Trinity 19 – Matthew 9:1-8

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

            Lord…only say the word.

There are two ways you can understand the words of the centurion in Matthew chapter eight, especially when you hear today’s Gospel from Matthew chapter nine. The first way is the way of the transaction. You give something to God, then God gives something back to you. Maybe you make a bargain with God. “Okay, Lord. I’ll read my Bible a little bit more. I’ll make it to church more often. I’ll read Portals of Prayer every day rather than when I have time. I might even try to make it to a Bible Study at church. Anything, Lord. Anything, as long as you give me what I ask.”

The Old Adam loves to cut deals with God. Sure, you’ll take healing from an illness. The side dish of forgiveness of sins that comes with it is an added bonus. But what’s really in it for you? What can you finagle out of God that matters most? That’s what you’re looking for when you try to bargain with God. “Just say the word, Lord, and I’ll hop to it. Whatever it takes to get what I want.”

You could also take a sidetrack from cutting deals and say the whole thing is blasphemy. This is a possible response when you don’t get what you think you need from God. Consider the scribes who hear Jesus forgive the sins of the paralytic. No one can forgive sins but God alone. The scribes are right. However, they are wrong because they refuse to acknowledge that Jesus is God in flesh. That’s why Jesus asks them which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Rise and walk”?

The obvious answer to Christ’s question is both are easier to say for Him. There’s no need to strike a bargain. There’s no need to measure what is the more difficult thing for God to do and make a gambit that He just might do the hard thing for you. The Lord only says the word. Whatever He says happens.

That’s the other way to look at this miracle in today’s Gospel. Both the healing of the paralytic and the absolution of the paralytic’s sins are a miracle. All it took was Jesus saying the word and it was done. It should be no surprise that Saint Matthew put today’s Gospel one chapter after Jesus healed the centurion’s servant. They go together. The centurion didn’t want Jesus to come into his house. All Christ needed to do was say the word and his servant would be healed. Jesus responds to the centurion’s request this way: Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. Remember, the centurion was a Gentile, a Roman soldier. Knowing that adds gravity to Christ’s words. It took a Roman Gentile to show the Jews the power of the word of the Son of God.

You probably have never considered what is the most offensive thing that happens in a Christian congregation. An ill-spoken word in a meeting is bad, maybe offensive, but it’s not the worst that could happen. Sitting in “someone’s pew” stings for a while, but is still not that offensive. The most offensive thing that happens in a Christian congregation, especially a Lutheran congregation, is this:

  • “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
  • “Take, eat; this is My Body, which is given for you…. Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sin.
  • “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Those are the times when Jesus speaks His word and whatever He says happens. You ask Jesus to say the word and He does. He says the words that offend so many, yet bring comfort to so many more. The offensive part, at least to many, is the fact that God has given such authority to men. God the Father does not play the deus ex machina card when He speaks the word. He doesn’t float out of the sky in a fiery chariot or some other miraculous way to set things right among His people. He gives such authority to men. He gave it first to His only-begotten Son. His Son then gave it to His apostles. He still gives such authority today to men set apart by Word, prayer, and the laying on of hands to do the work of an evangelist, to be a shepherd of the Good Shepherd’s flock.

Jesus still speaks the word. Miraculous things still happen. Children young and old are washed clean, killed and brought back to life through water and word. Men and women confess their sin to their pastor and to each other to receive forgiveness of sins. People kneel at an altar and open their mouths to receive Christ’s true Body and Blood for forgiveness, life, and salvation. Sermons are preached from pulpits like this one, declaring the free, full pardon from sin because of Jesus Christ’s innocent suffering and death.

Lord…only say the word. A dangerous thing to believe and confess, especially when the world doesn’t believe a word could make a difference. His word makes all the difference in the world, for His word declares you pardoned from sin, removes the penalty of death, and grants you healing that matters for all eternity, even if you never receive bodily healing this side of eternity. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

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