1. And stepping into a ship, He crossed over, and came into His own city.
2. And behold, they brought to Him one sick of the palsy cast down upon a bed; and Jesus, seeing their faith, said to the sick of the palsy, “Child, have confidence, thy sins have been forgiven thee.”
3. And behold, some of the scribes said within themselves, “This [man] blasphemes.”
4. And Jesus, seeing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think wickedness in your hearts?
5. For which is easier, to say, ‘[Thy] sins have been forgiven thee,’ or to say, ‘Rise up and walk?’
6. But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on the earth to forgive sins” — then He says to the [one] sick of the palsy, “Arise, take up thy bed, and go to thy house.”
7. And arising, he went away to his house.
8. And the crowds seeing, marveled, and glorified God, who gives such authority to men.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the gradual revelation of Jesus’ divinity is a central theme in this gospel. At the same time, Matthew is also about our gradual realization of Jesus’ presence and power in our lives. The dawning of this awareness is represented by the orderly, sequential, revealing of His divinity, in episode after episode, first in the Sermon on the Mount, next in the healing of leprosy, paralysis, and fever, and then in the calming of the wind and waves. In all of this, Jesus has been gradually revealing His power in the natural world — speaking with authority, curing sickness, and calming the sea. After that, He demonstrates that His also has power in the spiritual world: He casts demons out of two demon-possessed men.
Now, in this next episode, Jesus performs a miracle that further reveals His power in the spiritual world. We read: “Behold, they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed, and Jesus, seeing their faith, said to the paralytic, ‘Son, be of good cheer: your sins are forgiven you’” (9:2).
Here, for the first time, Jesus reveals something of His Divine Fatherhood, for He addresses the paralytic as “son.” He also reveals that He has the Divine ability to forgive sins, for He adds “Your sins are forgiven.” To the religious leaders who overhear Him, this constitutes blasphemy. According to their understanding, only God can forgive sins. It is inconceivable to them that a mere man could have this ability. Therefore, they accuse Jesus, saying within themselves, This man blasphemes (9:3).
Jesus knows that they are intimidated by His growing influence. And He knows that that they consider Him a threat to their authority. Knowing all of this, Jesus says to them, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise and walk’?” (9:5).
It is an important question. After all, it’s easy to say, “Arise and walk,” but forgiving sins is another matter. Arising and walking is physical; forgiveness — whether given or received — is spiritual. It’s easier for an exasperated parent to say to a reluctant child, “Get up and get going,” but it takes greater effort to first understand the deeper causes that lay behind the child’s unwillingness to obey. Understanding is always the more difficult part. Forgiveness is even harder.
While it takes much more awareness, sensitivity, and effort to pay attention to causes, it is, nevertheless, the most effective way to deal with symptoms. Similarly, if we are to get over our spiritual paralysis — whether it be the inability to follow through with necessary tasks, or resistance to letting go of a grievance — we must begin at the level of causes. What are the spiritual causes that prevent us from doing our best? What are the spiritual causes that prevent us from letting go of resentments? These are the kinds of questions we ask ourselves on the journey of spiritual development — a journey that begins with the recognition and acknowledgement of some sin in ourselves and leads on to the forgiveness of sin.
In order to understand the difficulty involved in forgiving sin, we need to understand what is entailed. If we believe that it is a simple prayer such as, “Forgive me, Lord, for I have sinned,” we are much mistaken, for it involves much more. It’s not that easy. While the Lord’s forgiveness is always available to us, we need to examine ourselves and be very specific about the sin we have committed. This is the first step. Once we have identified it, we must acknowledge it, take responsibility for it, confess it to the Lord, and beg for the power to no longer commit that sin. Next, we must start a new life, believing that the Lord not only has the power to remove sinful desires, but also give us the power to start a new life, as if from ourselves. It will be a new life in accordance with the divine truth. 1
As we continue to live according to divine truth, we discover that the truth indeed drives away sin, and sends it to the outermost reaches of our consciousness even as Jesus (in the previous episode) sent the demons out of the men, into the swine, and then into the depths of the sea. Similarly, in this episode, He says, “the Son of Man [divine truth] has power on earth to forgive sins” (9:6).
The secret within this miracle is that the Lord’s goodness and power works through the truth we strive to put into our lives. Truth alone, apart from the Lord’s goodness and power, cannot help us. But it can serve as a sacred vessel into which God’s goodness and power can flow. The more accurate the truth, the more fully it receives and makes use of the love and power which flows in from God. It is similar to the way our bodies receive and make use of the food we choose to eat: the more nutritious the food, the more energy and power is made available for our use. 2
All of this is contained in Jesus’ claim “the Son of Man [divine truth] has power on earth to forgive sins” (9:6). In Greek, the term “forgive” is ἀφίημι (aphiémi) which means to “release” or “send away.” The word “remittance” is perhaps the closest term, for it literally means “to send back. So, the phrase “the forgiveness of sins” means, quite literally, to send sins back to the hells from which they come. This, then, is the more interior meaning of the phrase “the forgiveness of sins.” In other words, when sins are forgiven, they are remitted, sent back, and removed. This “removal of sins” is a matter of having them removed from our consciousness and sent to the back of our mind — not obliterating them from our life. 3
After declaring that the Son of Man has the power to forgive sins, Jesus turns to the paralytic and says, “Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house” (9:6) Amazingly, the paralytic arises and departs to his house, his sins forgiven, and his ability to walk restored. It is noteworthy that Jesus first takes care of the paralytic’s spiritual needs (forgiving his sins) before meeting his natural needs (restoring his ability to walk). When we are physically sick or disabled, it’s easy to acknowledge that something is wrong, and easy to identify causes — we caught a cold, we sprained an ankle, etc.
But spiritual infirmities are more difficult because the deeper causes are harder to identify, and the healing process is less evident. When people are physically sick or physically injured, they seldom want to remain in that state; they want to get well. However, when people are spiritually sick or spiritually injured, they are not always eager to change their state; they may not want to give up their destructive habits or let go of gnawing resentments. They sometimes prefer to cling to these states of spiritual paralysis saying things like, “Leave me alone.”
That’s why forgiving sin — healing from the inside out — is, up to this point in the gospel narrative, Jesus’ greatest miracle. First He healed a soul; then He healed a body. In forgiving sin, Jesus enabled a paralyzed man to arise and walk.
The multitudes were amazed. When they saw what happened, “they marveled and glorified God” (9:8). The religious leaders, on the other hand, had a very different response. Hardly noticing that a paralyzed man had just been healed, they focused instead on what they considered blasphemy: Jesus had arrogated to Himself the right to forgive sins — something that only God can do. In so doing, Jesus had made Himself equal to God.
The multitudes did not see it that way. Not only did they marvel at what Jesus had done, but they also “glorified God, who had given such power to men” (9:8). This verse makes it clear that the multitudes still see Jesus as a man — but a very special man who has been given extraordinary power, including the God-like power to forgive sins.
9. And Jesus, passing by thence, saw a man sitting at the receipt of tribute, called Matthew; and He says to him, “Follow Me”; and standing up, he followed Him.
10. And it came to pass, as He sat in the house, that behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat with Jesus and His disciples.
11. And when the Pharisees saw, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with publicans and sinners?”
12. But Jesus hearing said to them, “They that have strength have no need of a physician, but they that have an illness do.
13. But go ye [and] learn what [it] means, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice; for I have not come to call the just, but sinners, to repentance.”
14. Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Thy disciples fast not?”
15. And Jesus said to them, “Can the sons of the bride-chamber mourn so long as the Bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the Bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast.
16. And no one patches an old garment [with] a patch of unshrunk fabric; for that which fills in takes from the garment, and the rip becomes worse.
17. Neither do they pour young wine into old bottles, otherwise the bottles are torn, and the wine is spills out, and the bottles perish; but they pour young wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.”
When Jesus was born, the angel said to Joseph, “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (1:20-21). Divine love, in its essence, desires the salvation of every person. 4
This is a general, easily understood concept. More specifically, however, the gospels declare that God came into the world as Jesus Christ to save people from their sins, to redeem them, and to free them from bondage to selfish concerns. In the Sermon on the Mount, in the healing of the sick, in the calming of the storm, and in the casting out of demons, Jesus manifests this essential love, but does not fully reveal it. Now, however, in casting out demons and forgiving sin, Jesus makes His divine purpose more clearly known: He comes to forgive His people — “to save them from their sins” — and thereby set them free. As we have just seen, forgiveness is the removal of sin — something that can only be done through Divine Power with human cooperation.
It is important, therefore, to know how God accomplishes this. First, He gives us the divine truth (the Sermon on the Mount). He teaches us truths by which we might lead our lives in order to be saved. Second, because we cannot do this by ourselves, He gives us the power to live according to that truth. In this way, and in no other, can our sins be removed from us, and thereby forgiven. 5
This approach to the forgiveness of sin was, at the time, an entirely new concept. Prior to this, it was believed that sins could only be forgiven through the sacrifice of innocent animals. Once a year, the “sins of the people” were ceremoniously placed upon a goat who was driven off into the wilderness. It was believed that the expulsion of this “scapegoat” could somehow “take away” the sins of the people (Leviticus 16:21-23). Meanwhile, sinners (including tax collectors) were to be scrupulously avoided; socializing with them was unthinkable.
Enter Jesus. Immediately after forgiving and healing the paralyzed man, Jesus reaches out to Matthew, a despised tax collector, and says, “Follow Me” (9:9). Jesus then sits down to eat with many other tax collectors and sinners. The religious leaders, who are shocked by Jesus’ behavior, confront the disciples and ask them why their teacher sits with tax collectors and sinners (9:11). According to their standards, religion is not for sinners; rather, it is for the respectable, well-educated, upper class — those whom God has blessed with wealth and privilege; it is for those who consider themselves above the taint of sin.
But Jesus came to turn all of that upside down. He came to show that religion is for everyone, the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated, rulers and servants. No longer would religion be seen as a means for enhancing one’s glory and obtaining power in the world. Rather, it would serve to free people from sin so that they might experience the kingdom of heaven — a kingdom that is not “on high,” but rather around them and within them. 6
In other words, Jesus came to revive and resuscitate the religion of the day — a religion that had fallen into the death-grip of misguided and self-absorbed people. Because these religious leaders had false ideas of what real religion is, or even who God is, the people were led astray, and were living in hellish bondage. Well-intentioned, but misled followers spent their lives trying to uphold the rigorous traditions of the religious establishment, even while God’s own commandments were being neglected.
Meanwhile, as genuine religion suffered and was becoming extinct, spiritual ills of various kinds infested the people. When Jesus declares that He has come to heal the spiritual sicknesses that have been destroying the soul of His people, the religious leaders are outraged. They are especially shocked that Jesus flagrantly violates the taboo which strictly forbids socializing with sinners. Jesus, however, sees things quite differently. He knows that He has come, especially for sinners — not for those who consider themselves well. As He puts it, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (9:12).
In no uncertain terms, Jesus tells the religious leaders that they should be focusing more on the essentials of religion, and less on external ceremonies. Quoting the prophet Hosea, He says to them: “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’” (9:13). Jesus wants the religious leaders to understand that their real work is not about sacrificing lambs, burning doves, or sprinkling people with the blood of bulls. Nor is it about long fasts and ostentatious shows of suffering. Rather, it is about teaching truth and encouraging people to lead good lives. This includes helping people recognize that we are all sinners called to help and support one another in the process of spiritual development. As Jesus says, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (9:13).
True religion, however, is not only about recognizing and seeking deliverance from our sinful ways; it is also about feasting and rejoicing because the Lord is present. Jesus demonstrates this by sitting down with His disciples, with publicans, and with sinners to dine with them. Religion, for Jesus, certainly involves serious repentance. But the goal is a joyful, delightful life, filled with God’s presence — for He lives among His people as a bridegroom with his friends. When asked why His disciples do not fast, Jesus says, “Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?” (9:15).
These are some of the new ideas that Jesus was bringing to the world. They were new garments and new wine — garments that cannot be sewn onto old clothes, and wine that cannot be poured into old wineskins (9:16-17). To those who continued to believe that God is only pleased with the old garments of worn-out traditions and the old wineskins of rigid teachings, the living religion of Jesus Christ was a startling — even shocking — reality.
In order to properly receive the new truths that Jesus came to reveal, people would have to be flexible and yielding. They would have to root out old attitudes and stretch beyond rigid beliefs. Otherwise, these new truths could not be contained in old wineskins; like new wine, these new truths would continue to ferment and expand, eventually bursting through the old, dried-out wineskins. Therefore, “new wineskins” would be needed, new ways of responding to the needs of others, and a new understanding of how to treat people.
The “new wine” that Jesus came to reveal would not be about rigid conformity to external laws, or the strict observance of empty rituals. Rather, it would be about a new, more interior life of faith and love, indeed guided by the commandments, but understood with new eyes, and practiced with new hearts. A religion of external ritual would be replaced by a religion of inner cleansing. This new religion would bring new life to a world on the brink of spiritual death. But before this could happen, false ideas (old cloth and old wineskins) would have to be removed. Only then would the words of the prophet be fulfilled, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).
The Restoration of Spiritual Life
18. While He spoke these things to them, behold, a ruler coming worshiped Him, saying, “My daughter is now dead; but come, lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live.”
19. And Jesus arising followed him, and His disciples.
20. And behold, a woman who was diseased with an issue of blood for twelve years, having come [from] behind [Him], touched the hem of His garment;
21. For she said in herself, “If I may only touch His garment, I shall be healed.”
22. And Jesus turning and seeing her, said, “Have confidence, daughter, thy faith has saved thee”; and the woman was healed from that hour.
23. And Jesus coming into the house of the ruler, and seeing the flute players, and the crowd making an uproar,
24. Says to them, “Depart; for the damsel is not dead, but sleeps”; and they laughed at Him.
25. But when the crowd was cast out, entering in He [took] hold of her hand, and the damsel arose.
26. And this fame went out into that whole land.
27. And Jesus passing by thence, two blind [men] followed Him, crying and saying, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.”
28. And when He had come to the house, the blind [men] came to Him, and Jesus says to them,” Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They say to Him, “Yes, Lord.”
29. Then He touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it unto you.”
30. And their eyes were opened, and Jesus admonished them, saying, “See [that] you let no one know.”
31. But going out they spread His fame in that whole land.
32. And as they came out, behold, they brought to Him a man mute, demon-possessed.
33. And when the demon was cast out, the mute spoke, and the crowds marveled, saying that it never so appeared in Israel.
34. But the Pharisees said, “By the ruler of the demons He casts out the demons.”
This episode begins with Jesus being asked to perform a miracle that will surpass all preceding miracles. He is asked to restore a dead girl to life! Along the way, He is approached by a woman who has had “an issue of blood for twelve years” (9:20). Believing that she could be healed by simply touching the outer hem of Jesus’ robe, she approaches Jesus from behind and touches “the hem of His garment” (9:21). As soon as she does this, Jesus turns around, sees her, and says, “Daughter, thy faith has saved thee” and the woman is healed in that very moment (9:22).
It should be remembered that this healing occurs while Jesus is on His way to revive a young girl who, reportedly, is dead. He has been asked to bring the young girl back to life. How might this seeming interruption be connected to what goes before and what follows?
The connection is not readily apparent in the literal sense, but a more interior understanding of the spiritual sense provides some helpful clues.
An important clue can be found in understanding the spiritual significance of the phrase “hem of His garment.” In the Word, “garments” represent truths. Just as clothing protects our naked bodies from exposure to various weather conditions, truth protects us from exposure to false beliefs that would hurt our innocence. Inner garments, then, represent the more interior truths of the Word, and outer garments represent the more external, literal truths of the Word. So, the woman who touched the hem of the Lord’s outer garment, represents a sincere belief that the Lord can communicate healing power to us through the most literal truths of His Word — the very “hem of His garment.” And because these truths are connected to the Lord, they contain the power to heal our spiritual infirmities. 7
But this woman had to do something. She had to act on her belief that the Lord could heal her. And so, she did. She approached Him and touched the hem of His garment. It is similar in each of our lives. We must act; we must take the first step. We must demonstrate our faith by acting on our beliefs — even if it as simple as reading the Word, trusting that the healing power of the Lord can flow through the literal words of sacred scripture. 8
And whenever we do this, with love and faith in our hearts, something wonderful happens within us: we experience an inner healing. The gradual draining away of spiritual life that we have been experiencing (“issue of blood”) is stopped, and we begin to receive new life. A new will is being born in us. 9
Having healed the woman who suffered from an issue of blood, Jesus continues His journey. When He arrives at the house of the dead girl, Jesus is confronted with a roomful of mourners bewailing the death of the young girl. Jesus had recently spoken about true religion as a joyful experience — not just a lifeless procession of solemn rituals, sacrifices, and external observances — which He compared to old cloths, and old wineskins (see 9:15-17). Comparing true religion to a wedding celebration, Jesus spoke about religious life as the union of God with His people — like a bridegroom with friends, celebrating a wedding By contrast, the house of mourning that He entered, in this next episode, is filled with wailing and lamentation. It is certainly not a place of joy.
The disparity between the joy of true religion and the funeral scene is striking. True religion is about life, not death; more interiorly, it is about being raised above spiritual death and into higher levels of spiritual life. Whether it as gradual loss of spiritual life (the woman who had been losing blood), or a total loss of spiritual life (the dead girl), God comes to heal us and restore us to full life. The healing of the dead girl, then, is an opportunity to teach this important truth. It also serves as a symbolic representation of the dying religious system He came to revive.
It is noteworthy that Jesus begins by scattering the mourners. “Make room,” He says, for the girl is not dead, but sleeping” (9:24). Certain that the girl is dead, “they laugh Him to scorn” (9:24). Nevertheless, Jesus puts the crowd outside, takes her by the hand, and, miraculously, raises the girl to life. In our own lives, “the mourners” must be driven away — they must be chased out of our inner rooms before the Lord can enter. The fears, anxieties, resentments, and discouragements — whatever has been keeping us in a state of spiritual death — must be driven away in order to make room for the Lord.
There are times when we don’t feel like making room for the Lord. There are times when we do not feel like casting out the negative thoughts and discouraging feelings. And yet, whatever we might be feeling at the moment, and however discouraged we might be, it is never too late to find meaning and purpose in life. Even when our hopes and dreams have been lulled to sleep, they are not dead. Therefore, Jesus says to the mournful spirits that surround our deathbed, “Depart, for the girl is not dead but is sleeping” (9:24).
The raising of the girl who seemed to be dead speaks of a re-awakening of our true affections — those affections that are willing to receive and love God. The good news is that although these affections in us are often asleep, they are never dead. All we need to do is drive away the negative thoughts and feelings. It begins by believing in the Lord’s power to heal (symbolized by the woman with the issue of blood). Once the issue of blood (our gradual loss of spiritual vitality) is stopped, we can be raised up to higher levels of spiritual life (symbolized by the raising of the dead girl).
Opening our eyes
In the miracle of the seemingly dead girl being brought back to life, we see a symbolic representation of how God often awakens us from our unmotivated states of “spiritual death” so that we may live a vibrant, motivated, truly spiritual life. But in order to understand how this miracle is connected to the one which follows, we need to introduce another law of scriptural interpretation. In sacred scripture the feminine gender usually represents the affectionate, loving side of human nature, while the masculine gender tends to represent the intellectual, thinking side. 10
So the next miracle, the healing of two blind men, speaks about how God heals the other side of our nature — the intellectual, thinking side. This is the side that can see the truth when it is presented. Everyday expressions such as, “Now I see what you mean” and “None are so blind as those who will not see,” remind us that there is a deep symbolic connection between physical sight and spiritual sight. It is this healing of our spiritual sight — our understanding — that is described in the next miracle.
It occurs just as Jesus is leaving the home of the girl whom He has awakened from what seemed like death. He has just healed two women. Now, as He continues His journey, two blind men follow Him, crying out, “Son of David, have mercy on us!” (9:27). In the preceding miracles we saw the healing of our affections. Although they seemed to be gradually dying or even “dead,” they could be revived. In this miracle we see the healing of our understanding, represented in Jesus’ giving sight to the blind men. As He opens their physical eyes with the touch of His hand, He opens our spiritual eyes, giving us the power to understand spiritual truth. “And their eyes were opened” (9:29). He sternly warns them, however, to tell no one about it. “See that no one knows it,” He says (9:30). 11
Healing our muteness
The next healing in this series of miracles involves a man who is both mute and demon possessed. It is clear that the demon-possession is connected with the man’s muteness, for we read that “when the demon was cast out, the mute man spoke” (9:33). Throughout the scriptures, the children of Israel are exhorted to rejoice and sing praises to God, especially in celebration of the new life God brings to humanity. “Oh, sing to the Lord a new song! . . . Shout joyfully to the Lord; break forth in song, rejoice, sing praises” (Psalm 98:1, 4); “Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands” (Psalm 100:1); “Praise the Lord, for it is good to sing praises to our God” (Psalm 147:1); and the very last line of the Psalms is, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6).
This is the goal of God’s salvation work; it is to bring us into that wonderful state of happiness and contentment in which our heart and mind are filled with gratitude — gratitude for being freed from our sins, gratitude for the abundant blessings that surround us, and gratitude for the new life we have received. In this state of gratitude we cannot contain the spontaneous praise that springs forth from our lips: “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Your praise” (Psalm 51:15).
Rejoicing, praise, and gratitude then, is an essential component of religion — especially a religion that is about life, not death. In the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus listed the many blessings we could receive, the final blessing involved the expression of joy and gratitude: “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad,” He said (5:12). In casting out the demon of muteness, Jesus allows this man to express his inner joy, to rejoice, and to be glad.
This is the joy that God intends for each of us.
These sequence of healing stories summarize how God brings us into this state of exultant joy. First, He stops the loss of spiritual life through our initial efforts to read His word (the woman who touched the hem of His garment); then He rekindles our affections (raising the apparently dead girl); then He opens our understanding (the two blind men); and, finally, He gives us the ability to express the inner joy that we feel for all of this, in words of praise, and in expressions of gratitude (the healing of the mute man).
The multitudes receive these divine works with amazement. They marvel, saying, “It was never seen like this in Israel” (9:33). Instinctively, they know that this is something breathtakingly different. But the religious leaders have a different response. They say: “He casts out demons by the ruler of the demons” (9:34). These dramatically different responses represent the decision that is set before each of us in this gospel. Do we respond with awe and gratitude to the wonderful ways God heals our affections, enlightens our understanding and enables us to offer praise? Or do we respond with doubt and disbelief, saying, “He casts out demons by the ruler of the demons”?
For some, the whole idea that Jesus can work miracles seems preposterous. Admittedly, it often seems that we can revive ourselves, understand spiritual truth, and express gratitude without supernatural aid. The appearance is that we can do all of this on our own. But the reality is quite different: God alone gives us the power to do all these things. The more we align ourselves with that power, through learning truth and applying it to our lives, the more power we receive. All the while, wonderful changes are happening within our souls. Amazing miracles are taking place as God quietly stops the loss of spiritual vigor, restores our affections, gives us the ability to understand spiritual truth, and opens our lips so that we might praise His name and live in gratitude. 12
A practical application
There are times when a relationship in our life might seem to be dying or is already dead. Perhaps a misunderstanding has not been resolved, and because of this a stoney silence has dragged on for several hours or even many days. This is the time to believe in the power of the Word (to touch the hem of His garment), to pray for an awakening of our original affection (a dead girl is raised), and to seek a new understanding of the situation (blind men see). If we do this, our lips will be opened so that we might speak the kind and loving words we were not willing to say. We might even be given the power to ask for forgiveness (a mute man speaks).
This series of miracles speaks to a new possibility in each of us: we can speak out of a new understanding, using words that come from love.
Jesus is Moved with Compassion
35. And Jesus went around all the cities and the villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every malady in the people.
36. And seeing the crowds, He was moved with compassion concerning them, because they were faint and thrown down, as sheep not having a shepherd.
37. Then He says to His disciples, “The harvest [is] indeed much, but the workers [are] few.
38. Entreat ye, therefore, the Lord of the harvest, so that He will send out workers into His harvest.”
As Jesus gradually reveals His Divine identity, people begin either to accept or reject Him. The multitudes marvel, recognizing that there has never been anything like this in Israel. At the same time, the religious leaders — seeing that their authority and influence are threatened — are provoked to anger. They insist that Jesus casts out demons through invoking the power of Satan himself.
The believing multitudes and the disbelieving religious establishment represent opposing attitudes in every human being. This is how God keeps us in spiritual equilibrium — free to accept or reject Him at any given moment. In other words, the faithful multitudes and the incredulous religious leaders are in each of us; at any given moment we are simultaneously in the presence of heavenly and hellish influences from the spiritual world. Every step we take in acknowledging God (through a life according to His commandments) is met by an equal and opposite sphere of influence from hell that endeavors to attack our growing faith in Him. 13
In the context of this episode, then, “the multitudes” represent the innocent thoughts and tender affections in each of us that sense something of Jesus’ divinity. often, however, these multitudes of thoughts and affections are a disorderly mass of scattered feelings, intuitions about what is good, hunches about truth, and inclinations to be useful. Although good, true, and useful, these thoughts and affections are compared to weak and scattered sheep with no shepherd to lead them. As long as they remain disorganized and scattered, they will be easy prey for wolves who are eager to devour them. Therefore, we read that when Jesus sees the multitudes, He is “moved with compassion for them,” because they are weary and scattered, like sheep without a shepherd (9:36).
Jesus, therefore, calls together His disciples so that they may begin their ministry. It’s time to plant seeds (of goodness and truth) and reap the harvest (of love and wisdom): “The harvest truly is plentiful,” says Jesus, “but the laborers are few” (9:37). And He concludes with an exhortation to prayer: “Pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (9:38).
In terms of our spiritual development, it’s time to get serious. We need to be organized, deliberate, and well-focused as we go about getting our spiritual lives in order. There is important work to be done, vital uses to be performed, and people in need of both physical and spiritual healing. The Lord is calling us into His vineyard and giving us an assignment — a personal assignment, uniquely designed for each of us.
It’s harvest time. It’s time to heed the words that Jesus says to Matthew, “Follow Me” (9:9). It’s time to become an apostle.
1. True Christian Religion 528: “True repentance is examining oneself, recognizing and acknowledging one’s sins, praying to the Lord and beginning a new life. There are in the Word many passages and plain sayings of the Lord which establish that the act of repentance is absolutely necessary, for a person’s salvation depends upon it.”
2. Arcana Coelestia 3091: “The power which appears to be from truth is actually from good, through truth.” See also Conjugial Love 122-123: “From the marriage of good and truth that emanates and flows in from the Lord, a person acquires truth, to which the Lord joins good…. The Lord attaches and joins good to the truths a person acquires…. “A person acquires truth from the Lord, and the Lord joins good to that truth according as the truth is put to use, thus as a person tries to think wisely and so live wisely.”
3. Arcana Coelestia 9937: “Forgiveness of sin is nothing else than their removal [to the sides]; for they remain with the man; but insofar as the good of love and the truth of faith are implanted, so far the evil and falsity are removed.” See also HD 170: “To be withheld from evil and kept in good, constitutes remission of sins…. It is a consequence of the remission of sins to look at things from good and not from evil.” Arcana Coelestia 5398: “Sins can by no means be wiped away from anyone, but when a person is kept in good by the Lord they are separated, rejected, and sent to the sides so as not to rise up.”
4. Apocalypse Explained 386: “He came into the world to save humanity… which means that from Divine love He willed and desired the salvation of the human race.”
5. Arcana Coelestia 8393: “Sins are not forgiven through repentance of the mouth, but through repentance of the life. A person’s sins are continually being forgiven by the Lord, for He is mercy itself; but sins adhere to the person, however much that person may suppose that they have been forgiven, nor are they removed from a person except through a life according to the commands of faith. So far as a person lives according to these commands, so far are sins removed. And so far as they are removed, so far they have been forgiven.”
6. Heaven and Hell 319: “Heaven is within a person, and those who have heaven within them come into heaven. Heaven in a person is acknowledging the Divine and being led by the Divine.” See also Arcana Coelestia 8153: “That the Divine was signified by what is high, is because by the starry heaven was signified the angelic heaven, and it was also believed that it was there; although the wiser among them knew that heaven is not on high, but is where the good of love is, and this within a person, wherever that person may be.”
7. Apocalypse Revealed 45: “In the Word ‘garments’ symbolize truths. Thus, a long robe, being an outer garment, symbolizes, when said of the Lord, Divine truth emanating.” See also Arcana Coelestia 9917:2: “The fact that ‘the hem of the robe’ means the most external parts, where the natural is, is clear from places in the Word where ‘the hem’ is mentioned, as in Isaiah, ‘I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and His hem filling the temple’ (Isaiah 6:1). The ‘throne’ on which the Lord was seated means heaven… and His ‘hem’ there means Divine Truths on lowest or most external levels, such as the truths of the Word in the sense of the letter.”
8. DeVerbo 20: “All power in the spiritual world belongs to the Divine truth proceeding from the Lord… and all the power of Divine truth resides in the sense of the letter of the Word.”
9. Arcana Coelestia 4353:3: Act precedes, willing follows; for that which one does from the understanding is at last done from the will, finally becoming a habit. When it is instilled in a person’s rational or internal, the person no longer does good from truth, but from good.”
10. Heaven and Hell 368: “In the Word ‘youth’ or ‘man’ means in the spiritual sense the understanding of truth, and ‘virgin’ or ‘woman’ the affection of good.”
11. In Mark we will speak at length about why the Lord sometimes tells people to speak about what He has done for them and sometimes commands them to tell no one. In biblical scholarship, this is referred to as “The Messianic Secret.”
12. Arcana Coelestia 5202:4: “The person with whom good is present is undergoing rebirth every moment, from earliest childhood to the final stage of life in the world, and after that forever. This is happening not only interiorly but also exteriorly; and this rebirth involves processes that are amazing.”
13. Heaven and Hell 595: “The hells are continually assaulting heaven and endeavoring to destroy it. But the Lord continually protects the heavens by withholding those who are in it from the evils derived from their self, and by holding them in the good that is from Himself. I have often been permitted to perceive the sphere that flows forth from the hells, which was entirely a sphere of effort to destroy the Divine of the Lord, and thus heaven.” See also Heaven and Hell 599: “In order that a person may be in freedom, to the end that reformation might take place, the person’s spirit is connected to both heaven and hell. For with every person there are spirits from hell and angels from heaven. It is by means of hell that person is in evil, while it is by means of angels from heaven that a person is in good from the Lord; thus everyone is in spiritual equilibrium, that is, in freedom.”