Lenten Devotional

February 17, 2018

All Day

Category: Adult Education

Matthew 9: 2-13

Sin and Sinners

First the Pharisees are in an uproar because Jesus forgives sins. Then they are indignant because he eats with sinners.

To us, it may seem rather strange that they call Jesus a blasphemer because he forgives the sins of the paralyzed man. For us, to pronounce forgiveness seems a matter of course (at least in theory); we even pray “and forgive us our trespasses (sins) as we forgive those who trespass (sin) against us.” But we must understand that in the Mosaic tradition, only God could forgive sins, and the priest was authorized on his behalf, and this required animal sacrifices. The ritual of the Day of Atonement prescribed that once a year, the sins of the whole people were charged on a male goat, which was then chased away into the wilderness (the “escape-goat” or scapegoat). And there were strict rules for sin offerings.  A bit of this has carried over into the Catholic Church, where confession of sins is made to the priest who is mandated to pronounce forgiveness.

So Jesus’ blasphemy consists in making himself God’s representative. Which, from our perspective, he is of course. But for the Jewish leaders, he was once again simply defying Moses’ laws and provoking the established codex. We also don’t like it if someone defies our rules. Orthodox Jews still today are angry at Jesus for having done these things. Jews who recognize that Jesus was/is the Messiah (Messianic Jews) are not even recognized as Jews by the State of Israel for fear of causing too much trouble with the Orthodox.

So, only if one accepts that Jesus is the Messiah, can one understand what he is doing here. However, there is hope: 40 years ago, there were only 200 Messianic Jews in Israel. Today there are an estimated 20’000.

Then, Jesus eats with the sinners. This, to the Pharisees, made him impure. Moses had given many laws against impurity. Purity was and is a high value for anybody wanting to lead a godly life. We know the questions, too: With whom do we associate? What makes us impure? Jesus’ answer makes a clear distinction: He does not associate with the sinners as an equal, but as the doctor. It is not the contact with the sinners itself that makes him (and us) unclean, but it’s how one relates. He is secure in his identity. Relating to sinners won’t change him.

Is it arrogant for us to be secure in our identity when relating to non-Christians? Some people say so. They say we make ourselves superior to others by relating to them as Christians. I would say, it depends on our attitude. If we feel superior, we will be arrogant. If we act out of true love and know that our real identity is in Jesus, through his forgiveness, we will not be.