Which Soil?

Matthew 13 ushers in one of the more famous chapters in the gospel of Matthew — the chapter of parables. Jesus will tell a series of parables that each begin with the assertion that “the Kingdom of Heaven is like…” We will have much more discussion on the art of parables and how the mechanics of parables work, but Jesus begins this set of teachings with the famous “parable of the sower.”

Right off the bat, we should recognize this isn’t actually a parable of a sower, but the “parable of the soils.” As the context (and even Jesus’s explanation) makes clear, the sower is, in fact, God. The variable of the parable is the soil and not the sower; therefore the point of the parable would not be that we are the ones sowing seed, but that God is sowing the seed. Yet time and time again, I encounter the teachings around this parable to be people are going to respond differently to your seed-sowing.

Let us be clear: The parable is not a reaffirmation of all the things you believe; the parable is a challenge to us to be changed and refined.

Second, it would be helpful to know Jesus is simply following a very common template used in rabbinical teachings. Rabbis would often refer to what they called “the four different learners” in their teaching. Some examples we know of are the “sponge” (takes in everything; keeps everything), the “funnel” (takes in everything; keeps nothing), the “strainer" (takes in everything; keeps the bad), and the “sieve" (takes in everything, keeps the good). Another example would be the quick learner/slow doer, the quick learner/quick doer, the slow learner/quick doer, and the slow learner/slow doer. The point of these templates is to ask the question: which learner are you?

The point of the parable is the challenge to consider which soil you are.

Jesus even goes on to explain the parable. There are four soils:

THE PATH: Doesn’t understand; the evil one snatches it away.
THE ROCKS: Understands, but has no depth; cannot withstand hardship.
THE THORNS: Understands, but cannot let go of idolatry.
THE GOOD SOIL: Understands and does, producing a crop.

Which soil are you?

But even the disciples’ question is informative. They ask Jesus why He teaches in parables and He answers with a cryptic quotation from Isaiah 6, simply saying, “I teach them in parables so that they won’t understand.” Wow. Thanks, Jesus.

But even that is a great teaching point. Jesus’s larger point in the parable appears to be that the truth of the Kingdom of Heaven is such that people have to do the work of “tilling their soil” so they can receive the seed being sown. If you aren’t willing to prepare your soil, then it’s really easy to have ears that cannot hear and eyes that cannot see.

How will you prepare your soil if you are THE PATH? Look at Hosea 10: 
Sow righteousness for yourselves,
    reap the fruit of unfailing love,
and break up your unplowed ground;
    for it is time to seek the Lord,
until he comes
    and showers his righteousness on you.

Be generous; sow tzedekah.

How will you prepare your soil if you are THE ROCKS? See Isaiah 5:
Therefore, as tongues of fire lick up straw
    and as dry grass sinks down in the flames,
so their roots will decay
    and their flowers blow away like dust;
for they have rejected the law of the Lord Almighty
    and spurned the word of the Holy One of Israel.

Do you want/need deep roots? Put your resources in the law of the LORD Almighty (see also Jeremiah 17 and Ezekiel 17 for discussion about building deep roots).

How will you prepare your soil if you are THE THORNS? Check out Jeremiah 4:
“Break up your unplowed ground
    and do not sow among thorns.
Circumcise yourselves to the Lord,
    circumcise your hearts,
    you people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem,
or my wrath will flare up and burn like fire
    because of the evil you have done—
    burn with no one to quench it.”

Turn away from your idolatry — the idols of worry and wealth — and put your faith into action.

It appears Jesus is inviting the people to prepare their soil. Of course, it will require some work and you may have noticed I pulled all of my thoughts from the Text. And if I know anything about farming (and I don’t, but I have experienced this firsthand in Israel), the preparation of your soil is something that must be done each year, all year long.

I have some work to do on my soil.

He who has ears, let him hear.


The Sign of Jonah

A little later in the narrative of Matthew, Jesus is asked by the Pharisees to show them a sign. Jesus’s response is one that I think is taken for granted and glossed over far too often.
Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.”

He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now something greater than Solomon is here.”

We often read this passage and think to ourselves: Jesus responded to the Pharisees’ request by saying, “You want a sign? No. The only sign you are going to receive is the fact that I’m going to be in the tomb and rise again after three days. That’s all the sign you’re going to get!” While there is certainly some truth in this reading, it misses the depth that lies at the heart of what this rabbi says to these Torah-trained teachers.

First, while the connection of “three days and three nights” to the resurrection is obviously there, this would not have been Jesus’s original teaching point. I think there are many tongue-in-cheek inferences to Jesus’s resurrection by Matthew that all the readers are going to catch as they read this gospel on the other side of Jesus’s resurrection; but as we’ve seen before, a prophetic teaching will not make an empty (or cryptic) statement about the future that could not be interpreted by the present listeners. Whatever Jesus is saying, it has to find its primary meaning in what the audience can glean and learn from the reference. So Jesus has to be saying something else about Jonah that is disconnected from His own resurrection.

Second, this typical interpretation misses and ignores the rest of the paragraph — namely, the mention of Nineveh and Queen Sheba — which is clearly an intentional reference by Jesus. Whatever we do with Jesus’s teaching, it needs to make sense of these two references.

So what was Jonah known for? As we looked at earlier, Jesus has already used Jonah as a great teaching point regarding Jonah’s ministry to the Gentiles. Jesus says the only sign that the Pharisees should need is “the sign of Jonah.” What was the sign of Jonah?

Why will Nineveh rise at the judgment and condemn that generation? Because they heard the preaching of Jonah and repented. Why was the Queen of Sheba referenced? Because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of the LORD.

Jesus responds to the Pharisees: “You want a sign? The Gentiles are believing this stuff! Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah and the Gentiles are repenting at the preaching of the Kingdom of God now! This is exactly what your Scriptures tell you will happen! Sheba came from the ends of the earth to hear Solomon; and the Gentiles are coming to hear from me! Someone greater than Solomon and Jonah is here and you’re missing it!

Jesus’s answer is rooted in Text. His claim is that the very thing the prophets spoke of and sought out was happening before their eyes and they were missing it.

This story always gives me pause. I must ask whether or not I’m missing the obvious. I think of how often I hear people trying to explain away how “non-believers” can do good things. We go to great lengths to explain how all the people who aren’t wearing the right labels are not “in the Kingdom of God.” And I wonder how many times we set up camp with the Pharisees and ask God for things that are already happening around us.

Rob Bell likes to say, “What you look for, you will find.”

If we look to find the world corrupt and falling apart, we will find it. If we look for all the broken places and things that exist in disharmony, there are plenty of examples to see. If we look for everything that’s wrong and all the ways people mess up, failure abounds around us. What we look for, we will find.

But if we look for the Kingdom of God bursting forth in all kinds of places we’d never expect; if we try to find light shining in dark places; if we stay attentive to the work of God in people who don’t wear the T-shirts — I wonder if we would find God more than ever. I wonder if there are signs of Jonah all over our world, and we are missing it.

What we look for, we will find.

I want to look for — and be surprised by — God.


An Explosive Kingdom Realized

However, don’t be deceived into thinking that Jesus is particularly fond of putting John the Baptist in his place. He is not. He turns to the crowds and appears to be a little riled up after His interaction with John’s disciples. While John’s disciples are leaving (making the reader think that they still might be within earshot), Jesus begins quite the monologue:

As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written:

“ ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way before you.’

Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

That would be a pretty good epitaph to have on your tombstone. Jesus is far from dissing a cousin, a good friend, and a possible rabbi. But then, Jesus offers a teaching confounding many Bible students to this day:
From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. Whoever has ears, let them hear.

Violently advancing? Violent men take hold of it? I thought the kingdom of God was like a mustard seed and we were on a mission to love our enemies, be on a mission of mercy, and offer forgiveness. Violent men?

While the Greek is translated correctly here, some context will be rather helpful. The Greek word that is used here is biastes. It is used in the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew word pratz. There was a young Hebrew boy in the Old Testament who was named after pratz; we translate his name “Perez.” Perez was one of the sons of Judah and Tamar. You may remember the story (found in Genesis 38) where Tamar becomes pregnant with twins. As the first son begins to emerge, they tie a red cord around his wrist; the marked wrist disappears back into the womb and the second twin “explodes” out of the womb ahead of the other. They named him “Exploder” or Perez.

This is one case where I believe we find evidence that Matthew was written in Hebrew. If this passage was contracted from Hebrew, the word here would be pratz. This would mean that an appropriate understanding of this teaching would be that the kingdom has been “exploding” and “explosive” men take hold of it.

It’s a nice theory, Marty, but you don’t get to arbitrarily make decisions about translation.

No, but there’s more evidence in the Text. Jesus says that people who have ears should hear — a rabbinical clue that Jesus has buried something from the Text in His teaching. He says that John is the “Elijah who was to come.” One of the main passages that speaks of this “Elijah to come” was found in the prophesy of Micah. This is especially interesting, since Jesus just finished teaching on Micah earlier. The prophesy reads like this:
“I will surely gather all of you, Jacob;
    I will surely bring together the remnant of Israel.
I will bring them together like sheep in a pen,
    like a flock in its pasture;
    the place will throng with people.
The One who breaks open the way will go up before them;
    they will break through the gate and go out.
Their King will pass through before them,
    the Lord at their head.”

God speaks of gathering His people together who have been penned up in captivity. A gathered flock of sheep that have been penned up in a sheepfold for some time are a real antsy bunch. Some of us may have experienced letting a herd of cattle out into pasture after a long haul or a season in another overgrazed pasture. The “one who breaks open the way” could easily be read in the Hebrew as NOT the same person as the King/LORD mentioned later. In this picture, the “Elijah to come” will be the character who kicks open the gate of the sheepfold. The gate “breaks open” and the sheep “break through” the gate.

The word for “break open” and “break through”? Pratz.

The kingdom is EXPLODING FORWARD and EXPLOSIVE MEN take hold of it. Jesus casts the vision of God’s people in His day like a flock of sheep in a sheepfold. “From the days of John the Baptist until now…” John has come to kick open the gate of the sheepfold and ever since he started his ministry, people who have been waiting for the kingdom have been breaking forth — exploding forward — to do God’s will.

It leads to an observation that the Kingdom isn’t something we sit back and contemplate intellectually in a classroom (although there is a time and place for that). The kingdom is something that is explosive and it’s something that explosive people take part in. We don’t lazily strut through the gates of the kingdom. We don’t prance into the way of God. It’s something that we should be champing at the bit to take part in, just waiting for the opportunity to rush out into the open fields.

It’s an explosive kingdom. Am I an explosive participant?


An Explosive Kingdom

**Before you read this post, I recommend going back and refreshing your memory on the "Tavilah T'Shuvah" conversation. This is actually the follow-up post to the questions posed there.

The next story in Matthew is the story of John the Baptist questioning Jesus’s identity. The whole episode is quite confusing to the reader as it appears as though John’s faith is starting to waver on the identity of Christ.
Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
It seems like John is not sure about who Jesus is anymore. The same guy who declared to the crowds the identity of Jesus is now asking Him who He is. But the passage does give us a few clues; it tells us John asks this question in response to hearing about “the deeds of Christ.” What is it that John has heard about?

Well, if we use the gospel of Luke, we find that Jesus may have just healed the centurion’s servant, and this appears to have rubbed John the wrong way. A further study of John’s identity will help us understand his frustration. If we happen to be correct that John the Baptist was shaped by an Essene community, then John would carry the popular eschatology of his day. I often refer to this eschatology as the “two-part” Jewish eschatology of the first century. The Jewish conversation about eschatology revolves around their understanding of “ages.” There is the Age of This World (“This Age”) and the Age to Come (the Kingdom of God).

The popular eschatology of their day was to believe that God (or Messiah) would bring forth the Kingdom of God with glory and splendor. Messiah would come and usher in the Kingdom, call the world to repentance, and deal with evil. The Age of This World would come to an end in judgment and wrath, and the Age to Come would remain for eternity.

There was an understanding, however, that I refer to as the “three-part” eschatology. This understanding was that Messiah would come to usher in the Age to Come, but he would not kick out This Age for a time. There would be an era where the two ages co-exist. It is clear that this is Jesus’s understanding of Jewish eschatology in His teachings. Where John spoke of Jesus coming with an ax at the root of the tree and a winnowing fork in hand to purge God’s threshing floor, Jesus spoke of weeds and wheat growing together. Where John spoke of fire and judgment, Jesus spoke of planting mustard seeds. You may remember us posing the question of whether or not John’s worldview was correct; it’s now time to return to that conversation.

Jesus has some good news and some bad news.

The good news is that Jesus is, in fact, the one who is to come. The bad news is that John has his eschatology all wrong. In another gospel account, Jesus turns and heals a bunch of bystanders and then turns to share the words that are recorded next in Matthew:
And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

Jesus answers John’s question by acting out the Text. In a quote from Isaiah and Jeremiah, Jesus says that He is bringing the Kingdom, but He’s not bringing the cup of wrath John the Baptist wants Him to pour out on the Romans. Apparently, Jesus’s healing of the centurion’s servant has sparked some frustration in John and John has some words for his buddy Jesus.

But Jesus isn’t done giving bad news. Some scholars have pointed out that Jesus’s answer is strangely void of one theme that consistently appears in the prophets that may be quoted here by Jesus:
“…and the captives will be set free.”

John asks his question of Jesus while he sits in prison. It seems that Jesus’s answer hints at the fact that not only is John’s eschatology in need of an overhaul, but he also isn’t going to see the restoration of God like he planned. He’s going to die in prison.

And now, Jesus’s last statement makes perfect sense, where it never did before:
“And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

This is a hard word to hear. My personal belief, albeit hard to prove, is that John the Baptist was Jesus’s rabbi. If this is even remotely true, then Jesus’s interaction with John in this story is a true test of John’s character, belief, and trust.

We are not told how John responds to the news, but it does draw a few questions: How would you respond if Jesus told you that your entire worldview, your theology, and your core beliefs, were off? What if He corrected you to a worldview that didn’t excite you at all and you found completely unattractive? And what if He invited you not to take offense at His correction?
How would you do?


Innocent as Doves

A few stories later, Jesus prepares to send His disciples out on a little missional field trip. While we already addressed this in a previous post, it’s worth noting again the list of the disciples and the different worldviews that are represented in the list. Wouldn’t you like to have known how Jesus grouped these guys up? Did He send them out with like-minded individuals, good friends who would provide great fellowship and perspective, knowing that upon their return the debrief session would be full of fireworks? Or did He pair them up with people they completely disagreed with? I wish we knew.
These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart.”

Jesus puts this little ministry trip at the mercy of the people’s hospitality. It should be noted that Jesus did not send them to the pagans, the Gentiles who serve the gods of Hellenism. He sent them to the religious folk — the people who claim to have it all together and represent God well. The disciples will have to depend on others “getting it” and being there for them during this time.
“As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.”

Notice again the harkening back to Sodom and Gomorrah, a story about failed hospitality and Jesus’s affirmation of what the gospel is all about: bringing shalom to the chaos. He tells them to find a house that is worthy — in Luke, this is more literally “a person of peace” — and hunker down for a bit with them and their hospitality. He tells them to helps those cities and towns and explain the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven. They are to bolster the work of God in places where it’s already taking place.

This isn’t a message of new teaching or fiery prophesy. This is a mission of finding where God is already at work and joining Him. Their mission is to come alongside and call out the Kingdom wherever they find it. This is a time where Jesus is teaching them how to have eyes to see the Kingdom of God at work in people. And they are to take good notes; it will be an incredible learning experience.

Jesus tells them that it will not be easy, as there are plenty of religious people who want no part in God’s redemptive project:
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. … A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they malign those of his household.”

And then Jesus shifts gears in a way that leaves many readers completely confused. He tells the disciples that He has come to bring division and not peace. He quotes a passage from Micah and then tells them they will need to “take up their cross.” The passage is quite confusing, as it seems to run counter to the other teachings of Jesus; it is “Zealot-minded.”
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Hopefully by now in our series, you have begun to ask the repetitive and redundant question: Where is it in the Text? Especially when the Text is easily placed for our western eyes to see (in this case, a direct quote), we should travel back to the original source of the quotation and find out what the rabbi is trying to teach by quoting that particular passage.

(When I asked my students what we should read, they all gave a resounding response of, “The context!”; my favorite response was, “The whole prophesy of Micah!” Yes!)

When we travel back to Micah, we find the prophet is calling the people of Judah to realize that God is asking for them to repent. They happen to know what it is God requires of them: pursuing justice, loving mercy, and having a posture of humility. The prophesy goes on to describe what it is like in Micah’s day. It’s a day where nobody can trust their neighbor and everybody is pursuing their own good. It’s a day when even a person’s family members will betray each other and division will run rampant.

The section ends with this:
But as for me, I will look to the Lord;
    I will wait for the God of my salvation;
    my God will hear me.

It happens to be the perfect quotation for what the disciples are embarking upon. They are going to find a world where some people are ready to show hospitality, but others will not. There will be people who fit the description found in Micah incredibly well. The Kingdom of God is not going to sit well with everyone and they are going to be persecuted. But the rabbinical remez for this teaching would be an invitation for them to trust the story. They are invited to wait on God and trust in His provision.

As we go, will we do the same thing? Will we be on the lookout for “people of peace” who are interested in taking God’s kingdom of peace into the chaos? Will we partner with them to celebrate the Kingdom at work?

Will we be ready for persecution? Will we be prepared for all of the religious folk who are not ready for such a priority shift? Will we leave it up to God and wait on His provision?

Will we trust the story?


The Forgiveness of Abel

Jesus returns to the Triangle and begins teaching in a house. The home is so jam-packed with students that when a group of buddies come carrying their friend on a stretcher, they cannot enter the home. They proceed to climb to the roof of the insula and begin tearing through it. Now, in this culture, tearing through the roof is quite an ordeal; it’s going to take you many minutes, if not hours, to work up a sizable hole. This is a roof consisting of multiple layers of branches covered in mud, with more branches and more mud.

Keeping this in mind, it’s interesting to note the difference in cultures. In our world, upon seeing the determination of this group of do-gooders, we would stop the teaching, call them to come down (before they ruin someone’s home), and make space. But, in beautiful rabbinic fashion, this is not how the situation proceeds. We are not told the details, but you can imagine Jesus stops teaching, takes a seat, stares up at the hole appearing above Him, and crosses His arms with a look of, “Oh, this will be good!” Or does he keep teaching as dirt and other pieces of roof fall on His head?

Eventually, the paralyzed man is lowered through the roof and Jesus, having had time to think about His response, declares to the man that his sins are forgiven. Another fun detail to notice in the Text is that it says Jesus saw the faith of his friends. Does this intentionally suggest the man had no faith? It’s hard to say. But if he was struggling with faith, it wasn’t helped by the Rabbi talking about his sins. 

“Yes, thank you, Rabbi. I was obviously lowered through the roof to have my sins forgiven. Don’t mind my paralysis; it’s no big deal.”

But Jesus, as any Rabbi, is more concerned with His teaching point than His miracle. The miracle is a tool and the man is a prop for Jesus’s greater point. I don’t say this to be cold, as if Jesus was lacking in compassion; we are told quite the opposite multiple times in the gospels. Jesus is a very compassionate teacher, but the rabbinical method is about teaching the Text, and Jesus is going to do that through this paralyzed man.

I believe this teaching gives us a window into what Jesus’s lesson was about that day in the house. I think Jesus was talking about forgiveness.

As we’ve mentioned multiple times already, forgiveness was a tough conversation for Jews of the first century. They sat under the oppressive rule of Rome and were wrestling with the big questions of injustice.

Okay, it’s one thing to go to captivity because of disobedience; Babylon was understandable. But now, we are trying to do the right thing and God is not rescuing us from the Romans. Why? How can God let this happen?

And so the Jews looked for answers where they always look for answers: in the Text. They asked themselves, who was the first person in the Scriptures to suffer injustice for doing what was right? The answer: Abel.

Abel, the son of Adam. In Hebrew: Avel ben Adam.

But Adam is more than just a name. Adam in Hebrew also means “mankind.” So to be the “son of Adam” also means to be the son of man.

And the Jews said, “God has spoken to us about a Son of Man before! He told us in Daniel that the Son of Man will come riding on the clouds!”

And the belief began that Abel would come back and avenge the injustice of the ages. (How literal that belief was is the wrong question to ask.) Abel would avenge his blood, right the wrongs of the world, and bring shalom back to the chaos. Abel would be the fulfillment of the prophesy of Daniel.

Jesus’s words are stunning if this happens to be the context of His conversation that day in the house:
But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.”

And Jesus says that, in fact, Abel might come back and forgive the sin of Cain.

That’s scandalous.

I was told by my teacher that Jesus is the only Jewish teacher in recorded history (before His day and since) ever to suggest that Abel will forgive the sin of Cain.

Not only that, but Jesus is facing the accusation of doing what they believed only God could do. There are only two figures who can forgive sins; one is God Himself, and the other is the High Priest, who has to be very careful about doing so without God’s blessing. It’s something that is done very rarely. But I think Jesus’s lesson that day was His continued invitation to join God in His pursuit of forgiveness.

If we’re going to put the world back together, we are going to have to partner with God to show mercy to those who don’t deserve it. And they don’t buy it. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” they ask.

And Jesus puts a stamp of authority on His teaching by causing the paralytic to rise and walk. Jesus’s claim that Abel would forgive sins, Jesus’s invitation to join God in His redemptive work, His insistence that this is, in fact, what God asks of us — has the final exclamation point of a paralyzed man rising to his feet, dusting off his mat, and walking out of the house.


And the last line of Matthew’s account?
When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

Authority to men. Authority to forgive sins. Authority to set people free.

Which is easier? To say to a man, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to make him walk? Luckily, it’s easier to forgive, because it’s been a while since I last healed a paralytic.