The Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity: Made Well
November 19, 2023

The Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity: Made Well

Passage: Matthew 9:18-26
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The Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity: Made Well
St. Matthew 9:18-26
by William Klock

 

Our Gospel today begins with this introduction from St. Matthew:

 

As Jesus was talking, suddenly an official came up and knelt down in front of him.  “It’s my daughter!” he said.  “She’s just died!  But if you will come and lay your hand on her, she’ll live.”

 

Imagine everything going through this man’s head and heart.  He’s got to be grieving for his daughter.  But there’s also faith and hope or he wouldn’t have been there.  Mark and Luke tell us this man was a ruler of the local synagogue and that his name was Jairus.

 

Jesus was surrounded by a crowd.  He’d just got back from the other side of the sea of Galilee and this man came pressing through the crowd.  He was an important person and knowing who he was, the people let him through.  Jairus was desperate.  Death is the end.  At least it was until Jesus showed up.  And so Jairus left his daughter’s side and went to find Jesus.  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 pleads with Jesus: “Come to my house and raise my daughter, too.”  And Matthew says that seeing Jairus’ faith and hope:

 

Jesus got up and followed him and so did his disciples.

 

But as they head off to Jairus’ house, Jesus is stopped.  Again, Mark and Luke tell us that he was overwhelmed by a crowd.  And in the midst of the choking crowd, a woman approaches Jesus.  Look at verses 20-21:

 

Just then a woman appeared.  She had suffered from bleeding for twelve years.  She came up behind Jesus and touched the hem of his coat.  “If I can only touch his coat,” she said to herself, “I’ll be rescued.”

 

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 most likely a menstrual disorder 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 had 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.  It wasn’t a sin issue.  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.

 

That 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, in his telling, Luke slows the story down to give us some insight into what’s just happened.  She touches Jesus’ robe.  She’s healed.  Somehow she knew as soon as it happened.  She got what she wanted.  Then she tries to quietly slip away through the crowd.  But Jesus stopped everything.  The crowd quickly goes quiet.  Here’s what Luke writes:

 

Who touched me?” asked Jesus.  Everybody denied it.  “Master,” said Peter, “the crowds are crushing you and pressing you!”  “Somebody touched me,” said Jesus.  “Power went out from me and I knew it.” (Luke 8:45-46)

 

Imagine what’s going through that poor woman’s head at this point.  “Oh no!  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, Peter.  No one bumped into me.  No one picked my pocket.  Power went out from me.  Someone touched me in faith and I need to know who.”  Just as the woman knew she’d been healed, Jesus knew that someone had been touched him and had been healed.  It might sound like Jesus is talking about some kind of magic, but that’s not it.  God was at work through him.  The woman had touched Jesus and somehow God had done something through that touch.  Jesus wanted to know who and what.  Again, from Luke’s account:

 

When the woman saw that she couldn’t remain hidden, she came up, trembling, and fell down in front of him.  She told him, in front of everyone, why she had touched him, and how she had been healed instantly. (Luke 8:47)

 

Imagine how afraid she was.  It was one thing to sneak through the crowd unnoticed, but once they figured out who and what she was, the people she’d jostled would have been furious.  If Jesus hadn’t been there they might have stoned her.  But Jesus calls 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 as she tells him what happened, he instead says to her:

 

“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.

 

Now, all this is wonderful, but what about Jairus’ daughter?  In Matthew’s shortened version of the story, the girl was already dead.  But as Mark and Luke tell it, she was dying when Jairus initially came to Jesus.  There’s a powerful sense of urgency.  Jesus needed to get to Jairus’ house soon and now he’s been delayed.  Luke tells us:

 

While he was still speaking, someone arrived from the ruler’s house.  “Your daughter is dead,” he said, “don’t trouble the teacher any longer.” (Luke 8:49)

 

It’s too late.  While the crowd and the sick woman delayed Jesus, the girl had died.  I would assume the servant hadn’t seen what had just happened with the old woman or he might have been more hopeful about the situation.  Luke says that Jesus addressed Jairus and the messenger:

 

But Jesus, hearing this, answered him, “Don’t be afraid.  Just believe, and she will be rescued.” (Luke 8:50)

 

Matthew then carries on and writes:

 

Jesus went into the official’s house.  There he saw the flute-players, and everybody in a great state of agitation.  “Go away!” he said.  “The little girl isn’t dead.  She’s asleep!”  (Matthew 9:23-24)

 

Jesus goes to Jairus’ house anyway.  It must have been a good way away, because by the time they get there the funeral mourners have already arrived and got things started.  Matthew says “They all laughed at him”.  They laughed at him the same way they’d laugh at you if you walked into Piercy’s and told them the folks in the refrigerator are just sleeping.  “Jesus, We’re in the funeral business.  This is how we make our living.  We know a dead person when we see one.  Faith’s got nothing to do with it.  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.

 

When the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and she got up.  And the report of this went out around the whole region. (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.  This is important to remember.  Jesus didn’t go around doing random miracles.  What he did was fulfil the words of the prophets.  He showed the faithfulness of the God of Israel.  Isaiah had prophesied that the Messiah 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 her life 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 promised 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.  Have you heard the 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.  Just the opposite.  He embraces us as sick and unclean and as tainted by death as we are in our sin.  He let his enemies nail him to the cross and suffered death for their—for our—sake.  He suffered and died, taking our punishment on himself, but even death couldn’t hold him.  On the third day he burst forth from his tomb, 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.  Then 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 their exile in Babylon 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 would smite all the pagan gentiles causing their misery.  Brothers and Sisters, 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.

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