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Which is easier?

Is it easier to order your men into battle or lead them into battle?  Answers vary with respondents.  Jesus posed an interesting question.  Is it easier to forgive sins or say to a man, pick up your mat and walk?
Is it easier to order your men into battle or lead them into battle? Answers vary with respondents. Jesus posed an interesting question. Is it easier to forgive sins or say to a man, pick up your mat and walk?Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

Read Matthew 9:1-13

Which is easier, to order men into battle or to lead them up the hill?

Which is easier, to judge that a criminal be sentenced to death or to be his executioner?

Which is easier, to preach the blessings of the tithe or to tithe?

Long ago I took some sort of inventory that had a series of questions like, “Would you rather shovel manure all day or poke your mother in the eye with a sharp stick?”

Who comes up with these questions?

The answers vary based upon the individual.

Jesus put the religious authorities in such a quandary one day in Nazareth. We are told that Jesus had come back to his hometown and some people brought a paralyzed man to him.

Jesus said, “Cheer up! Your sins are forgiven.”

We don’t see it in the text but we can easily surmise that this man probably didn’t cheer up. If you want your sins forgiven, you get together the required offering and go to the temple. The Priests will take it from there.

This man came to Jesus for healing. In fact, he had to convince some friends to get him there. Jesus had just come ashore so people must have known that he was coming. There is some walking distance between the shore and the city, so word could have easily preceded Jesus as he approached.

But the story is not about the man and his expectations and his likely initial disappointment.

It is about asking those who regarded themselves as experts in God’s law, if they understood anything at all.

Jesus says, “Cheer up. Your sins are forgiven.”

The religious rule keepers gossiped among themselves saying that such words were blasphemy.

Jesus knew exactly what they were thinking. In fact, the sequence of events that transpired was probably meant to place them in this situation.

Jesus offered this provocative question to them. “Which is easier, to say your sins are forgiven or to say pick up your mat and walk?”

Even today, answers vary based upon the individual.

For the scribes, to say, “Your sins are forgiven” would be so much easier for they had no authority to forgive. It would be like me calling up all those in the congregation and telling them to take the week off work and go fishing or play golf or head to the beach.

More to Ponder concerning authority…

For Jesus to say, “Your sins are forgiven” ultimately entailed a trip to the cross. For he had authority to forgive sins, but he would pay the price, offer the ransom, atone for our sins with his blood.

He had authority. Even the forces of nature obeyed him.

He had authority. The people who flocked to him had remarked that he spoke as one with authority not as their own teachers who recited words they did not really understand.

But Jesus said, “Just so those of you who are still blinded to what is happening here might have a chance to see, I am going to heal this man before your eyes.”

Just so the people knew that Jesus had all authority of the Father, he commanded the paralyzed man to “Get up and walk. And take that mat with you.”

The people—maybe not so much the scribes—but the people got the message. They praised God for what they had just seen.

The people understood that God had granted incredible authority to Jesus.

The next encounter that we read of is with a tax collector. This one was named Matthew or Levi.

Tax collectors were among the most despised people in the area. They ranked right up there with Samaritans and sinners. The difference was that the Samaritans and sinners might not cross paths with you but he tax collector knew where you lived and would come collecting one day or another.

Nobody liked a tax collector and here we see Jesus not only tell Matthew to follow him but he ends up at this house for dinner.

Others join them but they are not rabbis or respectable businessmen, but a group collectively called “sinners.”

Again the religious rule makers—this time the Pharisees—query the disciples who followed Jesus. “What’s up with that? Your Rabbi is eating with sinners.”

We have not really reached the point in Matthew’s gospel where the Pharisees and other religious leaders confront Jesus directly, but that doesn’t matter to Jesus for he answers them directly.

Here is what Jesus said as translated in The Message.

Jesus, overhearing, shot back, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.”

Much later in this gospel, Jesus would tell the rule makers that they still didn’t get it.

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did.

Thus far we have seen teaching and healing and commanding the forces of nature. Now we have come to the authority of the Son of God.

Some accept it and praise God.

Some can’t let go of their own perceived authority and soon they will plot to discredit Jesus, and when that fails to kill him.

As with every good story, especially those that are true, the plot thickens.

Know that Jesus is Lord.

Know that God the Father placed all authority in Jesus the Son.

Know God by knowing Jesus.

Know God by knowing mercy.

Amen.