A Sermon for the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity
A Sermon for the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity
St. Matthew 9:18-26
by William Klock
How do we respond to Jesus? Our Gospel today is taken from Matthew 9. It’s a part of the Gospel story that we need to take in context. If we were to go back a chapter we’d see Jesus repeatedly issuing a call. When Jesus calls, you can’t not respond. Everyone responds. Some people responded in faith and followed Jesus. Other people responded by turning and walking away. And in between Jesus’ calls and the responses of the people, Matthew intersperses a sequence of miracles. They remind us of the big picture. Jesus wasn’t just a good teacher. He wasn’t just a prophet. He wasn’t just a miracle worker. He was the Messiah and he had come in fulfilment of God’s promises. Human sin has made a mess of the world. Jesus came in response and to fulfil God’s promise to set Creation to rights. The miracles remind us that the gospel isn’t just good advice—another good teaching to help get your life in order or another miracle-worker to temporarily fix your problems. The gospel isn’t just another idea or philosophy on the smorgasbord. Again, the gospel is not good advice. The gospel is good news. Something to sample—as if it might be right for you, or maybe not. The gospel is the good news that in Jesus, Creation’s true Lord has come. God has sent his king—the King—and that makes the gospel a royal proclamation that God’s kingdom is coming and it makes the gospel a royal summons to submit in faithful obedience to King. How do we respond to that royal summons, Brothers and Sisters?
One man came to Jesus and said, “I will follow you everywhere,” but when Jesus explained what it meant to follow him—“Foxes have holes”, he said, “and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” The man decided it was too much. He walked away. Another man said, “I’ll follow you, Jesus, but first I have to go bury my father.” Jesus said, “No…if you’re going to follow me, follow me. Let the dead bury the dead.” The man wasn’t willing to make that kind of commitment. Brothers and Sisters, repentance is the first step in following Jesus—setting aside everything and committing to the King and to the King alone. That’s a hard thing to do. But that’s the nature of it. A few years ago Tom Wright published a book about all of this and titled it The Day the Revolution Began. I like that title. It captures that fact that in coming as God’s King, Jesus has established a new order. The old kings, the old gods, the old philosophies, the entire old regime was defeated at the Cross. It’s all passing away. And so to take hold of Jesus really does require letting go and turning away from everything else. Now, Matthew follows this immediately with an account of Jesus calming a storm on the Sea of Galilee and casting out a legion of demons. Matthew reminds us that in Jesus, God was fulfilling his promises. Repentance is hard, but when you see the evidence that God’s King has come and that God’s promises are being fulfilled, the decision is an easy one even if it means following a difficult and narrow path.
In contrast, Matthew then tells his own story. He was working his job as a toll collector when Jesus called him. Talk about being invested in the old regime! But Matthew recognised the King, he left his job and followed. And, right away, Matthew tells another story about Jesus fulfilling God’s promises and setting right what sin and death corrupted—about Gods’ new world breaking in through the Messiah. Look at Matthew 9:18-19.
While he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples.
Mark and Luke tells us this man was a ruler of the local synagogue and that his name was Jairus. All of this happened after Jesus returned from his short trip across the Sea of Galilee and Matthew implies that Jairus was practically waiting for Jesus’ boat on the beach.
Knowing who he was and showing him respect, the crowd let him through to Jesus. He was desperate and sought out Jesus in faith. He also came in humility, falling at Jesus’ feet. He begs Jesus to come and heal his daughter who is sick and at the point of death. A lot of the Jewish leaders rejected Jesus. A lot of them were looking for dirt they could use against him. But not all of them. Back when Mary first heard that she was going to bear the Messiah she had sung out:
He has brought the mighty down from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate. (Luke 1:52)
The Gospels show us a lot of Jesus exalting the humble. Mary’s prophetic line about bringing down the mighty from their thrones is mostly in expectation of future judgement, but here we see one of the mighty humbling himself before Jesus. His daughter was dying and he had a sense of what Jesus could do. He’d heard about the healings Jesus had performed. He’d probably heard about Jesus raising the widow’s son at Nain. He could see God’s future in the present wherever Jesus went. And so he begs Jesus to heal his daughter. Notice that he doesn’t come, like the people of Nazareth, to insist that Jesus work a miracle because he deserves it. He comes in humility. That’s the sort of request that Jesus responds to. Matthew doesn’t tell us anything about a conversation between the two men. Jairus humbly asked and Jesus went with him.
But as they head off to Jairus’ house, Jesus is stopped. Again, Mark and Luke tell us that they he was overwhelmed by a crowd. And in the midst of the choking crowd, a woman approaches Jesus. Look at verses 20-21:
And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.”
To modern people this woman simply sounds like a sick person in the crowd. For First Century Jews she represented a lot more than that. What Matthew describes is a menstrual disorder of some kind that caused her to bleed perpetually. And he highlights just how long this has been going on: twelve years. She’s been bleeding for as long as Jairus’ little daughter has been alive. In his Gospel, Luke also highlights the physical seriousness of her problem. At one point she’d had money, but now she’s destitute. She spent it all on doctors and none of them had been able to help her. But it’s not just that this woman has a medical problem that no one’s been able to heal in twelve years. This woman’s biggest problem is that she’s unclean.
Menstruation, according to the torah rendered a woman unclean. It also rendered anyone who touched her unclean until sundown. We don’t have time this morning to get into why that was the case. It wasn’t a sin issue, at least not in the way we normally think about sin. It was an issue of ritual purity, something vitally important to the system of temple and sacrifices and what that meant for this woman is that she’s been unclean for twelve years. She was shut out of the temple, shut out of the sacrificial system, shut out of the synagogue, and because contact with her brought uncleanness, she was shut out of society. She might as well have been a leper.
This now gives us a sense of the risk she was taking that day. The crowd was pressing in on Jesus and this woman was working her way through the crowd to get to him. Everyone she touched was rendered unclean, even if they had no idea who was bumping and jostling into them. And by touching Jesus, she rendered him unclean too—or she should have. But she catches up to him, touches his robe. At this point Luke slows the story down to give us some insight into what’s just happened. She’s been healed. She got what she wanted. Now she tries to quietly slip away through the crowd. But Jesus stopped everything. The crowd quickly goes quiet. Here’s what Luke writes:
And Jesus said, “Who was it that touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and are pressing in on you!” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me.” (Luke 8:45-46)
Imagine what’s going through that poor woman’s head at this point. “Ack! Somehow he noticed!” And so she hunches a little lower and shrinks back further into the crowd. She’s afraid. If Jesus exposes her the crowd of people she just rendered unclean is going to be really angry. Jesus might be angry. She made him unclean too. Imagine the crowd going dead silent. No one knew what was happening, but something was wrong. Jesus was asking who had touched him. “Maybe,” they thought, “Jesus just realised that someone had picked his pocket.” Peter reminds us of the crowd pressing in on Jesus. “Master, Anyone could have touched you. What’s the big deal?” No one says a word and the woman shrinks back even more in fear. What if she’s found out?
But Jesus explains: “No. It wasn’t that someone bumped into me. Someone came in faith, touched me, and power went out from me.” It might sound like Jesus is talking about some kind of magic, but that’s not it. God was at work through Jesus. The woman had touched Jesus and somehow God had done something through that touch. Jesus knew someone had been healed, but he also knew that there’s more to healing than physical wellbeing. It wasn’t enough for this woman’s bleeding to have stopped. That was only the physical manifestation of the problem. For there to be full healing, for there to be shalom, there was a spiritual problem to be addressed too. Ritual impurity was transferred by contact. That woman had made a lot of people in that crows ritually impure—but they had no idea. They just felt a bump or a jostle as the woman passed. But when she touched Jesus in faith, he felt something. It wasn’t her impurity being transferred to him, but his purity being passed to someone else. And that was something—somehow—he could sense. Luke doesn’t say how long the silence lasted, but finally the woman realised there was no escape. She came trembling. Her faith was weak and being choked by the fear of the crowd, but even her weak faith finally brought her forward. Again, from Luke’s account:
And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. (Luke 8:47)
Trembling the woman confesses what she’s done. The people around her would have been furious. They would have been outraged. If Jesus hadn’t been there they might have stoned her. This woman had no business there. Everyone around her was now unclean. But Jesus forces her out into the open to reveal his ministry and to reveal what real, saving faith looks like. She was an outsider. She lived apart from everyone. She was an outcast. But more importantly, because she was unclean, she didn’t even have access to God through the normal channels of the torah. She might have been thinking that Jesus was just as angry as the rest of the crowd. She might have been afraid he was going to do something awful. But her faith was more powerful than her fear. And in response to her faith, Jesus says in verse 48:
“Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”
Jesus understood her real problem even if she didn’t. She just wanted to be healed physically. Once the blood stopped she was ready to go home. But Jesus knew that her bigger problem was being an outsider. She was an Israelite by birth, but her physical disease had essentially forfeit her membership in Abraham’s family. And now Jesus, as the king and representative of God’s kingdom, addresses her, comforts her, calling her “Daughter”. He welcomes her into the kingdom. He assures her of her inheritance. That’s what she needed most of all. And Jesus not only tells her, but tells the whole crowd that it’s her faith that has made her well. It wasn’t some magical force that she connived out of Jesus. It was faith in this man she’d heard about. It was faith in this one who was so obviously by his preaching and by his miracles the Lord’s Messiah who had come to set the word to rights. And so she came to Jesus the Messiah in faith, knowing that if he could set Israel to rights, if he could set the world to rights, he could surely set her to rights too. She trusted enough to risk the crowd. And her faith overcame the fear of public exposure and public shaming. And because of that faith, Jesus sends her off in peace—he sends her off not only physically healed, but spiritually restored, and spiritually restored because she’s been welcomed into the kingdom.
All this is wonderful, but what about Jairus’ daughter? As Mark and Luke tell it, the situation is even more desperate and discouraging. When Jairus came to Jesus his daughter was at the point of death—not quite dead yet—hence emphasis on the crowd and the delay it caused. Luke tells us:
While he was still speaking, someone from the ruler’s house came and said, “Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the Teacher any more.” (Luke 8:49)
It’s too late. While the crowd and the sick woman delayed Jesus, the girl had died. Maybe the servant hadn’t seen what had just happened. That, or he just plain didn’t understand Jesus—who he was and what he was about. A woman had just come to Jesus in faith knowing that he was the Messiah and Jesus now shows that her faith was well-placed and justified. Luke says that Jesus addressed Jairus and the messenger:
But Jesus on hearing this answered him, “Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well.” (Luke 9:50)
Matthew then carries on and writes:
And when Jesus came to the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” (Matthew 9:23-24)
Jesus goes to Jairus’ house anyway. When they arrive they discover funeral mourners are already there and getting things started. Jesus sends them packing. Matthew says “They all laughed at him”. “Jesus, We’re in the funeral business. This is how we make our living. We know a dead person when we see one. Faith, shmaith—she’s gone!” But consider that the woman in the crowd could have said the same thing. “Faith? I’ve spent my life savings on doctors and none of them could heal me. And maybe the Lord could heal me—but I’d have to find some way to get into his presence first and I can’t because I’m unclean. It’s hopeless!” But that’s not what she believed. She had faith. And Jairus has faith too. That he came to Jesus in the first place shows that he had faith, but that faith was strengthened by what he saw in the crowd and that faith was demonstrated as he invited Jesus home, even after his servant had told him that it was too late. And so as the crowd laughs at him, Jesus goes into the house.
But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. And the report of this went through all that district. (Matthew 9:25-26)
People—including the disciples—doubted. They lacked faith. And Jesus responds to them not only by working miracles, but by specifically working the miracles that the Old Testament prophets had said the Messiah would work. Isaiah had prophesied that he would preach good news to the poor and that he would give life to the dead. And that’s just what Jesus does. The woman in the crowd: Jesus gave her life her back—physically, socially, spiritually. She was a daughter of Abraham, but because of her sickness she was unclean, an outcast, and shut out from the presence of God. She was doomed. But because of her faith, Jesus gave her new life and restored her to the fellowship of God’s kingdom. If there was ever a case of good news being preached to the poor, that was it. And from there he goes to Jairus’ daughter and literally raises the dead to life. He confirms the faith of Jairus and his wife. Jesus doesn’t tell them to go in peace as he did the woman. He doesn’t call Jairus “Son”—he didn’t need that specific reassurance—but, nevertheless, their faith has brought them into the kingdom too.
Jesus is ushering in the kingdom. He’s giving healing and restoration and calling people into that kingdom. And at the same time he’s establishing his identity. Think about it. There were two common things that the average person ran into fairly regularly that would render them unclean: death and blood. Both were common and both were things everyone avoided. And both are here. The unclean woman comes to Jesus, touches him, and instead of Jesus turning to the crowd to ask who just made him unclean, he does just the opposite: “Who just caused power to go out from me?” The uncleanness couldn’t touch Jesus. Just the opposite, in fact. Jesus’ cleanness, his vitality, his life flow to those who come to him in faith. And it’s for that reason that he didn’t hesitate to go and lay hands on the dead girl. He made a point of touching the dead so that everyone could see that it’s death that has to worry about coming into contact with Jesus, not the other way around. There’s a joke: When the Bogey Man goes to sleep, he checks under his bed for Chuck Norris. Brothers and Sisters, when Death goes to sleep, he checks under his bed for Jesus—or something like that. When Jesus comes, demons flee, disease is undone, sin is forgiven, and even death runs from his life-giving touch.
Brothers and Sisters, Jesus foreshadows here what he’ll do at the cross. He doesn’t flee from our sickness and our sin. No, just the opposite. He embraces us as sick and unclean and as tainted by death as we are in our sin. At the cross he took our sin upon himself. He suffered death for our sake. He suffered and died, taking our punishment on himself, but even the grave couldn’t hold him. On the third day he burst forth full of life, having conquered sin and death. The revolution had begun. And so we come to him in faith and he embraces us. He takes our sin himself and releases us to go in peace, cleansed and made whole, and welcomed into his kingdom. And he fills us with his Spirit, his Sons and Daughters, and he sends us out to proclaim the Revolution and to make it known.
Remember, God sent his Son into the world to redeem us from sin and death, from sickness and pain. These are problems that we human beings have brought on ourselves because of our sin. In the midst of suffering I’ve often had people ask why God is punishing them. Friends, that’s not how God works. Jesus tells us in John’s Gospel, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17).
Jesus didn’t come to heap more misery and judgement on us. He came to heal and save because we were already suffering from the consequences of our sin, because we already stood condemned and judged. Remember, the Jews were suffering—they were living miserable lives in a sort of exile—they were supposed to be the people who lived with God in their midst, but when they returned from exile and rebuilt the temple, the divine cloud of glory never returned—and so their prayer and hope was that God would return and that when he did he wouldsmite all the pagan gentiles causing their misery. Brothers and Aisters, in Jesus God did come to visit his people, but in Jesus we see that our real problem isn’t the evil people around us, the people persecuting us or causing our misery. The real problem is our own subjection to sin and the death that our sin has brought into the world. Not one of us is free from the corruption of sin.
If God had come to visit his people as the Jews expected it would have meant judgement and damnation for us all—Jew and gentile alike. But instead, in his lovingkindess, God visited his Creation by sending his Son to take our sin upon himself, to die the death we deserve, to make us clean and to set us free. He sent his Son so that when he does come at the end of history to judge the living and the dead, those who have believed in Jesus, those who have repented, submitted to his lordship, and trusted in his victory over sin and death, those who have become a part of the revolution, those who live in hopeful faith of God’s new world, will be spared the punishment of sin. Jesus came to forgive and to welcome us into the kingdom he is establishing and which will be consummated on that last day. And so remember, God doesn’t afflict us. Just the opposite. He so desires to help us out of the trouble brought by our sin that he spared not his own Son.
And as he welcomes us into his kingdom, he sends us out into the world. As Jesus shared in our suffering in order to make us clean, he now sends us out to embrace those still subject to sin and death. Friends, Jesus had no reason to fear uncleanness because he was full of life. And we have no reason to fear uncleanness either. Jesus has washed us clean. He’s filled us with his own Spirit. He’s given us his own life. And now he calls us to go out into the world to preach good news to everyone else mired in and suffering the consequences of sin—to proclaim the good news that in the Lord Jesus sin and death are defeated and creation is finally being set to rights. As we once came to him in faith, trusting in his victory over sin and death, let us go out in that same faith, trusting that through his church—through us and in the power of the Spirit—he will make his saving and redeeming victory known to the world.
Let us pray: Gracious Father, thank you for sending your Son into the world that we might be forgiven our sins and restored to life. Strengthen our faith that we might always trust in the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus, that we might always remember that he has conquered sin and death, and that we might go forth into the world in power to share his victory and to share his life. We ask this in his name. Amen.