GOSPEL: Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26
Jesus demonstrates God’s mercy and power, accepting the unacceptable and curing the incurable. Even the dead receive new life.
9As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.
10And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. 11When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
18While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” 19And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples. 20Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, 21for she said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.” 22Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. 23When Jesus came to the leader’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, 24he said, “Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. 25But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up. 26And the report of this spread throughout that district.
I have never preached on these texts in 15 years. They only come up every so often, and so I was challenged today. And what’s more challenging is Matthew’s story, that layers multiple situations and miracles inside one story after another.
Jesus is constantly being interrupted by folks in need – people wanting his time, his power, and his presence. He takes these interruptions much better than most, but even the Son of God must get frustrated. However, Jesus also interrupts! He called Matthew right out of his tax collecting booth, interrupting his workday to call him to dinner and a whole new gig.
Then Jesus is interrupted by an urgent need, and while he is on the way to address this urgent need – he is interrupted again! Jesus’ mission and focus is on mercy and in the margins, so his call of Matthew and healing of a woman with a medical and social problem are connected.
By virtue of Matthews’s occupation, he’s relegated to the margins. Being a tax-collector, associated with Roman occupation, and likely profiting from it makes him a social and moral outcast. We aren’t told anything about him though. Which I find to be extremely interesting, as we are reading the Gospel of Matthew – and this supposed author only addresses himself in the 3rd person and gives one verse for his call story. Perhaps because he was just one of many in the margins that Jesus called friend.
We see in the verses that follow that Jesus was keeping company with other tax collectors and sinners and that this choice got under the skin of the religious elites. “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” they asked his disciples. Jesus replied directly to them, saying, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” Jesus lumps tax collectors and sinners in the same group. The Gospel accounts spend a lot of time describing the elites’ reaction to Jesus’ company, but what must it felt like to be called from a place of sin and rejection into a place of forgiveness and reconciliation. To be welcomed and included at the table.
These sinners are welcomed, and place at the table is made for them, Table fellowship is very important in the gospels – who you choose to break bread with is intentional and means that you share not just food, but many other things in common. The meal is interrupted by a religious leader who begs for Jesus’ help, and not only that but is confident Jesus will help and that he has the power to raise the dead. These last few chapters Jesus has healed many people and performed miracles showing his power over the natural world and all manner of illness, disease and evil. Raising the dead should be no biggie.
And only the way from the table full of the wrong kind of people, to go show his power to heal and restore, he is touched by a woman. And not just any woman. A woman who has been bleeding from her uterus from 12 years. Now, I’m sure you know that according to Levitical law menstruating women are considered unclean. Nobody touches them, and in some places, they must live separately from the family.
This woman has also been relegated to the margins. Not just for one week a month, which honestly, I’d kind of like to be left alone for one week per month. But the stigma of this kind of bleeding makes this woman a social outcast, not to mention the health and wellbeing concerns that she is facing with no help or support. I’ve experienced that kind of anemia, helpless to control your own body’s woundedness from the inside out.
She’s in the margins as well, not because of anything she has done, but because of her body, her illness, and her gender. And we are given this peek inside her motivations and faith…. She said to herself “if I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.” And she makes it happen for herself. This bold and audacious faith leads her to not just show up in public, which is bad enough, but to get herself close enough to Jesus so she can touch his clothing.
His disciples are following him on the way to raise the girl from the dead when this interruption happens, and we know that the pharisees were watching him eat with the tax collectors and pharisees. And I wonder what they did with Jesus’ response to this woman’s touch. They might have jumped out of their skin, ran to wash their hands, strip off their clothes, and make the appropriate sacrifices. And what does Jesus do?
Jesus turns and sees her. Not just glancing at her but perceiving what she is doing and why. And his response “Take heart, daughter, your faith has made you well.”
Take heart. “Have courage,” another translation says. In the Greek the verb is more like –
Be you having courage! Continue having courage! Jesus applauds this woman’s boldness to reach out for help in faith. And he calls her daughter – she is given a place in the family, where before she might have been completely on her own.
Jesus then goes on to do what he was originally asked to do and raised a girl from death in just a few verses. Jesus power to heal and save knows no bounds. From outcast tax collector to unclean and bleeding woman, to a daughter of a prominent Jewish family – he saves and gives them a place in a family.
Whether you feel like you are on the outside because of what you have done and the choices you have made – or you feel ostracized by what has happened to you through no fault of your own, Jesus calls you, with mercy, to a place in the family. If you feel like death itself has gotten the better hand, Jesus reaches out for your hand. You belong. You are loved. Jesus applauds you and your faith, even if it is reaching out a hand. Jesus calls you from where you are to something different and whole. Jesus calls YOU to the table this morning, interrupting your day with mercy and grace