Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (‘Jesus’ Power over Death’, Parts 1 and 2).

Matthew 9:18-26

A Girl Restored to Life and a Woman Healed

18 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.” 19 And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples. 20 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, 21 for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” 22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly[a] the woman was made well. 23 And when Jesus came to the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, 24 he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. 25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. 26 And the report of this went through all that district.

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Matthew structured his Gospel to show the Jews and us that Jesus is the Messiah and Saviour.

His accounts of our Lord’s miracles in chapters 8 and 9 demonstrate His divine power over disease, demons, nature and death.

Over the past few weeks, we have read of Jesus’s cleansing of the leper (Matthew 8:1-4), the healing of the centurion’s service from a distance (Matthew 8:5-13), restoring Peter’s mother-in-law to health (Matthew 8:14-17), stopping the storm (Matthew 8:23-27), driving demons into swine (Matthew 8:28-34) and the healing of the paralysed man (Matthew 9:1-8).

Today we have the healing of the woman issuing blood and raising Jairus’s daughter from the dead.

I wrote at length about Mark’s and Luke’s fuller accounts of these miracles in 2012 and 2013. This means that neither of these miracles appears in the three-year Lectionary, which is a crying shame. They are two creative miracles which occur at approximately the same time and bring much relief to all concerned.

For a fuller explanation of these miracles, please read my discussions of Mark 5:21-34, Mark 5:35-43, Luke 8:40-48 and Luke 8:49-56.

Incidentally, in reading these accounts, we see that one of the biblically perfect numbers — 12 — features prominently. Mark tells us that the girl is 12-years-old. The woman with the blood flow has suffered for 12 years.

Matthew does not name this man as Jairus, although both Mark and Luke do. Matthew merely refers to him as a ruler (verse 18). Jairus, as the other two Gospel writers tell us, was the ruler of the synagogue. This would have been the synagogue in Capernaum.

From this information we can deduce that he was powerful locally and that, in approaching Jesus, going against the norms of his hierarchy in Jerusalem. That said, Jairus had no problem in publicly kneeling before Him. He explained that his daughter has just died but if He were to come and lay His hand on her, she will live.

Matthew Henry tells us that Jairus’s appeal in this situation should be ours as well:

Note, In trouble we should visit God: the death of our relations should drive us to Christ, who is our life it is well if any thing will do it. When affliction is in our families, we must not sit down astonished, but, as Job, fall down and worship.

Jesus immediately followed Jairus to his home (verse 19). On the way, the woman with the blood flow touched the fringe of His garment in desperation (verse 20).

From the time of Moses, women were ritually unclean when they had their menses. They had to live away from the rest of the household and have a ritual bath once their monthly period had ended. (This is something orthodox Jewish women still do.) Anyone who touched a ritually unclean woman or anything of hers was also unclean and needed to be purified according to Jewish law.

Therefore, let us imagine her sense of isolation and loneliness over so many years. We do not know if she lived on her own or adjacent to the family home. In any event, she would have had no visitors or relatives to give her a hug, converse at length with her and share meals with her. If she had been married, it could be that her husband divorced her. She would no doubt have been pondering why she had such a blood flow and what she might have done spiritually to cause it.

To compound matters, Luke tells us that she had spent all her money in vain on physicians for a cure. Remember that, until the 19th century, medicine was largely a primitive affair. In this lady’s era, she was given potions, herbs and, possibly, animal parts wrapped in linen — all of which would have been in vain.

Even worse, this blood flow would have been odorous and painful. It is possible that the lady suffered from obstetric fistula, which is still common today in Africa. As I wrote when examining Luke’s account, Wikipedia describes it as follows (emphases mine):

The most direct consequence of an obstetric fistula is the constant leaking of urine, feces, and blood as a result of a hole that forms between the vagina and bladder or rectum.[11] This endless leaking has both physical and societal penalties. The acid in the urine, feces, and blood causes severe burn wounds on the legs from the continuous dripping.[12] Nerve damage that can result from the leaking can cause women to struggle with walking and eventually lose mobility. In an attempt to avoid the dripping, women limit their intake of water and liquid which can ultimately lead to dangerous cases of dehydration. Ulcerations and infections can persist as well as kidney disease and kidney failure which can each lead to death. Further, only a quarter of women who suffer a fistula in their first birth are able to have a living baby, and therefore have miniscule chances of conceiving a healthy baby later on.

These physical consequences of obstetric fistula lead to severe socio-cultural stigmatization. Most girls are divorced or abandoned by their husbands and partners, disowned by family, ridiculed by friends, and even isolated by health workers. Women with obstetric fistula become worthless in the eyes of society because they are no longer able to give birth and they secrete a harsh odor. [13] Now marginalized members of society, girls are pushed to the brims of their villages and towns, often to live in isolation in a hut where they will likely die from starvation or an infection in the birth canal. The unavoidable odor is viewed as offensive, thus their removal from society is seen as essential. Accounts of women who suffer obstetric fistula proclaim that their lives have been reduced to the leaking of urine, feces, and blood because they are no longer capable or allowed to participate in traditional activities, including the duties of wife and mother. Because such consequences highly stigmatize and marginalize the woman, the intense loneliness and shame can lead to clinical depression and suicidal thoughts. Further, women are sometimes forced to turn to commercial sex work as a means of survival because the extreme poverty and social isolation that results from obstetric fistula eliminates all other income opportunities. Because only 7.5% of women with fistula are able to access treatment (as found by the UNFPA in 2003), the vast majority of women are forced to suffer the consequences of obstructed and prolonged labor simply because options and access to help is so incredibly limited (there is one hospital dedicated to fistula treatment in the world, located in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia).[14]

We can better understand why this woman was desperate to touch the fringe of Jesus’s garment (verses 20, 21). Matthew and Luke specify ‘fringe’. John MacArthur explains:

Now, in the Old Testament, in Numbers 15:37-41, and Deuteronomy 22:12, the Jews were told that they were to mark their garments with a zizith.  It’s the Hebrew word.  Basically, it’s translated in the Old Testament fringeKraspedon is the Greek word, and it really means a tassel. And they did this: they wove blue thread through their garment; and they had four tassels of kind of a blue color, a bright blue color on their garment; and those tassels were woven in a certain configuration with certain kinds of thread, seven times around and eight times, and there were, there was the significance of various numbers. But the sum total, without going into detail, was that the threads were put together to represent the word of God, faithfulness, loyalty to the word of God, and holiness unto the Lord.  So that every time a Jew went anywhere, the world knew that he belonged to God.  And every time he took his clothes off or put his clothes on, he saw those things and it was a reminder to him.  We have some of that today.  Some people have a little cross, maybe, that they wear, or sign of a fish; and every time you put that on or you look at it, maybe you’re reminded who you belong to.  That’s what that was for them.

Of course, it was the sign then of being holy unto the Lord; and in Matthew 23:5, it says, “The Pharisees made theirs very big.”  See, the bigger your tassel, the more holy you were, they thought.  And you might be interested to know that in times in Europe when the Jews have been persecuted, they have still worn them, but they’ve worn them on their undergarments; and in contemporary times today, you’ll find them still on the prayer shawl of an orthodox Jew;  little blue tassels.

Mark and Luke record that Jesus felt power going out of Him at the moment the woman touched — actually, grabbed — His fringe. Jesus turned around and asked who had touched His garment. In Matthew’s account, He turns around and sees her.

They also record that she approached Him trembling and falling down at His feet, telling Him about her illness.

Jesus says that her faith has made her well (verse 22). MacArthur says that the word for ‘well’ was not just one denoting physical health but also salvation. All three Gospel accounts in Greek use the word sodzo:

it doesn’t use the word for healing, iaomai, the normal word for healing.  You know what it used?  Sodzo: The word means to be saved

She was fully healed — and saved — at that moment.

Jesus refers to her as ‘daughter’, an affectionate and familial term. She became one of His own at that moment. Earlier in Matthew 9, He called the healed paralytic ‘son’ (Matthew 9:2), and, in that case, the man’s sins were forgiven as well as his body made fully functional once again.

MacArthur analyses her faith:

She had faith, didn’t she?  She said, “If I can just touch that thing.”  You say, “Well, it’s not exactly a perfected mature thing.”  No, it’s almost like superstition, isn’t it?  It’s almost kind of magical.  Say, “Well, the Lord certainly isn’t going to respond to that.”  Listen, faith as the grain of a mustard seed would move a mountain.  The Lord will take, the Lord will take an inadequate faith like the man’s that is somewhat selfish, and He’ll take an inadequate faith like the lady’s that is somewhat superstitious, and He’ll move it from there to the saving faith.  He couldn’t let that lady go or the, or all she would’ve remembered maybe was the superstition.  He had to pull her into the fullness of a relationship. I don’t really believe she was healed by her faith.  I think she was healed by the sovereignty of God.  God chose to heal her.  Jesus just said He’d felt power go out of Him

I think there’s a redemptive element in her faith.  Oh, she wanted to just grab on; and it was kind of a, kind of a superstitious thing, in a way.  Jesus wouldn’t leave it at that.  He drew her out, and He saved her.

Matthew Henry has a similar, but slightly fuller take:

She believed she should be healed if she did but touch the very hem of his garment, the very extremity of it. Note, There is virtue in every thing that belongs to Christ. The holy oil with which the high priest was anointed, ran down to the skirts of his garments, Psalm 133:2. Such a fulness of grace is there in Christ, that from it we may all receive, John 1:16.

… he will not only have his power magnified in her cure, but his grace magnified in her comfort and commendation: the triumphs of her faith must be to her praise and honour. He turned about to see for her (Matthew 9:22), and soon discovered her. Note, It is great encouragement to humble Christians, that they who hide themselves from men are known to Christ, who sees in secret their applications to heaven when most private. Now here,

(1.) He puts gladness into her heart, by that word, Daughter, be of good comfort. She feared being chidden for coming clandestinely, but she is encouraged …

(2.) He puts honour upon her faith. That grace of all others gives most honour to Christ, and therefore he puts most honour upon it Thy faith has made thee whole. Thus by faith she obtained a good report. And as of all graces Christ puts the greatest honour upon faith, so of all believers he puts the greatest honour upon those that are most humble as here on this woman, who had more faith than she thought she had. She had reason to be of good comfort, not only because she was made whole, but because her faith had made her whole

Now we turn to Jairus. When we read of Jesus’s creative miracles, we find people approaching Him in different ways and with various sentiments. Whereas the centurion told Jesus that a word from Him at a distance could heal his servant, Jairus says that if only He lay His hand on his daughter she would come back to life.

Regardless, Jesus knew what was in the heart of everyone He healed. In addition to being restored, their sins were forgiven or He told them they had saving faith. He accepted them whether their faith was lesser or greater, imperfect as it was.

When Jesus reached Jairus’s house, the group of mourners and flute players were already there (verse 23), as Jewish law directed. MacArthur explains:

The Talmud says this, “The husband is bound to bury his dead wife and to make lamentations in mourning for her according to the custom of all countries; and also the very poorest among the Israelites will not allow her less than two flutes and one wailing woman.”  I mean even if you were in abject poverty, you had to hire one wailing woman and two flutes.  Now, if you’re wealthy, the Talmud said, it should be in accord with your wealth.

So here is a man who probably had a lot of means, and the place was filled with flutes, and you could imagine what a mess:  Ripping and tearing, screaming and shrieking and wailing, and guys all over the place playing flutes.  In fact, they did this in the Roman world, too, and they said, and Seneca wrote that there were so many flute players playing, and there was so much screaming at the death of Emperor Claudius that they felt that Claudius himself probably heard it, even though he was dead. So you can see what a funeral was like in those times.

Jesus told the group that the girl was sleeping, not dead (verse 24). Those gathered laughed at Him in their disbelief, even though He was based in Capernaum, so, surely they would have heard of His  restorative miracles.

Henry explains why Jesus used the word ‘sleep’. Briefly, when we die, our souls go to be with the Lord whilst our bodies are at rest in a short death, awaiting the Last Day when we shall be brought together whole in perfection — body and soul — to spend eternity with Him:

They sleep in Jesus (1 Thessalonians 4:14) they not only rest from the toils and labours of the day, but rest in hope of a joyful waking again in the morning of the resurrection, when they shall wake refreshed, wake to a new life, wake to be richly dressed and crowned, and wake to sleep no more. (2.) The consideration of this should moderate our grief at the death of our dear relations: “say not, They are lost no, they are but gone before: say not, They are slain no, they are but fallen asleep and the apostle speaks of it as an absurd thing to imagine that they that are fallen asleep in Christ are perished (1 Corinthians 15:18) give place, therefore, to those comforts which the covenant of grace ministers, fetched from the future state, and the glory to be revealed.

The crowd were told to leave the house and wait outside. Jesus entered Jairus’s home, took the girl by the hand and, through His power, she rose from the dead (verse 25).

Matthew’s account tells us that news of this resurrection spread throughout the district (verse 26). By contrast, Mark’s and Luke’s tell us that He told the parents not to speak of it.

Mark’s version has Jesus calling the girl talitha cumi (Mark 5:41), a term of affection which is a warmer way of saying ‘little girl’.

In closing, MacArthur has interesting quotes on life and death with regard to Jesus. They help us to reflect more on Him as Saviour and Redeemer.

The first comes from Mahatma Gandhi:

Fifteen years before Gandhi’s death, he wrote this.  “I must tell you in all humility that Hinduism as I know it entirely satisfies my soul.  It fills my whole being, and I find a solace in the Bhagavad and Upanishads that I miss even in the Sermon on the Mount.”  Utterly at peace, utterly comfortable with his Hinduism.  Just before his death, he wrote this.  “My days are numbered.  I am not likely to live very long, perhaps a year or a little more.  For the first time in 50 years, I find myself in the slough of despond.”  Footnote:  It was interesting; he must have been reading Pilgrim’s Progress.  Then he said this.  “All about me is darkness, and I am desperately praying for light.”  Even Mahatma Gandhi, who seemed to have it all together as he began to face the inevitability of death, saw it all falling apart.

The second — much more encouraging — is from G B Hardy, a Canadian scientist:

When I looked at religion, I said I have two questions.  Question No. 1:  Has anybody ever conquered death?  Question No. 2: If they did, did they make a way for me to conquer, too?”  He said, “I checked the tomb of Buddha, and it was occupied; and I checked the tomb of Confucius, and it was occupied; and I checked the tomb of Mohammed, and it was occupied; and I came to the tomb of Jesus, and it was emptyAnd I said, ‘There is One who conquered death.’  And I asked the second question, ‘Did He make a way for me to do it?’  And I opened the Bible, and He said, ‘Because I live, ye shall live also.'”

May those who continue to doubt be filled with divine grace that they may believe and live for evermore.

Next time: Matthew 9:27-31

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