Please read Matthew 8:1 – 9:13, Mark 1:40-2:17 & Luke 5:1-32
Yeshua’s sermon had been timely. They were now entering the sixth month of the Jewish year, Elul, which had been set aside by the Jewish sages as a season for cheshbon hanefesh – “an accounting of the soul”, in preparation for Rosh Hashanah and the Days of Awe which culminate in the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur. Cheshbon hanefesh involves engaging in an honest self-evaluation about our behaviour over the previous year. It was a time to contemplate the most important “business”—that is, service of our Creator, to meticulously analyse if there had been progress towards the goal of better serving G-d during the past year. A time for each Jew to contemplate where they were in life, how they got here and what direction they were heading in. A time for each one to examine what actions they had done which led to this point in their relationships with others and with G-d. They were to evaluate if, over the past year, they had become better people, better Jews. This process of self-examination is in order to grow – let go of the pain of the past and move forward. It involved confession – coming naked before the Divine Light to agree with the truth about oneself. Different sins required different types of confession. Sins against God required confession to God alone for the sake of obtaining divine forgiveness. Sins against others required personally acknowledging our harm to them and asking them for forgiveness. Sins against ourselves required admitting that we had damaged our own lives and being willing to accept personal forgiveness. The focus of this process was responding to our own sinful condition. Yeshua’s Sermon on the Mount had opened their eyes to a whole new way of evaluating their lives from G-d’s perspective and finding the way forward.
After Yeshua had come down from the hill (mountain), large crowds followed him. Then a man afflicted with tzara`at (leprosy) came, kneeled down in front of him and said, “Sir, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
Yeshua reached out his hand, touched him and said, “I am willing! Be cleansed!” And at once he was cleansed from his tzara`at.
Then Yeshua said to him, “See that you tell no one; but as a testimony to the people, go and let the cohen (priest) examine you, and offer the sacrifice that Moshe (Moses) commanded.” Matthew 8:1-4 CJB
A man afflicted with tzara`at came to Yeshua and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”
Moved with pity, Yeshua reached out his hand, touched him and said to him, “I am willing! Be cleansed!” Instantly the tzara`at left him, and he was cleansed.
Yeshua sent him away with this stern warning: “See to it that you tell no one; instead, as a testimony to the people, go and let the cohen examine you, and offer for your cleansing what Moshe commanded.”
But he went out and began spreading the news, talking freely about it; so that Yeshua could no longer enter a town openly but stayed out in the country, where people continued coming to him from all around. . . . Mark 1:40-45 CJB
Once, when Yeshua was in one of the towns, there came a man completely covered with tzara`at. On seeing Yeshua, he fell on his face and begged him, “Sir, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Yeshua reached out his hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing! Be cleansed!” Immediately the tzara`at left him. Then Yeshua warned him not to tell anyone. “Instead, as a testimony to the people, go straight to the cohen and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moshe commanded.” Luke 5:12-14 CJB
In Matthew we read of “large crowds” following Yeshua. The particular Greek word translated “crowds”, is the plural ὄχλοi – oxloi–, which suggests that there were multiple groups within the larger group. There was a collection of various interest-groups following Yeshua. Some were eager to learn more from Him, some were wanting the excitement of seeing miracles, some were in need of His touch, and some were jealous of His popularity and there only in order to find some fault in His teaching or actions so that they could denounce Him.
Leviticus 13 & 14 outlined the Jewish laws concerning leprosy. The priests were to examine anyone who had a skin disease to determine the nature of the disease, whether they were ‘clean’ or ‘unclean’. Leprosy was especially abhorrent to the Jews because it brought ceremonial defilement – banishing the person from the Temple and from relations with fellow Jews. As such, it symbolised sin.
Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp. Leviticus 13:45-46
The man with leprosy dared to come into the town to seek after Yeshua. He came with a simple faith; “Sir, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Yeshua responded by doing the unthinkable – He reached out His hand and touched this man. Leprosy was contagious, none dared touch a person with leprosy. They had to cry out “Unclean! Unclean!” so that people would know to stay away and not come into accidental contact with them. Yet Yeshua had a cleanliness, a holiness, that was even more contagious. His touch could make one clean. Yeshua came as our sin offering and Leviticus 6 speaks thus of the sin offering:
It is most holy… Anyone who touches its flesh shall become קָדַשׁ – qâdash Leviticus 6:25b, 27
קָדַשׁ – qâdash – to be made clean (ceremonially or morally); to consecrate; to be holy; to purify; to sanctify / be sanctified.
In cleansing the leper, Yeshua was demonstrating His authority over both sin and disease – His capability of setting us free from both. A leper might make others unclean, but Yeshua made the leper clean. He was not defiled by this man’s leprosy because His holiness is more powerful than our sin – He came as the holy sin offering for us.
Leviticus 14 gave very clear instructions of the process for anyone healed of leprosy to be cleansed and accepted back into the Jewish community. Yeshua had stated in His sermon on the mountain, that He had just come down from, that He had not come to abolish Torah, but to fulfil it. The fulfilment of Torah required not just for a leper to be made whole, but for the full priestly examination of such, the procedure for pronouncing them clean, the washing and complete shaving of the cleansed one, and then eight days later, after another ceremonial washing and complete shaving, taking the offerings that Moses had commanded to the temple in Jerusalem.
The priest shall order that one of the birds be killed over fresh water in a clay pot. He is then to take the live bird and dip it, together with the cedar wood, the scarlet yarn and the hyssop, into the blood of the bird that was killed over the fresh water. Seven times he shall sprinkle the one to be cleansed of the defiling disease, and then pronounce them clean. After that, he is to release the live bird in the open fields. The person to be cleansed must wash their clothes, shave off all their hair and bathe with water; then they will be ceremonially clean.
After this they may come into the camp, but they must stay outside their tent for seven days.
On the seventh day they must shave off all their hair; they must shave their head, their beard, their eyebrows and the rest of their hair. They must wash their clothes and bathe themselves with water, and they will be clean.
On the eighth day they must bring two male lambs and one ewe lamb a year old, each without defect, along with three-tenths of an ephah of the finest flour mixed with olive oil for a grain offering, and one log of oil. The priest who pronounces them clean shall present both the one to be cleansed and their offerings before the Lord at the entrance to the tent of meeting. Leviticus 14:5-11 NIV
The cleansed leper was so excited about his healing that he just wanted to tell everyone. He saw little point in going through the procedure commanded by God, even though the One who healed him had affirmed the need for such. All that washing and shaving and waiting, and the long journey to Jerusalem. All that being stripped of everything he had carried with him in his leprosy, even the hair on his head, beard and eyebrows, to have a fresh new start. He knew that he was healed, what did anything else matter?
But the news about Yeshua kept spreading all the more, so that huge crowds would gather to listen and be healed of their sicknesses. However, he made a practice of withdrawing to remote places in order to pray. Luke 5:15-16 CJB
There was now no spare time for Yeshua to be able to ply his trade as a carpenter. Every day crowds sort Him out to teach them and heal them. It appeared that His ministry was flourishing and all Israel wanted to follow their Messiah. All the scriptures about Him being despised and rejected seemed like an impossibility as the adoring crowds kept growing and seeking him out.
Yeshua had compassion on the people and kept extending Himself to meet their needs, but He never allowed the demands of such large crowds to distract Him from seeking the Father’s face and doing the Father’s will alone. Yeshua prioritised getting alone with the Father to pray προσεύχομαι – proseúchomai – an interactive exchange; engaging in two-way communication with the Father to exchange human desires for divine will; coming into agreement with God; being God-ward focused, waiting on Him.
Today’s lesson was on Yeshua’s authority to forgive sinners – and the implications of that.
Yeshua came from his time of prayer knowing what He needed to teach the people today – that He has the authority to forgive sins.
After a while, Yeshua returned to K’far-Nachum (Capernaum). The word spread that he was back (at His house), and so many people gathered around the house that there was no longer any room, not even in front of the door.
While he was preaching the message to them, four men came to him carrying a paralyzed man. They could not get near Yeshua because of the crowd, so they stripped the roof over the place where he was, made an opening, and lowered the stretcher with the paralytic lying on it.
Seeing their trust, Yeshua said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
Some Torah-teachers sitting there thought to themselves, “How can this fellow say such a thing? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins except God?”
But immediately Yeshua, perceiving in his spirit what they were thinking, said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier to say to the paralyzed man? `Your sins are forgiven’? or `Get up, pick up your stretcher and walk’? But look! I will prove to you that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”
He then said to the paralytic, “I say to you: get up, pick up your stretcher and go home!”
In front of everyone the man got up, picked up his stretcher at once and left. They were all utterly amazed and praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” Mark 2:1-12 CJB
So he stepped into a boat, crossed the lake again and came to his own town. Some people brought him a paralyzed man lying on a mattress.
When Yeshua saw their trust, he said to the paralyzed man, “Courage, son! Your sins are forgiven.”
On seeing this, some of the Torah-teachers said among themselves, “This man is blaspheming!”
Yeshua, knowing what they were thinking, said, “Why are you entertaining evil thoughts in your hearts? Tell me, which is easier to say — `Your sins are forgiven’ or `Get up and walk’? But look! I will prove to you that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”
He then said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, pick up your mattress, and go home!”
And the man got up and went home. When the crowds saw this, they were awestruck and said a b’rakhah to (glorified) God the Giver of such authority to human beings. Matthew 9:1-8 CJB
One day when Yeshua was teaching, there were P’rushim (Pharisees) and Torah-teachers present who had come from various villages in the Galil (Galilee) and Y’hudah (Judea), also from Yerushalayim (Jerusalem); and the power of ADONAI (the LORD) was with him to heal the sick.
Some men came carrying a paralyzed man lying on a bed. They wanted to bring him inside and lay him in front of Yeshua, but they couldn’t find a way to get him in because of the crowd. So they went up onto the roof and lowered him on his mattress through the tiles into the middle of the gathering, right in front of Yeshua.
When Yeshua saw their trust, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.”
The Torah-teachers and the P’rushim began thinking, “Who is this fellow that speaks such blasphemies? Who can forgive sin except God?”
But Yeshua, knowing what they were thinking, answered, “Why are you turning over such thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier to say? `Your sins are forgiven you’? or `Get up and walk’? But look! I will prove to you that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”
He then said to the paralytic, “I say to you: get up, pick up your mattress and go home!”
Immediately, in front of everyone, he stood up, picked up what he had been lying on, and went home praising God. Amazement seized them all, and they made a b’rakhah (began glorifying) to God; they were awestruck, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.” Luke 5:17-21 CJB
Despite everything that Yeshua had been saying and doing, all the different people whom He was miraculously healing, still there were many sceptics. Some of those who were most sceptical about Him were the very ones who should have been in the best position to recognise Him as their Messiah, those whose lives were filled with the study and teaching of the Torah and the Prophets. Sadly, their study and teachings had become so full of the opinions of men that they failed to recognise God when He came to them.
Yeshua had chosen to return home for this next lesson He was to teach His disciples. It was a lesson that would profoundly affect everyone who was there, and thus is recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke. The ever-increasing crowds of Jews from all over Israel were becoming normal. People coming desperate for healing were also now common, although most of them did not feel the need to break through the roof of a house to get it. Luke records that at this time “the power of ADONI was with Him to heal the sick“, it was one of those divine moments when God’s power was manifest and the friends of the paralytic man were not going to let this moment pass without getting their friend right in front of Yeshua.
All eyes were fixed on the paralytic as he was lowered down in front of Yeshua. Everyone knew what he needed. Everyone, it seemed, except Yeshua who stunned them all with His next pronouncement: “your sins are forgiven.” No mention of his paralysis. No display of the healing power which was so obviously with Yeshua on this day. Rather, Yeshua saw a greater need – both for this young man and for all those crowding in on him. Yeshua spoke what only God could declare, and all the religious teachers who had used their standing in the community to push their way to the front in Yeshua’s house immediately started criticising Him in their hearts. Yeshua did not let them savour that sweet sense of superiority for long before He addressed it head-on: “Which is easier to say? `Your sins are forgiven you’? or `Get up and walk’? But look! I will prove to you that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”
There we have it. This is what the Son of Man came for. It was not just to teach us. It was not just to heal sickness and disease. He came to forgive sins – to remove that barrier between us and God. This is what the whole month of Elul was about – being reconciled to God. That is what He had drawn everyone to His house for. Now for the proof – “pick up your mattress and go home!” Immediately, in front of everyone, he stood up, picked up what he had been lying on, and went home praising God. Yeshua’s critics had nothing they could say to that, and would have been drowned out anyway by all the rest of the people glorifying God for what He had just done in their midst. Yeshua has proven authority on earth to forgive sins.
Yeshua went out again by the lake. All the crowd came to Him, and he began teaching them. As He passed on from there, He saw Levi Ben-Halfai (Levi the son of Alphaeus) sitting in his tax-collection booth and said to him, “Follow me!” And he got up and followed Him. Mark 2:13-14 CJB
As Yeshua passed on from there He spotted a tax-collector named Mattityahu (Matthew) sitting in his collection booth.
He said to him, “Follow me!” and he got up and followed Him.
Matthew 9:9 CJB
Later Yeshua went out and saw a tax-collector named Levi sitting in his tax-collection booth; and He said to him, “Follow me!” He got up, left everything and followed Him. Luke 5:27-28 CJB
There was good reason Yeshua had chosen this moment to assert His authority to forgive sins, and it wasn’t just for the sake of the paralysed young man. Yeshua was setting things up for doing the unthinkable, to the Jewish mind. He was going to call a despised tax-collector to be one of His Talmidim. Rabbis were known to only call the most pious, best and brightest young men to be their Talmid. Yeshua had broken the mould by calling some rough fishermen to follow Him, but at least they had honest jobs.
This man was a τελώνης – telṓnēs – literally means “paying-at-the-end” and referred to the toll-house where the Romans collected taxes from the public. Tax-collectors were also called “publicans” because they pressured the Jewish public (their country-men) to pay all the money they “owed” to Rome. As a class they were detested not only by the Jews but by other nations also, both on account of their employment and of the harshness, greed, and deception, with which they prosecuted it. Jewish tax-collectors were despised by their fellow Jews as traitors to Rome and apostates who chose to be defiled by their working with Gentiles. They were not allowed to give evidence in a Jewish court, nor welcomed into their synagogues, and they were disqualified from holding any public or religious office. Tax-collectors were thus considered to be the worst of sinners and excluded from all pious Jewish society. So, we can see why it was essential for Yeshua to establish His credentials as One who could forgive sins before He called Matthew the tax-collector to follow Him.
This was not the first encounter Matthew (Levi) had with Yeshua. From his vantage point near the Sea of Galilee, Matthew had witnessed the calling of Peter and Andrew, James and John. He had witnessed many being healed by this man. He had sat, taking in every word the Son of Man had preached up on the mountain outside Capernaum. And he had joined the crowds thronging in around Yeshua’s house and heard those life-changing words spoken to the young paralytic “your sins are forgiven“. Here was a man who had the power to forgive sins and re-instate Matthew into the community of God’s people. This man was calling him now. Matthew didn’t hesitate. He got up, left everything and followed Yeshua.
Levi gave a banquet at his house in Yeshua’s honor, and there was a large group of tax-collectors and others at the table with them. The P’rushim (Pharisees) and their Torah-teachers protested indignantly against his talmidim, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax-collectors and sinners?”
It was Yeshua who answered them: “The ones who need a doctor aren’t the healthy but the sick. I have not come to call the `righteous,’ but rather to call sinners to turn to God from their sins.” Luke 5:29-32 CJB
As Yeshua was in Levi’s house eating, many tax-collectors and sinners were sitting with Yeshua and his talmidim, for there were many of them among his followers. When the Torah-teachers and the P’rushim saw that he was eating with sinners and tax-collectors, they said to his talmidim, “Why does he eat with tax-collectors and sinners?”
But, hearing the question, Yeshua answered them, “The ones who need a doctor aren’t the healthy but the sick. I didn’t come to call the `righteous’ but sinners!” Mark 2:15-17 CJB
While Yeshua was in the house eating, many tax-collectors and sinners came and joined him and his talmidim (disciples) at the meal. When the P’rushim (Pharisees) saw this, they said to his talmidim, “Why does your rabbi eat with tax-collectors and sinners?”
But Yeshua heard the question and answered, “The ones who need a doctor aren’t the healthy but the sick. As for you, go and learn what this means: `I want compassion rather than animal-sacrifices.’ For I didn’t come to call the `righteous,’ but sinners!” Matthew 9:10-13 CJB
Levi had one thing he wanted to do before leaving everything behind. He gave a great banquet and invited everyone he knew, everyone who was not accepted in ‘polite’ Jewish society, everyone who had been ensnared in sin and rejected by the religious establishment as he had been. He invited them all to come and meet the Man who had transformed his life. He invited them to come and see the reason he was willing to leave everything of his old life behind and give up all his future earning potential. Matthew wanted them all to have the opportunity he had received, to hear the truth, to be overwhelmed with the love, and to be set free. Yeshua was the guest of honour at this banquet, and he had no hesitation in accepting the invitation.
All aspects of Jewish life were perceived as spiritual occasions, there was no concept of any part of life being secular in nature, all was an expression of their relationship with God and with each other. Sharing a meal in Jewish culture held both religious and relational significance. In the Torah, great and important things happened over meals. A b’rit (covenant) was sealed with a meal. The first time Avraham (Abraham) arrives in Jerusalem he has a meal of bread and wine with Malki-Tsedek (Melchizedek). When Avraham and Sarah enter the covenant and are visited by significant guests, the birth of Isaac is announced over a meal. Then we have what is probably the most important meal in the Torah. On the night before liberation from slavery, God instructs the Jewish people to commemorate the move from slavery to freedom by conducting the Passover Seder, with matza and maror and the Passover lamb. Thus, there was a sacredness to sharing a meal with someone.
Though there are many biblical examples of Jews sharing meals with non-Jews and accepting food from non-Jews in earlier times (Gen 14:18, 26:30; Exod 18;12; Deut 2:28, 23:4-7; 2 Kings 4:8, 25:29-30), the social and the spiritual meanings attached to meals during the Second Temple Period restricted such interaction. The developing Oral Law forbade any sharing of a meal with Gentiles, and table fellowship was often restricted even between the members of various Jewish groups (Qumran Community Rule, 1QS 6:16-21, Josephus, Wars II.139). Jewish tradition recognized a meal as a time when social bonds were formed through fellowship, and significant conversation. As people were fed and nourished in this intimate setting they would talk with each other about important matters. Rabbis would say that if people ate together and Torah talk was not exchanged then the meal had been a vain enterprise. They also counselled against sharing the treasures of Torah with those they considered unworthy of such – the tax collectors and ‘sinners’ gathered around these tables certainly fell into that category in the minds of the Pharisees. This made eating with them a vain, frivolous, undiscerning exercise, totally inappropriate for any man of God. Yeshua saw things differently, He saw these people differently, He saw their potential for repentance, forgiveness and entry into the Kingdom of Heaven.
In this month of Elul, every Jew’s focus was on the need for repentance and reconciliation with God before their fate was sealed on Yom Kippur. The prevailing attitude among the Pharisees was that only the pious, those who made every attempt to obey all their rules and regulations to fulfil Torah, could receive God’s forgiveness and be given right standing with Him. Yeshua demonstrated that all the people they thought were disqualified could also be forgiven and brought into right standing with God. Not only that, He made a habit of going to where they were and inviting them to the kingdom of heaven. The Pharisees thought that God’s kingdom would consist only of people like themselves. Yeshua invited everyone in, yet His requirements for entry and demands for true holiness were greater even than those of the Pharisees – for He examined each person’s heart.
Dining areas were typically shaded from the sun, sometimes indoors, at other times on the roofs and on porches attached to the exterior of the house. Seating at meals was arranged by status and places of honour (Mat 23:6), to the right and to the left of the host (1 Sam 9:22-24; Matt 20:21-23). It seems that the crowds, including the religious leaders, were continuing to follow Yeshua everywhere. The Pharisees felt that they had every right, even necessity in exposing this man, to interrupt someone else’s banquet in order to denounce attendance at such. This, too, had been part of Yeshua’s lesson for that day. The topic was the forgiveness of sinners. Yeshua had proven His authority to forgive with the paralysed man, then exercised that authority in calling Matthew (Levi) to follow Him, and was now describing His call in terms of that authority to forgive: “I have not come to call the `righteous,’ but rather to call sinners to turn to God from their sins.”
In this season of cheshbon hanefesh it was the denounced sinners who were doing a true, lifechanging, accounting of the soul; while the ‘righteous’ Pharisees remained blinded to their own sin as they focused on what they saw as other’s wrongs.
1. HELPS Ministries. The Discovery Bible. [Online] https://thediscoverybible.com/.
2. Tax collectors in the ancient world. Bible History. [Online] [Cited: 25th July 2020.] https://www.bible-history.com/links.php?cat=39&sub=430&cat_name=Manners+%26+Customs&subcat_name=Tax+Collectors.
3. Tax Collector. Encyclopedia of the Bible. [Online] [Cited: 25th July 2020.] https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/encyclopedia-of-the-bible/Tax-Collector.
4. Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, Eli. Understanding Jewish Meals In Their Ancient Context. Israel Institute of Biblical Studies. [Online] 21st May 2014. https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/jewish-studies/jewish-meals-in-context/.
5. Poupko, Rabbi Yehiel E. Why are food and meals so essential to the Jewish experience? Jewish United Fund. [Online] 26th November 2007. https://www.juf.org/news/thinking_torah.aspx?id=28094.
6. E. Schürer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ (Eng. tr. 1897-1898), I, ii, 65-71; I.
7. Abrahams, Studies in Pharisaism and the Gospels, 1st series (1917), 54-61.
8. Kaminker, Rabbi Mendy. How To: “Soul Accounting” in 5 Steps. Chabad. [Online] [Cited: 29th July 2020.] https://www.chabad.org/holidays/JewishNewYear/template_cdo/aid/971407/jewish/Soul-Accounting-in-5-Steps.htm.
9. Parsons, John J. Cheshbon HaNefesh & Self Examination. Hebrew4Christians. [Online] [Cited: 29th July 2020.] https://www.hebrew4christians.com/Holidays/Fall_Holidays/Elul/Cheshbon/cheshbon.html.
10. Weinberg, Rabbi Noah. Spiritual Accounting System. Aish HaTorah. [Online] 22nd May 2002. https://www.aish.com/h/hh/gar/sa/Spiritual_Accounting_System.html.
In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…
* What was the most important thing you learnt from this study?
* What are some insights you have gained from the healing of the leprous man?
* What were some of the blessings and some of the challenges Jesus would have faced with having increasing numbers of people following Him?
* Scripture does not describe Jesus as having a large crowd who were united in wanting to follow Him, but large “crowds” ὄχλοi – oxloi – comprised of different groups of people with very different agendas. What were some of the different reasons that people might have been gathering around Jesus?
* Some people keep getting too busy to pray, what was Jesus response when He was kept busy by an increasing number of people wanting Him to minister to them and answer their questions?
* What difference do you think the times Jesus spent alone in the wilderness praying made to His ministry?
* What fills most of the time of the ministers that you know – prayer, studying the scriptures, meeting the people’s needs, on the internet seeking donors, ministering to the sick, teaching, evangelising, what else?
* What do you think the significance of Luke’s statement “the power of ADONI was with Him to heal the sick” is?
* How was Jesus able to forgive sinners before He had been to the cross?
* Forgiveness is a central theme in the gospels – why do you think it is so important and what difference does it make to how we live and minister to others?