rose and went home" (Matthew 9:5-8).
In this passage, Jesus acts as a healer, accomplishing a medical miracle. But he stresses that what is miraculous is the ability to absolve sins, not the ability to change the material world. The language Jesus uses suggests that however real and however remarkable the miracle of enabling the paralytic to walk may be, those who truly understand his ministry will marvel at the fact that their sins can be forgiven, not that the transient, material, corporal body can be temporarily redeemed from paralysis. The flesh is finite, but the spirit is eternal, and just as Jesus dies in the flesh but is resurrected once again, the human soul is eternal as well, provided people believe in Christ. Jesus calls himself by many appellations over the course of the Gospels, but in this instance Jesus specifically uses the phrase 'Son of Man' to underline his connection to humanity.
This healing miracle changes the material world as a method of teaching, not as a way of showing the greatness of Jesus. However, what is interesting is that it is Jesus' statement that he forgives the sins of the man, and that he has the ability to forgive sins in general that draws the ire of others in Jesus' community. "Matthew did not picture his community as a part of the universal church, which is to face the last judgment at the end of time. Instead, he understood himself to be a member of a devoted group of Jesus' followers opposed to the hostile Jewish parent group" installed in power at that time (Luomanen 1998: 478). "And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, 'This man is blaspheming.' But Jesus, knowing their…[continue]
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