Saturday, February 21, 2009

01/24 - The “Fight or Flight” Response to Sinners

Matthew 9:1-13

Sandwiched between his accounts of the paralytic’s healing and the party at his house, Matthew wrote of an event that rocked his life to its foundation.

One day Matthew was doing his normal routine at his tax franchise when Jesus spotted him. Jesus may have remembered Matthew from the times he had paid his taxes or the times he had seen Matthew in the crowds watching him teach and heal. Jesus invited Matthew to join the inner core of the ministry, and Matthew’s life was never the same after he left his tax booth that day.

We may wonder why Jesus picked Matthew instead of other, more likely candidates. Jesus dealt with a lot of theology in his teaching, so it might have been useful to have a professional religion teacher help lead the ministry. Jesus also emphasized righteousness, so it might have made sense to invite some respectable religious folks, like the Pharisees, to help. However, the other events in this passage showed that many religious people did not understand Jesus’ vision.

When Jesus noticed the paralytic and the men carrying him on the mat, he saw more than just a sick man who wanted healing. This group was permeated with infectious faith. Jesus knew, as we also can know, that this kind of faith aligns a person’s life with God’s purposes, allows God’s saving work to be done, and leads to forgiveness of sins. Jesus, knowing the heart of God, confidently announced, “Your sins are forgiven.”

Perhaps the religious teachers were reasonably concerned about someone speaking on God’s behalf regarding forgiveness of sins (even though they had put themselves in exactly that position by deciding who would not be forgiven). Regardless of their concerns, at least they could have recognized the faith of these men and helped them grow closer to God. However, too many of the religious teachers had little interest in recognizing and nurturing faith.

We see a similar situation when Jesus went to the party at Matthew’s house. He saw valuable people there with potential for faith and renewed life. The respectable religious people saw only “sinners” who might tarnish the respectability of a good, religious person who got too close.

Then, as now, respectable religious people can fall into a “fight or flight” trap regarding sin—they either condemn and argue against or quietly avoid those they label “sinners.” Neither alternative actually cures sin. Jesus knew the way to stop sin was to change lives, which is done best by drawing close to people and nurturing them. So, for his ministry, he had to pick people like Matthew who saw faith in unlikely people and gave parties for “sinners” like himself.

What is our response to “sinners”? Is it “fight or flight” or will we reach out to accept and nurture them like Jesus did? Perhaps it is time we threw a party and had a good time with some of our fellow “sinners.”

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