Faith precedes miracles; this was the topic of our Wednesday Bible study group on the ninth chapter of Matthew. In addition to faith and miracles, the chapter is one of the most personal chapters for the author of the Gospel because it includes the calling of Matthew the tax collector.
In the opening paragraph, the Gospel writer shares the story of a paralyzed man. Jesus had returned from a region that had kicked him out. He went home to Capernaum, stepped off the boat and saw some men carrying their paralyzed friend. Finding Jesus was not a comfortable journey for the paralytic or his friends. Making a bee line to them, Jesus (in my mind) laughed and proclaimed, “Take heart, son, your sins are forgiven!” Jesus was (in my mind) inspired by their faith and immediately forgave the man his sins. But the story doesn’t end there.
Some scribes began to grumble to themselves, “This man is blaspheming,” which means he was taking the place of God – the only one who can forgive sins. Jesus, reading their grumblings, said, “Is it easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk?’” So that they would know that Jesus can forgive sins, he said to the man, “Stand up and walk.” And he stood up and went home. Truly, faith preceded the miracle. But the story doesn’t end there, either.
Jesus started walking along and saw Matthew in his tax office and said to him, “Follow me,” and Matthew got up and followed Jesus.
At this point, the study group asked what was it that made Matthew get up from his business and follow Jesus. A few chapters before, I reminded them, Jesus had called Peter and Andrew with these words, “Follow me and you’ll become fishers of people.” But he made no such promise to Matthew. Additionally, the Gospels of John and Luke tell about Peter’s call. Peter was a disciple of John the Baptizer until John pointed at Jesus and declared, “There is the Lamb of God!” Later on Jesus went out in Peter’s boat to address a very large crowd at the beach. And then later, when Peter was fishing, Jesus said, “Follow me, and I’ll make you fishers...” And he did. It appears that Peter and Jesus had a relationship prior to the call. But none of this happened to Matthew. Jesus simply said, “Follow me” and he did. So why did Matthew give in to the call so easily?
Here is how it happened (in my own mind). Matthew lived in Jesus’ town of Capernaum. He had heard of Jesus but never took time to seek him out. But then, in a surprise move, Jesus and his disciples got into a boat and sailed south to a non-Jewish region. I think that Matthew went home that night spiritually empty, thinking that he had missed Jesus. A storm came in that night and blew against Matthew’s house. It kept him awake. During the night he was haunted by Jesus’ words, “Pray for your enemies because if you love those who love you what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? Do not store up treasures for yourselves on earth where thieves break in and steal, or tax collectors take, but store up treasures in heaven for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” And suddenly the storm stopped because Jesus was out in it and calmed the seas. I think Matthew realized what he must do if given a second chance. The next day, surprise, Jesus was back in town, Matthew received a second chance. Jesus healed a paralyzed man and in the commotion that followed, he walked straight over to Matthew, locked eyes with him and said, “Follow me.”
And he did.
It is a miracle that Matthew left his lucrative business behind and followed Jesus, but Matthew’s faith preceded it. I wonder if in our time, we’d prefer to have a miracle experience first and then have faith. Too bad, if so, because that’s not how Jesus works. If he did, we’d have faith simply in the action of the miracle rather than in Christ. Instead, Jesus wants us to have faith in God. I hear Jesus saying, “If you had faith after a miracle, how different are you from the non-believers? Do they not also believe in miracles? Blessed are you that have faith in God, even when the chips are down and no miracle appears, for you are near the Kingdom of God.”
- Fr. Marshall
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