Second Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 5A)
TEXTS: Genesis 12:1-9; Romans 4:13-25; Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26
For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law, neither is there transgression.
For this reason the promise depends on faith, in order that it may rest on grace, so that it may be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (who is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”), in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So shall your descendants be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), and the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore “it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.
(Romans 4:13-25) *
The lectionary readings for today are filled with interesting characters. There is old Abraham, the ancestor of the promise; the tax collector Matthew; the synagogue leader and his daughter; and the woman Jesus encounters, as if by accident, on the way to raise the dead girl.
What are the common themes running through all their stories? One is trust. Another is faith. They go together. The Greek word for faith, “pistis,” is the same root contained in the word for “trust,” which really means “to dwell in pistis”—to dwell in faith. So let’s explore those themes— those themes of faith and trust.
First, let’s look at the story of Abram—or Abraham, as he would later be known. It’s a tale that begs many questions: How did God speak to Abraham? Why did God choose Abraham? How could Abraham, at a time when travel was so terribly difficult, uproot his whole family and journey to another country without knowing what he would find there?
We can only guess at the answers to these questions, but of one thing we can be sure: Abraham was absolutely convinced that God had called him, that God had made promises to him, and that God would keep those promises—even when it seemed utterly impossible that they could be fulfilled.
Centuries later, the Apostle Paul would give Abraham credit for having this utterly unshakable faith. In his letter to the Romans, Paul says it was not adherence and obedience to laws that made this possible for Abraham; rather, it was Abraham’s complete trust in the God of promises. That is what enabled him to leave his comfortable home to become the father of not just one nation, but of many nations.
A similar kind of trust propels the characters in our gospel lesson. Here is Matthew, a tax collector, who answers Jesus’ call and becomes a disciple. Now, remember that tax collectors were despised in Jesus’ day because they extorted taxes for the enemy, who in this case was Herod Antipas and his Roman bosses. The Pharisees lumped tax collectors together with the worst kind of sinners—in that same suspect category that they placed everyone who was attracted to Jesus, and who was welcomed by him.
Most probably, Matthew and Jesus had caught sight of each other as the rabbi passed through the market place of Capernaum, there by the Sea of Galilee. On this day—like every other day—Matthew sits alone in his tax booth, despised and avoided by his fellow Jews.
“Follow me,” Jesus tells him—and without any recorded question or hesitation, Matthew gets up and does just that. But he doesn’t stop there; he invites Jesus to eat with him, and Jesus accepts the invitation.
Now, the houses in Capernaum were open during the day, and anyone could look inside. So the passers-by and all the curious who heard the exchange between Jesus and Matthew—all of them gathered outside to watch them eating while reclining around a low table. Some of the Pharisees got close enough to talk to one of the disciples, and they asked a question which they would repeat on many other occasions: “Why does your teacher do this? Why does he eat with sinners and tax collectors?”
A Pharisee, conscious of his moral superiority and high position in the community, would never do this. Eating with someone meant acknowledging that the person is not inferior to you.
Of course, Jesus heard the question; he was meant to hear it. And so he gave an answer—one that comes from the prophetic Scriptures, something the Pharisees knew quite well: “Go and learn what this means,” he said. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” It is how you treat one another that matters to God, not the rituals that you keep.
The conversation continues, but is suddenly interrupted by a man with an urgent need. He is a leader of the synagogue. He is not one of the despised. This man has authority and is respected. But he kneels before Jesus to ask him a favour—not for himself, but for his beloved daughter. The request to follow is now reversed. Jesus does not ask the man to follow him. It is he who begs Jesus to come to his home—not to cure the sick child, but to bring her back from the dead!
Jesus sees the pain and trust of this father, and immediately he responds. He starts on the way to the man’s house. But then, something else happens: Jesus is interrupted once again—this time by a woman who, in her turn, is following him. When she touches his cloak, he feels power leaving his own body to heal her. By touching his garment, she is cured of a long-term illness.
Remember the theme of faith and trust, and consider these people. The father—who has just met Jesus—has an astonishing level of trust in this teacher and healer. And the woman with the hemorrhage has an enormous amount of faith that this holy man can help her if she can only get close to him. What amazing faith these two people have! And their trust is not misplaced. Both the woman and the girl are given new life. Jesus rescues them from sickness and from death.
Abraham, Matthew, the grieving father, and the woman who touched Jesus’ cloak—each of them demonstrate profound trust in something beyond themselves, in someone higher than themselves.
Despite the taunts of his neighbours—and maybe the complaints of his relatives—Abraham abandons everything that is familiar and secure, in order to obey a God who calls him into the unknown.
Despite the derision and hatred of those who know him as the worst kind of sinner, Matthew obeys the call of the teacher he had heard from a distance—and that changes his life forever.
Despite her despair and her shame, a woman ventures into public in order to touch the man from whom love and power emanate and heal.
Despite his religious position and respectability, a distraught father approaches a man who eats with sinners—and begs for the life of his child.
Jesus responds to all of them because he knows that he has come for the sick, not for the healthy. He has come for those who recognize that he is filled with mercy—a power which is infinitely more compelling than external sacrifice or religious ritual.
Always going to the heart of every problem that is brought before him, Jesus sees people as they really are—and he responds with mercy. That’s who Jesus is—the One who sees us as we really are. If we trust in him, we will come to know his mercy. If we come to know his mercy, our lives will be changed. Our lives will be restored.
That is the gospel we preach. Thanks be to God for it. Amen.
* New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition. Copyright © 2021 National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.