Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Your Faith has Made You Well

Sorry for the delay (see last post). Let's get back to it shall we....

During dinner with Matthew and his friends, Jesus' relaxation is interrupted by the business of the Kingdom...

While He spoke these things to them, behold, a ruler came and worshiped Him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay Your hand on her and she will live.” So Jesus arose and followed him, and so did His disciples. And suddenly, a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years came from behind and touched the hem of His garment. For she said to herself, “If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well.” But Jesus turned around, and when He saw her He said, “Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And the woman was made well from that hour. When Jesus came into the ruler’s house, and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd wailing, He said to them, “Make room, for the girl is not dead, but sleeping.” And they ridiculed Him. But when the crowd was put outside, He went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. And the report of this went out into all that land. (Matthew 9:18-26 NKJV)

Mark and Luke tell us that this "ruler" is the leader of the local synagogue (likely in Capernaum) named Jarius. That he also kneels before Jesus is of no small significance. It's hard for us in Western culture to fully appreciate the nuances of interaction between classes. As leader of the synagogue Jarius would be a man accustomed to other people showing him such deference; for him to kneel would be an uncharacteristic recognition of Jesus' divine authority. Of note also is his statement of faith. To this point Jesus has not performed a resurrection miracle, so Jarius' belief in the power of Jesus touch is an extrapolation - "If he can do what we've seen him do then he can also raise the dead." As has always been His habit, Jesus responds to faith.

On the way the call that interrupted Jesus relaxation is itself interrupted. Again Matthew wants us to understand that it is the faith of the individual that is key to Jesus' response. Our faith cannot heal, but it is the impetus that stirs the power of God into action. In this case the woman reaches out and touches the hem of Jesus' garment. In the New American Standard Bible (NASB) the word 'hem' is more literally translated "fringe". (Personal Note: The NASB is more literal yes, probably one of the most accurate of the modern translations. I consider it a great study aid, but for storytelling purposes it's not quite as readable as other versions.)

Some scholars rightly point out that this refers to the tzitzit, tassels that Jewish men were required to wear as a reminder of God's law by the Law of Moses. However, many incorrectly make a connection between this garment, or the prayer shawl, and God's healing power. The prayer shawl is a reminder for the individual, and a symbol of the temple but nothing in scripture gives it any more importance than that. To believe there is a connection to God's power turns the tassels into some kind of mystical talisman rather than the simple reminder they were intended by God to be. The power to heal comes from Jesus' himself and the divinity He shares with the Father. The tassels do however, show us once again that Jesus honoured the Law of Moses. He did not ignore it but rather strove to demonstrate its true meaning.

This does mean however, that there might well have been some connection in the mind of this woman. Being Jewish she would have held in her mind some kind of connection between the tzittzit and the God of Moses; it might be why she chose to touch this particular portion of Jesus clothing. But all that is beside the point; regardless of why she chose to touch the fact remains she was taking a chance. Her condition rendered her unclean according to the Law. She was an outcast, forbidden to have contact with any other human being. The act of touching Jesus would have rendered him unclean; this should have been enough to keep her from even thinking of touching him.

Here then, is the true demonstration of her faith. She not only believed that Jesus could heal her, but that the power within him was able to overcome her uncleanliness. Maybe she witnessed the healing of the leper, maybe she only heard of it. But she knew in her heart she could not contaminate the Son of David, that the spiritual power of this rabbi could only travel one way - outward. This is the faith Jesus recognizes when he turns to her and says,“Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well.”

Again the faith is hers, the power is Christ's.

So it is with the ruler's daughter, but here we learn something else as well. When Jesus arrives the flutes and the wailing are in full swing. In first century Palestine flutes and professional wailers were as common as flowers and organ music is today. Gundry and Carson observe that "Even the poorest families hired at least two flute players and one female wailer for funerals" (Gundry, 175); and the noisy crowd was "made up of friends mourning, not in the hushed whispers characteristic of our Western funerals, but in loud outbursts of grief and wailing augmented by cries of hired mourners" (Carson, 231). Given this was the daughter of a synagogue "ruler" it's safe to assume the "crowd" was substantial.

This actually explains a few things. When Jesus makes the declaration that the child is only asleep, He is ridiculed by those in attendance. It seems to me that the family, following Jarius' lead, would find some hope in these words. The fact that Jesus' was ridiculed is confirmation that most of those present were professional mourners with no emotional investment in the situation. It also explains why he ushers them out of the room. I don't think it's so much that He doesn't want an audience as He doesn't need the nay-sayers looking over His shoulder.

I also find Jesus' statement that 'The girl is not dead, but sleeping,' an interesting one. Throughout his letters to the churches the apostle Paul uses this same term for those who have died while waiting for Christ to return. Is Jesus offering comfort, as the worldly might claim, reassuring the crowd that everything is alright? Or is He making comment on the nature of death? Could it be that He is, in His subtle way, pointing out that death is but a transitory thing for all of us? That one day we will all awaken from the grave to face the Lord and account for the way we have lived our lives? Personally, I think so.

Until next time.. Shalom

Image : Raising of Jairus Daughter 1871. Vasiliy Polenov

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