Matthew Chapter 9:1-13

I included this first verse with the end of Chapter 8, at the end of the story of the Gadarene demonaics. But it seemed worth including again, just for context.

1 Καὶ ἐμβὰς εἰς πλοῖον διεπέρασεν καὶ ἦλθεν εἰς τὴν ἰδίαν πόλιν.

And embarking on the boat, they crossed and came to his own city. 

We discussed the implications of this at the end of Chapter 8. As a refresher, this seems to be part of the argument that Jesus was actually from Caphernaum, and not Nazareth.

BTW: John Calvin says that…This passage shows, that Capernaum was generally believed to be the birth-place of Christ…

So maybe I’m not so crazy after all….

1 Et ascendens in naviculam transfretavit et venit in civita tem suam.

2 καὶ ἰδοὺ προσέφερον αὐτῷ παραλυτικὸν ἐπὶ κλίνης βεβλημένον. καὶ ἰδὼν ὁ Ἰησοῦς τὴν πίστιν αὐτῶν εἶπεν τῷ παραλυτικῷ, Θάρσει, τέκνον: ἀφίενταί σου αἱ ἁμαρτίαι.

And look, they brought a paralytic to him lying on his litter. And seeing his faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son, your sins have been removed.” 

Here we have the beginning of another set-piece story that was in Mark. There, of course, the setting was Jesus’ house, and the crowd was such that the paralytic had to be lowered down to Jesus through a hole in the roof. Apparently Matthew thought such vandalization of Jesus’ house by persons unknown was too scandalous to repeat. Again, by “set-piece”, I mean a story that had accumulated over time into a discreet chunk, a single unit, as the story of the Gerasene demonaic. And here, once again, Matthew chooses to eliminate much of the detail surrounding the tale. Now, we can suggest that Matthew got this from another tradition that didn’t have the details, but that’s bordering on silly. The probability is very high that Matthew used Mark, so Matthew had access to the whole story in Mark, whether or not there was a variant version or not. So the bottom line is that Matthew very deliberately decided to pare away much of the surrounding context and report “just the facts”. One interesting omission is the crowd; in fact, there haven’t been that many crowds so far in Matthew. I did a count of the occurrences; so far, we’ve encountered a crowd a handful of times. This will change as we progress, but, for the time being Matthew has not stressed the crowds the way Mark did. And in this story in particular, the crowd was more or less the whole point in Mark. It took some doing to get the paralytic to Jesus.

Aside from these issues, what’s interesting here is that what Jesus does is to say “your sins are forgiven”. Why? Of course, part of this is the mental connexion between sin and illness that was still prevalent at the time Matthew wrote. All God’s friends are rich and healthy, and probably good-looking, too.  But of course, this will set up a conflict, as we shall see in the next verse….

2 Et ecce offerebant ei paralyticum iacentem in lecto. Et videns Iesus fidem illorum, dixit paralytico: “Confide, fili; remittuntur peccata tua ”.

3 καὶ ἰδού τινες τῶν γραμματέων εἶπαν ἐν ἑαυτοῖς, Οὗτος βλασφημεῖ.

4 καὶ ἰδὼν ὁ Ἰησοῦς τὰς ἐνθυμήσεις αὐτῶν εἶπεν, Ἱνα τί ἐνθυμεῖσθε πονηρὰ ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ὑμῶν;

And lo, some of the scribes said among themselves, “He blasphemes.” (4) And Jesus knowing their thoughts said to them, “Why do you think evil thoughts in your hearts?”

The first question here is what is meant by “in themselves”. Is this meant as, they murmured to each other, within their little group, or they said it silently, each within his own heart, or mind? It may not entirely matter, but given Jesus’ response about the thoughts “in their hearts” it’s not clear if Jesus just has really sharp hearing, if he has a keen grasp of human nature, or if he can actually read minds. I mean, did he hear them? Did he see them shifting uncomfortably in their chairs and have a good idea of the way they thought, or did he literally read their minds? The Greek could imply the first, but Jesus’ response almost implies the last.  There is no answer to this; it’s probably not necessary for Jesus to read minds, but it’s an interesting problem.  

3 Et ecce quidam de scribis dixerunt intra se: “ Hic blasphemat ”.

4 Et cum vidisset Iesus cogitationes eorum, dixit: “ Ut quid cogitatis mala in cordibus vestris?

5 τί γάρ ἐστιν εὐκοπώτερον, εἰπεῖν, Ἀφίενταί σου αἱ ἁμαρτίαι, ἢ εἰπεῖν, Ἔγειρε καὶ περιπάτει;

6 ἵνα δὲ εἰδῆτε ὅτι ἐξουσίαν ἔχει ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἀφιέναι ἁμαρτίας τότε λέγει τῷ παραλυτικῷ, Ἐγερθεὶςἆρόν σου τὴν κλίνην καὶ ὕπαγε εἰς τὸν οἶκόν σου.

7 καὶ ἐγερθεὶς ἀπῆλθεν εἰς τὸν οἶκον αὐτοῦ.

8 ἰδόντες δὲ οἱ ὄχλοι ἐφοβήθησαν καὶ ἐδόξασαν τὸν θεὸν τὸν δόντα ἐξουσίαν τοιαύτην τοῖς ἀνθρώποις.

(5) “For what is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’, or to say, ‘Get up and walk around’? (6) But in order that you may know that the son of man has authority on the earth to take away sins”, then he said to the paralytic, “Take up your litter and go to your home.” (7) And getting up he went to his home. (8) Then seeing, the crowd was frightened and praised God giving such authority to men. 

Here the connexion between sins and disease is very clear. Jesus took away the sins, then the paralytic got up and walked. This is pretty direct causation.

The second point is that Matthew retained this particular aspect of the story. He got rid of the anecdotal details, but kept the contention with the scribes. Why? The apparent purpose here is to separate Jesus from the religious establishment. This was very clear in Mark, and it was arguably very necessary for the time given the freshness of the Jewish Revolt. But another generation has passed; so why? Here it’s worth bearing in mind the progression towards John, who blames “The Jews” for the ills that befell Jesus. I don’t meant to imply that Matthew was anti-Jewish, but keeping this part of the story was a choice. He didn’t have to do so, but he did. The reasonable conclusion to draw is that Matthew kept this deliberately to provide the separation between Jesus and the Jews, or at least the Jewish establishment. He may not be emphasizing it to the degree that Mark did, but he’s not sweeping it under the rug, either.

Now it has long been assumed that Matthew was Jewish. What do we think of this? I’ve been suggesting that, perhaps, we may not want to be entirely so certain about this. Yes, the name is Jewish, but no one seriously believes that Matthew Levi (coming up shortly!) is the author of this gospel. The line about “not an iota of the law will be lost” has long been held out as proof of Matthew’s Jewish heritage: he was concerned with retaining the Law. But was he? Really? Recall, that in the passage where he has Jesus say that, Jesus no more than utters the words and he’s changing the Law. So take that phrase away, and what do we have? Well, so far, not so much. More may come. I can’t recall anything so far that has made me think “Aha! There is a grand indication that Matthew was, indeed, Jewish”.

Think back to Paul. He left no doubt that he was Jewish. He bragged about it . He was one of the most zealous of his generation. We have gotten nothing like that from Matthew. We got nothing like that from Mark. The fact that we have to ask the question is really all we need to know. That we don’t know, I think, is a prima facie indication that perhaps neither of these two evangelists were Jewish. Now, that once again flies in the face of tradition, that Christianity maintained its ties to Judaism for a long time, but I find nothing to indicate this in the texts. Where is the evidence? IMO, it’s just as likely that Matthew had Jesus say that not an iota would be dropped so that Matthew could emphasize that Jesus wasn’t an innovator, and that his teaching wasn’t a novelty. To admit that he was changing the Law would have been a bad PR move if one were trying to convert pagans who, by and large, respected the pedigree of antiquity.

Now, a statement like I’ve just made that Matthew wasn’t Jewish requires that a case that has to be built up quote by quote to be convincing, and I certainly have not done that. But, really, have those who say that Matthew was Jewish actually created such a case? I’m not aware of it. This is another thing that is pretty much just assumed. It’s always been assumed. Think about Peter’s successors: Linus, Anacletus, Clement…pagan names. Already by the end of the first century the Bishops of Rome were consistently former pagans. Yes, Jews could have Greek or Latin names, but think of it. Where are the Jewish names connected with the Church in the last half of the First Century? Luke is not a Jewish name. John is, so maybe the fourth evangelist and the author of Revelations were both Jewish. But there aren’t many more. Titus & Timothy are Greek names, and Paul told us that Titus was a pagan, so pagans had already become prominent by then. Yes, authors of the epistles have Jewish names, but so has Matthew. Were the epistles written by the people whose names they bear? Not in all cases, surely. My point is that it should not be taken for granted that the followers of Jesus, that the Christian followers of Jesus were predominantly Jewish; they may have been, but a case needs to be made for this. I don’t think it ever has been made. I will start piecing my case together. If anyone is aware of anyone who has actually made the case, feel free to enlighten me.

Finally, the last sentence: they were afraid…(because)…God had given such authority to men. Now, this is interesting for all sorts of reasons. First, they were afraid. They didn’t marvel; they feared, but despite this, they praised God. Now, this makes me wonder if this is one instance where the NT definition of “ephobo” (think phobia) may not be warranted. Perhaps it’s like “awe” and how it became “awful”; rather than “full of awe” the word has morphed into “terrible”. So, one fears because of the power of God, but it’s a holy kind of fear. Sort of like Moses before the Burning Bush.

But the most pertinent point, I think is that God had given such authority (or power; or simply “competence”) to men. Not to a man; not to God’s son, but to men, sort of generically. What does this imply? Again, this is Matthew saying this; this is not in Mark, so Matthew added it deliberately. Honestly, and off-hand, I have no real explanation for this. I find it baffling. That being the case, I checked in with M Calvin of Geneva. His solution to the problem is simple: these men were mistaken; Jesus was not a man. Which puts this in a rather different light: why does Matthew tell us that others thought Jesus was a man? Hmmm…who were these others? Well, they were Jews, because they are in and about Jesus’ residence, they were in the presence of scribes…Is this one more clue about Matthew’s religious background? Or one more way of remaining separate from, while simultaneously being attached to Judaism? If so, it’s fairly subtle, and decidedly clever. By the time Matthew wrote this, it would have been plainly obvious that a lot of Jews had not become followers of Jesus, they had not made the jump to Christian. As such, Matthew had to explain this. Mark had the Great Secret; is Matthew going to toss out little clues like this? Is this how Matthew will handle this problem?Time will tell. All in all, my suggestion about Matthew may not be completely ridiculous.

5 Quid enim est facilius, dicere: “Dimittuntur peccata tua”, aut dicere: “Surge et ambula”?

6 Ut sciatis autem quoniam Filius hominis habet potestatem in terra dimittendi peccata — tunc ait paralytico – : Surge, tolle lectum tuum et vade in domum tuam ”.

7 Et surrexit et abiit in domum suam.

8 Videntes autem turbae timuerunt et glorificaverunt Deum, qui dedit potestatem talem hominibus.

9 Καὶ παράγων ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐκεῖθεν εἶδεν ἄνθρωπον καθήμενον ἐπὶ τὸ τελώνιον, Μαθθαῖον λεγόμενον, καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ, Ἀκολούθει μοι. καὶ ἀναστὰς ἠκολούθησεν αὐτῷ.

 And going about, Jesus then saw a man seated in the tax collector’s office, named Matthew, and he (Jesus) said to him (Matthew), “Follow me,” and (Matthew) standing, followed him (Jesus).

Offhand, I really don’t know why this gospel is associated with Matthew Levi. I’m sure there’s a long explanation in the tradition, but it’s likely an ex-post rationalization. And it’s interesting to note that the “Levi” is missing here. That’s what Mark and Luke call him. Why not Matthew? I have some vague sense that being named Matthew here, rather than Levi, has something to do with the gospel being attributed to Matthew. The thing is, these traditions were often born of stuff like the fact that only Matthew calls him Matthew, and that Matthew doesn’t mention Levi. The bases for a lot of what we “know” about the earliest history of the Church and the early days of the Jesus movement rests on such slender reeds, which was the phrase used by writers on Greek history. And trust me: there are a lot of ponderous edifices built on some very slender reeds in Greek history, so I can usually recognize one when I see it.  

I do want to mention something again. One of the reasons that it matters whether Jesus was from Caphernaum is situations like this, or the calling of Simon and Andrew and the sons of Zebedee. If Jesus had lived in Caphernaum (which is where Calvin says this story occurs), then his calling to these men, and these men responding is perhaps neither so mysterious nor remarkable as the stories would have us believe. Had Jesus lived here some time, had he grown up here, then he likely would have known these men, and they likely would have known him. As such, it’s not like they dropped everything to take up with a complete stranger that they had never met.  It’s not quite the blinding flash that the story tries to imply.

9 Et cum transiret inde Iesus, vidit hominem sedentem in teloneo, Matthaeum nomine, et ait illi: “Sequere me”. Et surgens secutus est eum.

10 Καὶ ἐγένετο αὐτοῦ ἀνακειμένου ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ, καὶ ἰδοὺ πολλοὶ τελῶναι καὶ ἁμαρτωλοὶ ἐλθόντες συνανέκειντο τῷ Ἰησοῦ καὶ τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ.

11 καὶ ἰδόντες οἱ Φαρισαῖοιἔλεγον τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ, Διὰ τί μετὰ τῶν τελωνῶν καὶ ἁμαρτωλῶν ἐσθίει ὁ διδάσκαλος ὑμῶν;

12 ὁ δὲ ἀκούσας εἶπεν, Οὐ χρείαν ἔχουσιν οἱ ἰσχύοντες ἰατροῦ ἀλλ’ οἱ κακῶς ἔχοντες.

13 πορευθέντες δὲ μάθετε τί ἐστιν, Ἔλεος θέλω καὶ οὐ θυσίαν: οὐ γὰρ ἦλθον καλέσαι δικαίους ἀλλὰ ἁμαρτωλούς.

And it happened he (Jesus) was reclining (which means “dining”) in his house, and lo, many tax collectors and sinners having come reclined together with Jesus and his disciples. (10) And the Pharisees seeing his disciples, (asked) “Because of what with tax collectors and sinners does your teacher eat?” (12) He (Jesus) hearing, said, “The strong (i.e., “healthy”) do not need a physician, but those having bad things (i.e., “diseases”). (13) Going, learn what (this means) is, ‘Compassion (pity/mercy; it can mean all three) I wish, and not sacrifice. For I did not come to call the righteous, but the sinners’.”

First, this is taking place at Jesus’ house. Mark was a bit ambiguous on this, but Matthew is fairly clear. Note that this is clarified by the fact that the tax collectors and sinners came; Jesus did not go to them. So once again, this is a strong indication that Jesus was a native of Caphernaum, rather than Nazareth. I do not believe it was customary to go to another town and purchase a house; my sense is that houses were constructed by the family that intended to occupy them. I suppose the house could have been in the family of a relative, perhaps an aunt or uncle or cousin who died childless, and then Jesus took it over, but this is all very speculative. The plainest sense of the text is that this was Jesus’ house, which would imply it was where he grew up.

Second, once again Jesus has those keen ears that allow him to hear conversations that were held sotto voce, or at some distance. Sort of like he was able to hear what the scribes were thinking. Now, this story is also in Mark, and it runs fairly closely along the lines of Mark, which is actually a tad longer. So once again, Matthew abbreviates. Not much, it’s true, but he does. Let’s take a look at this, and at the placement. The Sermon on the Mount lasted three chapters. Matthew seems to be condensing a bunch of Mark into a section. Now here’s a thought: does the idea of Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners seem a bit quaint after the Sermon? Sort of dated? In a way, I dislike making suggestions like this because it’s this sort of thing that the Q proponents use as the totality of the “argument” for the existence of Q. But I don’t quite think I’m doing that. I am pointing out what I believe is a different tone in Matthew towards some of these episodes than we found in Mark. I’m not suggesting that Matthew’s version is somehow superior to Mark. Is a difference in tone so ridiculous? Isn’t that kind of the point? I will say this again: Matthew didn’t write just to repeat what Mark said, in the way that Mark said it. Rather, Matthew wrote because he felt he had something different to say. 

The line about pity/mercy/compassion vs. sacrifice is from Hosea 6:6. The REB that I have translates Hosea as “loyalty”, but the point is that God isn’t as impressed with the outward act of burning an animal as he had been at one point. Now, Hosea is set in the 7oos BCE, but, does anyone take these dates seriously as the time of its composition? Rather, this seems to reflect a time much closer to the turn of the era than to the eve of the destruction of Israel. So the point is, it’s a reflection of how Judaism was changing, becoming much more internalized. This is why there has been such a (much-needed) effort to contextualize Jesus in his Jewish milieu. And this is exactly why I think that Matthew found it a bit quaint, something to be condensed, rather than something to be elaborated. He elaborated the story of Jesus’ baptism; he elaborated the story of the temptations; he added entirely the story of the centurion’s boy; he cut the story of the Gerasene demonaic and a couple of others found in Mark. At this point I am reluctant to draw too many inferences from this admittedly limited sample; however, as we progress, this will be worth keeping an eye on: what does Matthew lengthen, what does he add, what does he trim?

Finally, the line about the healthy not needing a physician is, I think, likely to be authentic. It’s part of the “triple tradition”, which means it’s in all three of the Synoptic Gospels. It’s not part of Q, unless it’s part of the convenient ‘Mark/Q overlap’, which is a category created to catch such gems as this saying. This is another aspect of Q that I love: it’s so flexible. It can include whatever the proponents think it should, or think it has to contain because whatever it is has to trace back to Jesus. Except when it’s about John the Baptist. That must be in Q because it’s in Matthew and Luke, but not Mark. Never mind that Luke is nearly a verbatim copy of Matthew. That’s because both of them copied Q faithfully. Regardless, this is the sort of aphorism that makes Mack believe that Jesus was a Cynic sage; it’s witty, a bit irreverent, and it makes the person on the other end look a bit foolish. This, I think, is the sort of mot that would be easily remembered and often repeated.

But we have to ask how, or even if, this fits with the idea that he came to call sinners, not the righteous. This idea leads us back to what we think the kingdom was all about. We have the sort of topsy-turvy thought expressed here that we found in the Beatitudes. Or do we? The latter are about those who suffer; this is about forgiveness. Those referred to in the Beatitudes have it bad, probably through no fault of their own. They are the victims–real victims–of oppression, at the mercy of powers much greater than themselves. Thucydides has such circumstances in mind when he said, “the strong do what they can. The weak suffer what they must”. Can we say that about sinners? Are we really talking about the same groups here? The same sort of overall, overarching theme for what the kingdom is about? I’m not entirely sure that we are. Now, the overturning of the current status quo was thematic in Mark. While the Beatitudes have that theme, it refers to a different group of people. Now, this could simply be picking nits on my part, but I feel like there is a qualitative difference between eating with sinners and tax collectors–who were generally quite wealthy individuals–and having mercy on the poor in spirit, or those persecuted. [I seriously hope I said that the idea of being persecuted for Jesus’ sake is something that could describe a situation in the 50s or 60s, perhaps, but probably not during Jesus’ lifetime. As such, it’s a real clue that Jesus did not say that…] Tax collectors were collaborators with the Romans. They had made a choice to use the situation to their personal advantage and collaborate with the army of occupation for their own personal benefit. They were not, IOW, poor even in spirit. They were not hungry for justice. So we have to ask if we have two different messages here? Perhaps the result of them coming from two different individuals? Perhaps the message about the sinners came from Jesus, and the message about the poor in spirit came from James?

People like JD Crossan talk about Jesus’ eschatological message, about the kingdom as an apocalyptic vision. When they do, they tend to conflate the message of this passage with the message of the Beatitudes, since both seem to refer to “the kingdom”. Now, that may be the case, but do they refer to the same kingdom? I’m not so sure.

10 Et factum est, discumbente eo in domo, ecce multi publicani et peccatores venientes simul discumbebant cum Iesu et discipulis eius.

11 Et videntes pharisaei dicebant discipulis eius: “ Quare cum publicanis et peccatoribus manducat magister vester?”.

12 At ille audiens ait: “ Non est opus valentibus medico sed male habentibus.

13 Euntes autem discite quid est: “Misericordiam volo et non sacrificium”. Non enim veni vocare iustos sed peccatores ”.

 

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About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on March 6, 2015, in Chapter 9, gospel commentary, gospels, Matthew's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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