Have you ever had to think about something in a way that you never had before? I’m old enough now that I remember when computers were brand new. As computers came upon the scene, so many things began to change. Soon to be gone was the need for typing correction paper because mistakes would be made before a printing head would print the words on a piece of paper. Also, soon would come communication via e-mail and other forms of electronic communication. My guess is many people today would struggle to sit down and write a formal hand-written communication. As I mention these couple of advances, what those who lived through these changes know is that change doesn’t always come easy. We get stuck in the way things have always been and refuse to acknowledge that what is new is actually better. I know for me I am happy that I don’t have to use correction tape anymore, and I appreciate the ease of electronic communication. However, this change didn’t happen overnight.
When Jesus stepped into history to bring God’s salvation, he was hard for many to accept because he was different. His approach was not what the religious had known; his message was not the typical religious message. In Matthew 9:16-17 Jesus tried to help those who didn’t understand him to grasp that what he was bringing was something completely different and that for them to try and put him in their traditional box would not work. As he said in verse 16 and 17…
“No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”
His audience would have understood the absurdity of doing either one of these two things. So, what was Jesus bringing that was so different? First, he was the source of forgiveness, not their religious rituals. The scribes would have more than likely thought that for the paralytic to be forgiven and healed he would have need to go through the proper sacrifice and cleansing. However, Jesus was making it clear who he was and that he was the source of forgiveness. Second, he was showing that God desires mercy, not sacrifice. I loved what one commentator said, which was Jesus was showing that “holiness, not uncleanness was understood to be contagious and it could overpower uncleanliness and not the reverse.” The Pharisees would not have had an issue with a sinner repenting but would have looked with disdain on one fellowshipping with a sinner who had not gone through the traditional acts of repentance and restitution. To them, this fellowship would have caused one to be unclean. However, Jesus by eating with a group of “sinners” was making a clear declaration that forgiveness was found in following him, the one who offers mercy, not in the sacrifice of the scribes which had become empty ritual.
Maybe some of us are still waiting to understand the radical nature of Jesus. We, too, still look to rituals for a person to be cleansed, and we are afraid that associating with sinners will make you unclean. What we need to understand is that in both situations the answer is Jesus and genuine faith in him. Let’s make sure that we don’t hold on to our old traditions to the point that we miss the power of Jesus to forgive sins of even the worst of sinners.