Wait: Take time to sit in silence together, allowing space for God’s voice to be heard.
Read: Matthew 9:18-26
Today’s reading tells a tale of two healings; a dead girl is restored to life and a woman who has been bleeding for twelve long years is restored to health. But what is intriguing in this story is the differences between the two—differences which might help us further understand Jesus and his enactment of the reign of God.
At the beginning of the story, a ruler—we’re not told what he is ruler of1—approaches Jesus. He kneels, recognising Jesus’ authority, and tells Jesus of his daughter, who has just died. But, rather than ask for healing—like the man with leprosy: “If you choose, you can make me clean” (8:3)—or plead for mercy—like the blind men: “Have mercy on us, Son of David” (9:27)—the ruler commands Jesus to heal. Jesus then follows (ēkolouthēsen) the ruler—the only time in Matthew’s Gospel that Jesus follows anyone! It is a picture of a ruler who operates under authority and expects others to do the same.
Suddenly, we are told, Jesus is approached anonymously by a woman “who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years.” We know nothing of this woman, except that, in her gender and her medical condition, she is doubly marginalised. In Matthew’s telling however, the central place of the story is occupied by this marginal woman, emphasising her actions and Jesus’ response. Jesus heals both the ruler’s daughter and the unnamed woman, but only one he commends:
“Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.”
Why is it that Jesus commends the woman in this way? Perhaps it is in the sheer audacity of the woman—she is the protagonist in her story of healing, while the ruler operates within the authority structures of the imperial world that Jesus renounces. The ruler, presumably both a member of the ruling elite whose position was upheld by imperial power structures and at the same time a Jew who ultimately hoped for the deliverance of his people, waits for a saviour to enact such deliverance—and in finding Jesus he does find the restoration he desperately seeks. However, he doesn’t yet understand that the very authority he rules by makes him complicit in the oppression of his own people. The woman, on the other hand, is not content to be complicit in her own oppression. She understands, with the intuition that can only come by a life lived on the underside, that authority in the reign of God is not mediated by rulers and worldly structures. It is raw, wild, untamed.
Jesus words to her, “take heart”, evoke God’s deliverance of Israel from bondage under foreign powers: “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today” (Exodus 14:13).2 The woman will know her own deliverance from bondage. And in commending her faith, Jesus commends her as one who lives out of loyalty (for this is the heart of what the biblical word pistis means) not to the current ruling powers but to another power structure—that of the reign of God. The unnamed woman in the narrative is to be a witness to those of Matthew’s own community. God’s power is known most intimately by those on the underside, by those who recognise that real authority is not locked up in the power arrangements of the dominant order. Rather, it is seen in most clearly in the responses of those who suffer on the margins—in their audacious actions, incisive perspectives and risky loyalties.
- What strikes you in today’s reading?
- Are there ways in which you see efforts of healing or restoration uphold unhelpful power arrangements?
- In what ways are you challenged to live out this story?
Close with the Lord’s Prayer
1. Some Bible translations such as the NRSV and NIV call the ruler a “synagogue leader”, however, “synagogue” is absent in the Greek. These translations assume that he is a synagogue leader under the influence of Mark’s Gospel, however, it seems that Matthew wants to emphasise him as a ruler—i.e. the way he exercises power—rather than his being connected with the synagogue.
2. David E. Garland, Reading Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 2001),102. See also Isaiah 35:4.
Wait: Take time to sit in silence together, aware of God’s presence in a broken world.
Read: Matthew 9:27-34
Matthew’s Gospel begins with the announcement that Jesus is the “Son of David” (1:1), raising hopes that Jesus will be a leader, anointed by God, to once again unite the people of Israel under political sovereignty, a leader to fight Israel’s enemies and throw off subjugation from foreign powers.
Today’s reading recalls a particular story about David, told in 2 Samuel 5:6-10. Immediately after David is anointed king over all Israel, he attacked Jerusalem, at that time occupied by the Jebusites. The Jebusites taunted David, telling him that “even the blind and the lame” could turn back his attack on the city. Yet David did attack, giving orders to invade the city through the water shaft, and in particular to “attack the lame and the blind, those whom David hates.” David’s taking of Jerusalem became well known, making his name “greater and greater”. He was a military hero. He showed no mercy. And of those who taunted him from the stronghold of Jerusalem it was said, “The blind and the lame shall not come into the house.”
With this story in the background, the cry of the blind men in today’s reading is striking: “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” Is Jesus the Son of David? If so, will he respond in the same brutal way as David did? Jesus’ first action might give us a hint. He doesn’t seem to respond to their plea. Rather, he simply goes into the house. We’re not told whose house—that’s not important. What is important is that the blind men, whether invited or just let in, come to Jesus in the house. David’s story of merciless exclusion is turned on its head by Jesus, into one of welcoming inclusion. The blind and the lame shall come into the house!
In welcoming and healing the blind men, Jesus throws Israelite hopes for a popular king like David, one who will lead the people out of subjugation, off-balance. Those who shared this hope would have asked questions: Is he, then, the Son of David, or not? Is he acting in this role, and hence with the authority which comes with it? Could it be that a leader who would lead us out of subjugation, enacting God’s hoped-for deliverance would look different to what we hoped or expected? Matthew’s Jesus answers no questions; he simply leaves them hanging in the air.
Others, however, come to their own conclusions. Having seen Jesus bring restoration to the blind men and then a man who Matthew tells us is “a demoniac who was mute,” the crowds, still wrestling with Jesus’ relationship with David, can only say that Jesus is not like anyone who has gone before: “Never has anything like this been seen in Israel.” The Pharisees of Matthew’s Gospel, though, have other ideas. Perhaps it is too much for them to imagine a popular figure in the role of David as one who shows mercy rather than military might. Whatever their reasons, they can only respond in the way that rulers throughout history have responded to those who threaten their power and undermine their ideology—by labelling them as “deviant”, by casting them as agents of evil. Desperate to hold onto their own legitimacy, but unable to respond in any authoritative way, they write him off, and try to convince others to do the same.
- What does an ideal leader look like to you?
- How does Jesus’ act of mercy in today’s reading challenge or encourage you?
- In what ways do you sense God inviting you to live out this story?
Close with the Lord’s Prayer
Wait: Take time to sit in the silence of repentance together, aware of our inadequacy and God’s grace.
Read: Matthew 9:35-38
At this point in the narrative Matthew summarises Jesus’ ministry with the verbs “teaching,” “proclaiming,” and “healing.” Jesus teaches the way of God—the way of generous, just and gracious communal relations and the way of peacemaking and nonviolent resistance to oppressive and exploitative power. Jesus proclaims the “good news of the kingdom”—that God is indeed the hope of the world, not Caesar—and that God is active in bringing his reign about. And Jesus heals “every disease and every sickness”—he demonstrates that God is indeed on the side of those who suffer the effects of subjugation and is acting to bring release.
The urgency of Jesus’ mission is highlighted in the state of the crowds—they are like “sheep without a shepherd.” This is not simply a way to say that the people were aimless or uncertain. It is an image which recalls the prophet Ezekiel’s damning critique of Israel’s exploitative rulers:
“You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them.” (Ezekiel 34:4)
Jesus’ compassion is compassion for people ruled by unjust leadership. His heart is for such people to know that this is not the way of God, that exploitation, violence and domination is not the established order of God’s creation. And he is calling labourers to join in on God’s activity of making things right.
- Read verse 35 again. What aspect of Jesus’ activity most excites you?
- Take a moment to think of someone in your world for whom God is stirring compassion in you. Pray for them.
- In what ways is God prompting you to engage in God’s mission this week?
Close with the Lord’s Prayer
Wait: Take time to sit in the silence of gratitude together, giving thanks for the ways you’ve experienced God’s loving kindness.
This week’s Common Value: Shalom
Read: Isaiah 11:1-9
Ask: How might we participate in God’s shalom this week?
Close with the Lord’s Prayer