Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town.2 Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”
3 At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!”
4 Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? 5 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 6 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” 7 Then the man got up and went home. 8 When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to man.
9 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.
10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
14 Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?”
15 Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.
16 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. 17 Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
18 While he was saying this, a synagogue leader came and knelt before him and said, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.” 19 Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples.
20 Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. 21 She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.”
22 Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed at that moment.
23 When Jesus entered the synagogue leader’s house and saw the noisy crowd and people playing pipes, 24 he said, “Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. 25 After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up.26 News of this spread through all that region.
27 As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!”
28 When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?”
“Yes, Lord,” they replied.
29 Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you”; 30 and their sight was restored. Jesus warned them sternly, “See that no one knows about this.” 31 But they went out and spread the news about him all over that region.
32 While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus. 33 And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”
34 But the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.”
35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on 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 workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
Jesus spends some time talking about people’s faith while healing them in this chapter. He forgives the sins of the paralytic before he heals him, he tells the bleeding woman that her faith has healed her, he straight up asks the blind man if he believes that he, Jesus, can heal him. Faith is wonderful and can do some amazing, even miraculous, things. But I want to make something very, very clear: Faith is not a prerequisite to care, and this chapter does not prove otherwise. Everyone deserves care. There is a very specific reason Jesus focuses so much on faith and healing in this section.
Framing these questions of belief are two instances of the “teachers” (other learned men of some authority) and the Pharisees grumbling about Jesus. First they say he blasphemes by forgiving the sins of others. Which, when you think about it rationally, is kind of out there. Anyone who forgives someone else’s sin is basically taking on the power of God. I think it’s a power God wants us to share, because forgiveness is better for everyone involved. But that’s not the only reason Jesus told the paralytic his sins were forgiven. He was making a point because he knew the teachers were watching. He straight up tells them “But so you may know that the Son of Man has authority on Earth,” and then turns around and lifts the paralytic up. Jesus is showing those who doubt, whose hearts may be hardened, that he has power over body and soul. But they don’t listen, because once again at the end of the chapter, instead of being amazed by the miracle of speech being restored to a mute man, the Pharisees say Jesus’ drove the demon out by the power of the “prince of demons.”
Every single one of these healings, including the one where Jesus asked the blind man not to say anything, was watched by or relayed to the Pharisees. Jesus was making a bold claim that he was the Son of Man, with authority on Earth. By linking questions of faith with these closely-watched and much talked about healings, Jesus was making it clear that it was through God he was able to do these things.
But I think the part of the chapter we need to focus more on is when Jesus says “it is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick…I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but the sinners.” The chapter also closes with Matthew reminding us that when Jesus “saw the crowds, he had compassion on them.” He didn’t ask them what church they went to, or say they needed to come back more sober, or ask what health insurance they’d be using. He healed them. He had compassion on them. He had mercy on them. He sought out the sinners, including Matthew himself. (Tax collectors, such as Matthew, were often despised due to their corruption, and for siding with the Romans against their own people. They were more like mobsters than accountants.) Through Jesus’ mercy, they became believers. He may have asked a few if they believed to make a point to the Pharisees, but the more important thing is he healed them. Regardless of station in life-from the completely helpless paralytic to the Synagogue ruler-Jesus healed them.
Forcing someone to believe isn’t leading them to true faith. Showing compassion, regardless of situation or predicament, in the name of Jesus Christ is a far more effective way to show the world what he is all about. I remind you again: Jesus tells us plainly, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” We need to show mercy to those who need it. We don’t have a major leprosy problem anymore, nor do we encounter the demon-possessed on a regular basis (I don’t think), but we still have people that society ignores, belittles, and shoves out of the way: addicts, sex workers, homeless, and those struggling with mental illness are just a few examples. Instead of looking down our noses at them we need to help them. This is why I particularly like the Housing First approach to ending homelessness, where homeless individuals are provided housing immediately, and only after that is achieved do they begin addressing issues of substance abuse or mental health from a stable environment. It’s also why I like Planned Parenthood, because it is made very clear from their mission that they are there to serve women no matter what their situation, not judge them for it. We need more programs like this, especially in and around the health care industry.
The “sinners” of Jesus’ time often weren’t “sinners” at all, but rather at the mercy of medical ailments we now fully understand. A woman suffering a bleeding condition and a paralytic man wouldn’t be considered sinners by the majority of society today. I pray that we are soon able to treat the “sins” of mental illness and addiction as matter-of-factly (and under full, affordable insurance coverage) as hypertension or near-sightedness are currently treated. And how will that happen? It will happen faster if more of us are willing to sit with the sinners and tax collectors, as Jesus was. If we provide them with mercy, instead of sacrificing them to the system, we not only show them that individually they are of value, but also show society at large that everyone matters. Are you, or is someone close to you effected by homelessness? Sexual violence? Mental illness? Chronic conditions? Addiction? STDs? Then speak up. Let society know that everyone in these groups is worthy of compassionate, merciful care. Jesus thought so, so we should, too.