Commentary on Matthew 9:18-26
There is a great contrast in the way Matthew tells this double story compared to Mark.
Matthew strips it down to the bare details. The 20 verses that Mark needs are reduced here to 9. He makes no mention of the large crowd that was following Jesus; only his disciples are present. He concentrates on Jesus and on what Jesus does and says.
A synagogue official approaches Jesus and says that his daughter has just died. He is in fact the head of the synagogue and in Mark and Luke we learn that his name is Jairus. In Mark’s version, the girl is seriously ill and only dies later in the story. “Please come and lay your hand on her and she will come back to life.” It is an extraordinary act of faith in the power of Jesus. Up to this he had not brought anyone back from the dead.
As Jesus and his disciples were on the way to the house, a woman who had suffered from a bleeding problem for 12 years unobtrusively touched the hem of Jesus’ garment. “If only I can touch his cloak, I shall get well.” Again, we are presented with a deep faith and trust in Jesus’ power.
This was really the only way this unfortunate woman could approach Jesus with other people around. Her bleeding was not only a physical ailment. It also involved ritual uncleanness and she was not supposed to be in close contact with people. If they had known, they might have done something terrible to her. Nor, for the same reason, could she approach Jesus openly about her problem, so she quietly touched the hem of his robe. She trusted that that would be enough and she was right.
Jesus, realising she had touched his garment, turned and said kindly, “Courage, daughter! Your faith has made you whole again.” And the bleeding stops instantly.
We now go back to the original story. As Jesus and his disciples approach the house they find a large crowd of mourners, many of them wailing and weeping in the fashion still common in West, South and East Asia. Jesus tells them all to go away. “The little girl is not dead; she is asleep.” At which, the crowd laughed at him. Whether the girl was actually dead or was simply in some kind of death-like coma does not really matter. As far as everyone around was concerned she was dead.
Jesus went into the house, took the girl by the hand and she “arose”. There are overtones of resurrection in the word “arose”.
In both these stories, using the literary device of ‘inclusion’ with one story wrapped inside another, we have a common theme of Jesus as Lord of life. It is Matthew’s way of saying what we read in John: “I am the resurrection and the life.” That life is to be understood in the fullest possible sense involving the physical, social, intellectual and spiritual.
In one story the girl is not only given back her physical life but is restored to the bosom of her family and all that means. In the other story, not only is the woman’s haemorrhage stopped but she can be fully reinstated into normal relationships with the people around her. She is in a very real sense made whole again.
Let us today pray for Jesus to heal us and make us whole, the wholeness that is holiness, the holiness that is wholeness.