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Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity
“Jesus Defies Expectations”
Seminarian Paul Norris, Vicar
St. Matthew 9.1-8
10 October 2021
Grace, Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
As a young boy, despite being told by my mother to immediately go to sleep, I lay in my bed hidden under the blanket with a flashlight reading my Spiderman comic book. As I turned to the back of the comic book, my imagination was captivated by an advertisement inviting me to “Enter the wonderful world of amazing live Sea-Monkeys”. The colorful ad showed a Sea-Monkey mom and dad with their children happily playing near an underwater castle. The ad promised for a mere $1.25, plus another $.30 for shipping I would be able to instantly raise Sea-Monkeys. They would be amazing and even be trainable! In the morning I excitedly clipped the coupon, collected the necessary change from my piggy bank, and mailed it in. For weeks I impatiently anticipated the arrival of my Sea-Monkey eggs. My imagination was filled with expectations of how awesome these Sea-Monkeys would be!
As many of you are now guessing, evident by the grins on your faces, you know my unrealistic childhood expectations about Sea-Monkeys were crushed when they arrived. It turns out Sea-Monkeys are just a clever marketing ploy to take money from naive children’s piggy banks. Sea-Monkeys are only brine shrimp; tiny, barely visible, sea creatures. Basically, it’s fish food. They were not that exciting and all they did was swim around tiny circles in the cheap little plastic container which also looked nothing like what shown in the advertisement. Sea-Monkeys did not meet my expectations, and the novelty wore off quickly. The list of childhood comic book ad expectation failures is long, X-ray Glasses, your own Polaris nuclear sub, and the handheld pocket hypnotizer. All failed in their delivery of expectations and fell far short of the reality mark.
We are no stranger to expectations. Parents have certain expectations of their children. Parents expect children to be obedient and respectful. Likewise, children expect their parents to be loving and provide for them. These are certainly good and right expectations, but expectations can be dangerous as well. We set expectations on other people and we form perceptions and judgments based on our expectations of others. But others will never live up to our expectations of them and we can never live up to theirs. Our bodies and minds, which are corrupted by sin, let us down every time.
The people who followed Jesus in his earthly ministry were no exception. They had expectations of Jesus. “And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed.” (Matt 9:2a) The people know Jesus heals the sick. Jesus had healed many people in his ministry and why should they expect anything different? Their immediate expectation is Jesus will heal this man. But Jesus defies their expectations. Instead of healing this man right away, he does an unexpected and shocking thing. Jesus saw their faith and he answered, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” (Matt 9:2b) What?! well, that is not what we were expecting! Instead of healing, Jesus forgives the man’s sins. The paralytic has every reason to be broken-hearted and downtrodden. He has lived a life of hardship. He has had to rely on family and friends to take care of him, perhaps even reduced to begging. But Jesus gives him hope, “Take heart” and heals his soul by forgiving his sin.
Among the crowd also are the scribes. The scribes took their job of preserving Scripture very seriously. They would copy Bible meticulously counting letters and spaces to ensure each copy was correct. Thanks be to God for the Jewish scribes who preserved the Old Testament for us. But the scribes went beyond the interpretation of Scripture. They became specialists at spelling out the letter of the Law while ignoring the spirit of the law, typical works righteousness.
The scribes believed this paralytic had sinned against God so deeply in some way he deserved to be paralyzed. The scribes also had their expectations of Jesus. Their expectation of Jesus is a rabbi, a teacher, not a healer. Neither does Jesus meet their expectations of the messiah. They expect the messiah will be a great king who will free them from Roman oppression and usher in a glorious earthly reign. But now he dares to forgive this paralytic who deserves his present suffering of paralysis? Only God himself can forgive sins! Blasphemy!
Jesus challenges their expectations. He saw their lack of faith and knew the hearts of the scribes. Even though they did not say it aloud, Jesus knows their unfaithful and sinful hearts doubt his authority to forgive sins. Jesus calls them out, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” (Matt 9:4b-5) Then he one-ups the scribes and shows them his divine authority. He turns to the paralytic man and says, “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” (Matt 9:6b) And the man was healed for all to see. He gathered his bedding, got up and he walked home. We can only imagine the stunned look on the faces of the scribes. If Jesus had not healed the paralytic, then his authority to forgive would have been false. But the miracle settles the matter. In the presence of the people and the scribes, Jesus proved his divine authority to forgive and heal in the realm of mankind. Only the Son of God, God made flesh, has this authority on earth.
Like the scribes, we also think we are more worthy than others. We feel we deserve good things in life, not suffering. We often view others’ sufferings as something they deserve because they have offended God in some way. We feel God’s gifts are something we deserve and we can win God’s favor through our works, Some call it “Paying it Forward”. This is just a clandestine reference to karma. Karma is a sinful and wicked adoption of eastern pagan religion that has permeated our culture. Karma is not a Christian belief, but a lie from Satan himself. The Triune God does not reward or punish his children based upon their good works. There is no heavenly points system. Good works are to serve our neighbors, not to influence favor or gain salvation.
In our lives, sin and sickness are inextricably connected. Only sinners get sick. Sin is ultimately the root of all human suffering, need, and death. Old Adam leads us to believe God is not just and we should not suffer. The truth is, we deserve suffering, and we don’t deserve the good things in this life. We deserve eternal damnation and death. Any good which comes to us in this life is a gift from God alone. Jesus, who is the innocent lamb of God, is the only one who did not deserve suffering. Yet he chose to go to the cross to suffer and die for you. In our sufferings, we should rejoice because it is through suffering that God sharpens us, disciplines us, and gives us hope. (Rom 5:3-5) Suffering on earth is only temporary, and you will not suffer eternally because of Christ and his work. It is because of Christ’s suffering and death upon the cross, and his victorious resurrection have you been healed body and soul of the most deadly disease of all, sin. Jesus calls out to you, “Rise my son!” He calls you his “son” because he has restored your eternal inheritance and reconciled you to God the Father forever.
Only God can see our hearts, and our hearts are not filled with Christ. We approach God in our times of suffering from the expectation he will fix our problems immediately. We expect God to do certain things for us and our sinful expectations lead us away from God. We want them fixed right now, we want instant gratification. In the text, Jesus does not heal the paralytic immediately. Instead, he sees faith and forgives the sins of the paralytic first.
Jesus forgave the paralytic and healed him because he saw his faith. Faith looks to God for the healing of sin, and it is what we need the most. God continues to give us His gifts of forgiveness and life which are received in faith. He bestows his gifts to us in the sacraments. In baptism, the water combined with the word gives you the forgiveness of sin. At the altar, the bread and the wine combined with God’s Word give you the forgiveness of sin. These are received from God through the gift of faith. Jesus continues to exercise his authority to forgive sins on earth by the mouth of the pastor. In Jesus’ stead and by his command, Christ has given his authority to men, our pastor, to forgive our sins and proclaim God’s Holy Absolution. This is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.
Therefore, let us give thanks to God he does not give us what we deserve for our sin. Jesus did not come for the righteous, but sinners. Our expectations might be low, but instead, he gives us life and salvation. In Christ Jesus, all expectations have been fulfilled on the cross and his resurrection. Jesus came and took your all weakness and infirmities of body and soul. He has suffered in your place and he has healed the most deadly disease of all. Christ Jesus has restored your eternal inheritance with the Father. And on the last day with healing and resurrection of your bodies, he will say to you “Rise my son” and he will absolve and heal forever all whose faith looks to him.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.