Two Daughters (Matthew 9:18-26)

Published on Sunday, 06 August 2017 18:23
It was certainly a day of surprises in Capernaum. Matthew received a call that surprised him when Jesus came to his tax-desk; his friends attended a meal with Jesus and his disciples that they had not anticipated; the unknown woman received a cure from Jesus for her longstanding illness; and the local synagogue ruler had an astonishing request concerning his daughter answered by Jesus. None of them would have suspected that morning that they would have met with Jesus in those ways, but they did. We can never predict what Jesus can do in a day in our personal lives, in our church lives, or through us to others.

It looks as if the events took place in the evening. Matthew’s meal probably occurred in the late afternoon. So the two miracles occurred later and they would not be the last that day because Matthew goes on to describe others that took place even later that day.

Matthew now draws the attention of his readers to the power of Jesus over death and disease. His reporting of each incident is briefer than what is said about them in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Matthew’s concern seems to be to show how Jesus was the answer to the unusual problems experienced by those he helped in these incidents. At the same time, he is showing the range of people that Jesus helped, because they are added to the list of those who previously were helped by him.

Matthew points out that the incidents took place after Jesus had spoken about the importance of not using old wineskins. It is possible that Matthew wanted to use this incident to show the futility of using useless traditions. We see one such tradition in the practice of professional mourners and others gathering at the house of a bereaved family. We need to bear in mind that burials in that part of the world were carried out on the day the person died, and there seems to be a rush here to get the burial done.

It is not difficult to see that the professional mourners who had arrived in the home of Jairus very quickly after his daughter died were totally useless. They did not come to offer genuine sympathy, but they went through a performance that was heartless as well as useless. Jesus saw no need for them. As far as the woman was concerned, what was there for her in the ceremonial law? Her illness barred her from the temple courts and meant she could not join in the presence of God. All attempts at helping herself by use of doctors had not brought her any cure.

I would suggest that further that Matthew is pointing out that Jesus was not affected by the limitations of the ceremonial law. To be touched by a person with a disease or to touch a dead person rendered a person unclean in a ceremonial sense. But Jesus knew that such divisions would soon be done away with and here he indicates that something new is coming when he comes in contact with people that the old could not help.

The faith of Jairus
Jairus was an unusual person because he was a Jewish ruler who believed in Jesus. We are not told how he came to faith in Jesus. Instead we are told how he showed his faith in Jesus in a particular way. He may have followed the crowds who were listening to Jesus. I would say that it is obvious that Jairus had seen Jesus perform miracles. He may have heard that Jesus had raised the son of the widow in Nain (Luke places the incident in Nain as prior to this one. Jairus, as the synagogue ruler, would have known that a long time previously Elijah and Elisha had raised people from the dead. And since he believed that Jesus was the Messiah, he would have believed that Jesus could do greater actions than mere prophets. So I think it is safe to say that the faith of Jairus was deduced from what the Scriptures said about the Messiah.

In addition, we can see from the posture that Jairus adopted that he was willing to acknowledge in a public way that Jesus was great. The synagogue ruler bowed before Jesus and requested his help. Perhaps some would have concluded that the trouble he was in had caused him to lose all awareness of reality and caused him to do what he would not normally do. That would be a risk that Jairus would have to face, but the misinterpretation of others is not a reason to refrain from asking Jesus for help.

Matthew does not say if the death of the daughter of Jairus was the result of a long-term illness or if it was sudden. If it was long-term, it is surprising that he waited until she was nearly dead before he contacted Jesus. The one detail that is certain is that it would be a devastating experience for Jairus and his family. Still, Matthew wants us to note that Jairus’ faith in Jesus was not hindered by devastating experiences. No doubt, there would have been much that he did not understand about this turn of events, yet he still came to Jesus with the situation. And in this, he is an example to us not to let the darkness of a situation diminish our views of Jesus.

Moreover, the faith of Jairus was not hindered by delays in him getting an answer to his urgent request. He realised that he was not in control of the situation. Fretting about the delay would not have changed the circumstances. It would have been easy for the devil or onlookers to suggest to Jairus that the delay connected to the unknown woman indicated that Jesus did not regard Jairus’ case as a priority. Jairus still wanted Jesus to come and help.

But Jairus’ faith was rewarded when Jesus raised the girl from the dead. She experienced his life-giving power. Of course, this was not a permanent situation. Later, she would die at another stage in her life. No doubt, it would help her then to remember what Jesus had done for her when she was young. What benefits would Matthew want us to deduce from this amazing incident? Here are two. First, he would want us to appreciate that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Jesus is not only capable of raising an individual in the way that Elijah and Elisha did. He will yet raise everyone who has died from the dead because he is divine. The day will come when all his people who have died will experience the simplicity of his power when they hear his voice and rise in glory. The second benefit would be to deduce that we should bring to the attention of Jesus those who are spiritually dead and walk with him as he journeys at his own pace towards them.

The faith of the unknown woman
The woman had a long-term illness that had isolated her. Those who knew her would shun her because contact with her would affect them in a ceremonial way and make them unfit for the worship of God. I suspect she felt all alone in the world. Who could she turn to for help? Moreover, the disease she had was regarded as incurable. The other gospels mention that she had tried many doctors, but none had been able to help. Who could she turn to for hope in her sad situation?

It is interesting that Matthew shows little interest, as far as recording material is concerned, in the fact that the daughter of Jairus was born in the same year as the woman’s illness commenced. Other accounts tell us that Jairus’ daughter was twelve years old. This lack of focus by Matthew surely is designed to tell us that what matters for him was not coincidences, but cures. His decision not to include it does not mean we should ignore it when reading the other accounts of this incident, but it points to us paying attention to what Matthew is highlighting.

Is there a significance in the woman’s decision to touch the hem of the garment of Jesus? This item is mentioned in Numbers 15:38-41: ‘Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lordyour God.’ Since the point of this item of clothing was to remind everyone to obey the commandments of the Lord, what would the woman have thought of Jesus when she looked at his tassels? She must have believed that he kept them, otherwise how could he have healed her if he was disobedient to them?

From one point of view, her action was unusual for someone who did not want to be seen because the option she chose involved her having to bow down in front of people in order to reach his garment. Of course, it may have been getting dark and perhaps she also thought that would help hide her. If all she wanted to do was touch him, then she could have jostled her way towards him and touched him similar to how others did in the throng. In a sense, she did what Jairus did, which was to bow to Jesus, even if she hoped that she would not be observed. In this, she is a picture of those who recognise the greatness of Jesus but who do not like to be in the public gaze.

Her faith included confidence in Jesus. She had no doubt that she would be cured if she touched his clothes. Matthew uses the imperfect tense when recording here words. She kept on saying to herself, ‘If I only touch the hem of his garment, I will be made well.’ Probably she told the disciples afterwards that she had been saying this to herself. This reminding herself of what Jesus would do was not a sign of unbelief. It is like us repeating his promises to ourselves. We can imagine ourselves repeating to ourselves the promise, ‘Him that comes to me, I will never cast out.’

Matthew also records what we can call the reward of faith because she received words of assurance from Jesus. His statement to her indicated that she had a place in his divine family and that she had it immediately. She moved from being alone to a place where she belonged to the disciples of Jesus. Maybe she became one of the women from Galilee who ministered to Jesus. The fact that Matthew knew she had been repeating to herself the certainty of a cure indicates that she later was involved to some degree with Jesus and his disciples. The one thing that is clear is that her faith in Jesus led to her becoming a member of the family of God.

From these two incidents, we see both the importance of having faith in Jesus and the ease with which those who needed his help could approach Jesus. Matthew wanted all his readers to follow their example and trust in Jesus. The one called the daughter of Jairus and the woman she had not yet met both belonged to the same family now.

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