I visited a Pentecostal church back in the 80’s. It was a very conservative congregation. Standing outside near the front entrance was a shabbily dressed man smoking a cigarette. He looked out of place in front of a church where folks were wearing their Sunday-best as they prepared to hear an old-fashioned hell-fire sermon. I’m ashamed to admit I hesitated to talk to the man who others ignored. I was young, single, and what would the young ladies of the church think of me if the saw me talking to this visitor who seemed to be the kind of person the preacher warned you about? I won’t go into the details of this man’s story other than to say he was there because he had a relative who attended the church, and he was waiting to meet him after the sermon was over. I’m glad I stopped to talk to him. I think this is the kind of encounter Matthew wrote of when he wrote that Jesus spending time with tax collectors and sinners. It also shows that people today have the same kind of reactions and motivations that people had in Jesus’ day. It is something that opens the door to an important discussion of loving the sinner but rejecting the sin. Let’s look at some background and some of what Matthew had to say.
Tax collectors during Jesus’ time were not respected. They were known to collect more than the allotted amount and keep it for themselves. They were considered crooks. The 9th chapter of Matthew describes how a Tax collector named Matthew was called to follow Jesus. It also records the unfavorable reaction of those who saw Jesus with Matthew as they gathered with other tax collectors. This is important: I think the big take here is the judgement people made at seeing this and what Jesus said in response. Verses 12 and 13 record Jesus saying to them, “…It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. Now go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, rather than sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
I think these verses clearly tell us Jesus was with tax collectors and sinners to bring them the Gospel. I also think this scripture has implications. Consider, Matthew says Jesus was with them, but doesn’t say Jesus participated in their sin. It doesn’t record Jesus being in fellowship with them in the way 2 Corinthians forbids. While 1 Corinthians tells us, “Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals,” doesn’t the context make it clear the writer speaks of “fellowship” with other church members who live in sin; that is, to accept the sin as having God’s approval? I think this speaks to corruption inside the church and is something quite different from Matthew’s point. Matthew’s metaphor isn’t about corruption in the church. He speaks of bringing healing to the sick, a metaphor of bringing the Gospel to those who need it. To be clear here: Doesn’t Corinthians warn of condoning sin while Matthew speaks of loving sinners who need to repent? We may not know what conversations Jesus had with the tax collectors and sinners, but I think it’s important that he was there even though others would judge him for keeping such company.
In summary, Jesus’ work was not restricted to the temple. How many people go to church, sing hymns, listen to a sermon, and study the Bible, but seldom, if ever, share the Gospel outside of Christian company? Jesus didn’t limit himself to worship inside a church. He did not avoid “those” people to protect his witness. He went out to call the unrighteous to righteousness. It doesn’t say he handed out bible tracts and walked away, or even encourage folks to go to the synagogue. Matthew said he ate with them knowing well that others who thought they were among righteous would look on in judgement.
What are your thoughts?
Why don’t Christian prayers empty hospital wards?
The ninth chapter of Matthew begins with verses that tell of Jesus healing a paralyzed man. Matthew says people brought the man to Jesus. Other Gospels record him being lowered through roof to Jesus. Matthew also tells of other healings. I believe the context of Matthew tells us why we read of healings. I also believe there are many biblical reasons why prayer doesn’t lead to empty hospital wards.
Let’s lay out the context of Matthew. The Book of Matthew was written by a Jewish tax collector for a Jewish audience to convince them that Jesus is the King of the Jews. Matthew writes down things that Jesus did to fulfill prophecy. The “fulfill prophecy” part is very important. We know Matthew’s purpose because of the number of times he wrote that Jesus did something to fulfil that which was spoken by the prophet. The Old Testament prophets said that the Messiah will heal. Matthew’s premise is that Jesus did things to fulfill what was written by the prophet. Do you know any prophecies that are not fulfilled unless a hospital ward is emptied?
One could debate if Jesus healed people solely to fulfill prophecy; that is, solely to show that he had the power to forgive sin and heal. I’m not sold on the idea that it is an either/or situation. It seems more likely that it’s a little of both and one of the reasons we don’t see hospital wards emptied today. At this point it’s important for me to stipulate I am extrapolating from scripture. I might be wrong in my extrapolation and am open to anyone who has scriptural reasons to argue differently. With this as my preface I suggest that we should consider that James tells us that our prayers will go unanswered if we ask for things simply because we want them. And even Jesus prayed in the garden before his execution, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me…” but stipulated, “…yet not My will, but Yours be done.” Jesus didn’t assume he needed to be delivered because otherwise he would die. He acknowledged that God’s will is more important.
Let’s reflect back on Matthew’s account of the man’s healing mentioned above. It says, “And seeing their faith, Jesus said to the man who was paralyzed, ‘Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven.’” When those around him had thoughts that Jesus had blasphemed in saying this, Matthew says Jesus healed the man, “…so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” The man who was healed had faith as did the people who brought him to Jesus. His healing is part of a book that records Jesus’ actions that fulfill prophecy. His healing was part of God’s purpose. I’m not implying that suffering fulfills God’s purpose. Suffering is the result of a world made corrupt through rejection of God.
There are things in this world I find unboreable. For me it involves watching my kids when they suffer knowing sometimes there is no way for me to help them. Jesus asked that he not have to go through the suffering on the cross, but he was executed anyway to fulfill God’s plan. Just as his suffering was the result of sin and the corruption it causes, so too is the suffering we all experience while in this temporary life on earth. I think our prayers are often more about changing us than they are about changing the world around us.
What are your thoughts?
Police in the United States are investigating two incidents in which someone fired shots at a Catholic Church building.
The first incident happened August 6 and the second on August 8. Someone fired shots at the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church building in Adams County, Colorado. This is near the city of Denver. No injuries were reported in either incident.
Security video from one of the shootings shows shots fired at the church by a person on a motorcycle.
The criminal, or criminals, responsible have not made their motive for the shooting known.
Arson investigators in Alabama are working to determine if a fire at a Baptist church was intentionally set.
The church building of New Mount Moriah Baptist Church in Hueytown, Alabama is a total loss as a result of a fire on 5 August.
Hueytown is a community of slightly more than 15,000 people. The local fire department was assisted by firefighters from Bessemer, Alabama which is a larger neighboring city.
No injuries were reported.
The congregation plans to hold Sunday services at a nearby community center.
Police in Pennsylvania are working to identify two people caught on video as they damaged statues at a Catholic church.
A spokesperson for the Kennett Square Police Department says the vandalism happened at St. Patrick’s Church in Kennett Square on Saturday, July 9. Photos of the suspects were released today. The spokesperson said the crime is investigated as an, “intimidation-related vandalism,” because they also posted signs with threatening messages.
No other information about the criminal act has been released.