St. Matthew 9:1-8
October 6, 2013 A+D
Rev. David H. Petersen
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The Lord says to the paralytic: “Have courage, child, your sins are forgiven you” (Mt. 9:2). To the woman with an issue of blood, He says: “Have courage, daughter, your faith has saved you” (Mt. 9:22). Finally, to the fearful disciples in the storm, He says: “Have courage, I AM” (Mt. 14:27; Mk. 6:50).
In each case, the presence the Incarnate Lord promises and gives confidence despite the circumstances. The Lord chases away anxiety and distress. He brings men into the goodness of the God whom they call Father. He separates them from the number of the unbelieving. Thus the paralytic is addressed as “child” and the woman with blood as “daughter.”
But the most significant use of the word is the Lord’s admonishment to His disciples on the night in which He was betrayed. There He says: “I have said these things to you in order that you would have peace in Me. In the world, you will have tribulations, but have courage, I have overcome the world.”
The Church is constantly threatened by persecution and martyrdom of one sort or another. Gethsemane’s sorrow and uncertainty are the standard not the exception. Human beings, like rabbits, live in constant anxiety. We do not know what the future holds. We are vulnerable at every level. Cancer can get us. Unfaithful spouses and rebellious children can get us. Greedy bosses, incompetent government officials, thieves, drunk drivers, and terrorists can get us. So also can the devil and his demons get us. This world is not a safe place for sinners.
Yet worst of all, is our betraying and complacent flesh. We are like rabbits who imagine themselves to be lions, who do not fear the housecat or the cars as they should. Those who think they stand, take heed lest they fall. The flesh is weak. Lust is strong. Addictions are common and excuses are plentiful. It does not take much to destroy yourself, to lose your family, your job, the respect of your peers, the ability to look your mother or your daughter in the eye. Worse than cancer and paralysis is the shame of our secret thoughts. Repent.
The Lord summons us to courage. Be confident, take heart, have courage: even though you have tribulations in the world, He says, “I AM, your sins are forgiven, your faith has saved you, I have overcome the world.”
He calls the paralytic “child.” He calls the woman with blood: “daughter.” He looks upon you with no less compassion, with no less affection. You are in the hands of the Victor and have His watery Name upon you. He has defeated all your enemies – not just the devil and the world and death, but even your own sinful flesh. You have tribulations to be sure, but He has overcome the world. He has overcome you as He overshadowed the virgin. He has cast His shade upon you, taken you into Himself, declared Himself to be your God and your Savior. So let the terrorists and the government and even the synod come. Let sickness and poverty and death come. They can harm us none. One little word can fell them.
This is not the vain St. Crispin’s Day speech of Henry the VIII. This is not the shallow praise of George Patton. Nor is it the speculation of Socrates that it is okay because the soul is immortal. This is not the pride of Henley’s defiant and errant statement:
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
No, you’re not. And it does matter how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll – but the Christ is your Captain. He stands by your side. And He has taken the punishments into Himself and broadened the gate wide enough to let you in.
This is Christ, Himself, in our Flesh, in our own mess, infected with our disease, shamed in our company, who, on the basis of His victory over the world achieved through His crucifixion and resurrection, issues the summons to courage. This is not myth or romanticism. This is history. This is not yearning and wishful thinking or speculation. This is fulfillment. The Lord is calm. This is not an emotional appeal. It is a straight statement of fact: take heart, be of good courage, be confident – for Christ the Lord, the Kingdom of Heaven, is at hand and the world – paralysis, an issue of blood, a storm – is overcome. Have courage for death is overcome, the rabbis are overcome, loneliness and shame are overcome.
“Your sins are forgiven. Get up and walk.” That is all of faith and works in two sentences, all there is to being a Christian: “Your sins are forgiven. Get up and walk.” Yet there are two book ends that shouldn’t be missed. The Lord starts with “Have courage” our topic thus far. That courage comes from the Lord’s presence for us in our flesh. He comes to be a Sacrifice and Substitute for us. That is the basis of forgiveness and good works. He then ends this encounter with the command “go home.”
So it goes this way: “Have courage. Your sins are forgiven. Get up and walk. Go home.” That is the totality of Christian doctrine. Without the Spirit we are paralytics. With the Spirit given through the Word of Christ in Holy Baptism we are made children of the Father and are forgiven, enabled to walk, and are brought home.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
The list of passages and some of the comments are indebted to Walter Grundmann, “Θαρρέω” inTheological Dictionary of the New Testament. eds. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), 27.