Matthew 9: Harvesting Sinners
So I'm traipsing through Matthew, trying to catch the arc of the story and not get too wrapped up in the details. This is for my own sake, and no one else's. That is, I've got nothing particularly insightful to offer others . . . it's just that the blog is a convenient place for me to do this sorting out of the text.
In chapter 9 we run into some new developments. A little more of the truth about Jesus, and about his kingdom, is being revealed here. Some new pieces of the puzzle are falling into place. [The great puzzle is, by the way, who is this Jesus?] John said Jesus was the coming one, and that he was associated somehow with the near-at-hand kingdom of God. And clearly Jesus has authority, as everyone recognizes. After all, even the demons obey him (8:28-34). And yet chapter 8 ends with the people of the Gadarene neighborhood asking him to leave, and in chapter 9 we find Jesus running into resistance from the religious authroities. So it is clearly a kingdom that, however "near" it may be, is not exactly commandeering the levers of power. In fact, while the spirit-realm obeys Jesus without question, people are not half so amenable.
So, chapter 9. One of the new developments revealed here is that Jesus openly claims the authority to forgive sins. This is, quite obviously, one important aspect of the kingdom's nearness. People get healed, yes, and (in close relationship to healing) people get forgiven. The Pharisees, making their first appearance, are appalled. Jesus may have veiled the full meaning of his ministry at first, but it's clear now that he's claiming something that just might get him in deep trouble. Only God can forgive sins! Christ is stepping on very thin ice here.
In the next encounter with Pharisees, at Matthew the tax collector's place, Jesus succinctly states the purpose of his "coming."
For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.Hmm, the ice just got even thinner.
The last "episode" recorded in chapter 9 in closely related to this stated purpose. "The harvest is plentiful," he tells his followers. He has been healing people almost without let-up. Crowds are pressing in, Pharisees grumbling. He has said his purpose is to forgive sinners. Now he says, in essence, "There are many sinners ripe for forgiveness. We've got to go tell them that what they're longing for is now available through me." That's the harvest he speaks of. A harvest of forgiven sinners.