Last January, I came back from an international trip and just didn’t feel right. I attributed it to jet lag for a few days, but I eventually realized that there was something more than just jet lag going on. I had a fever and a terrible cough, and I was absolutely exhausted. When I finally recognized that I was sick, I went to the doctor and started a prescription to help with the sickness (which ended up being bronchitis). The road to health began with me recognizing that I was sick and choosing to visit a physician.
In some ways, Matthew 9 echoes the same sentiment. There’s so much irony in this chapter as we see these comparisons between the Pharisees - who are outwardly righteous - and the people they label to be sinners. But Jesus’ response to these sinners is music to my ears. He looked upon them and had mercy for them - having compassion for the harassed and hurting in the same way that shepherd cares for his sheep (Matthew 9:36). He called a tax collector to follow Him (Matthew 9:9). He reached out to heal a woman who had been bleeding for years and raised a dead girl to life (Matthew 9:18-25). Jesus came into contact with sinners and with those who would have been considered ceremonially unclean. Rather than shunning them, He embraced them and gave them life in the place of their brokenness.
Jesus came as a savior for sinners and a great physician for those who are sick (Matthew 9:13). The blind men recognized Him (Matthew 9:27), but these religious leaders, the ones who had been waiting for the consolation of Israel and the coming of the Messiah, were blind to Christ’s identity and mission. Why couldn’t they see Christ for who He was? I think it’s because they were blind to their own sickness. Healing can’t begin until you recognize that you are ill and that you need a physician. The Pharisees couldn’t recognize their need for a savior because they could not see their sickness through the veil of their own self-righteousness.
Unfortunately, like the Pharisees, sometimes we can also be blind to our own sickness and sin. We can tell ourselves that we have everything together and make our lives look suitable on the exterior, while sin wreaks havoc in our hearts. The first step to spiritual healing is to recognize our sickness and brokenness, to acknowledge that we are sinners. The good news is that we have a Great Physician who came to heal those who are sick (Matthew 9:12-13). Lord, help us to see our need for You, to surrender our pride and our self-righteous tendencies and to come to You for healing!
Matthew 9 (ESV):
1 And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city.2 And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” 3 And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” 4 But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? 5 For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? 6 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.” 7 And he rose and went home. 8 When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.
9 As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.
10 And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
14 Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 15 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. 16 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. 17 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.”
18 While he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” 19 And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples. 20 And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, 21 for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” 22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. 23 And when Jesus came to the ruler's house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, 24 he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him.25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. 26 And the report of this went through all that district.
27 And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him, crying aloud, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” 28 When he entered the house, the blind men came to him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” 29 Then he touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.” 30 And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, “See that no one knows about it.” 31 But they went away and spread his fame through all that district.
32 As they were going away, behold, a demon-oppressed man who was mute was brought to him. 33 And when the demon had been cast out, the mute man spoke. And the crowds marveled, saying, “Never was anything like this seen in Israel.” 34 But the Pharisees said, “He casts out demons by the prince of demons.”
35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for 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 laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”