Thoughts on Matthew 9:18-26
“I was close, but I was still the same … I was close, but nothing changed.” Those lyrics from a song by a summer camp band (Everybodyduck) I listened to as a young man resonate in my mind every time I read this passage. The song is from the perspective of one of the many people thronging around Jesus. This man saw the woman come up and touch Jesus and receive healing. The man then asks himself why nothing changed in him even though he was bumping into Jesus, making contact with him; but yet, he was still the same. As the song progresses, he recounts the scene in detail, including the woman’s fearful admission she had intentionally touched Jesus, and then Jesus’ response that her faith had made her well. His obvious conclusion was that he must have faith and that simply being near Jesus was not enough (a clear message to kids like me who had grown up surrounded by all things Jesus, but didn’t believe unto saving faith).
Of course, the healing of the woman with the flow of blood is only one part of this short, but complicated narrative. Of note, it’s one of the few narratives that made its way into all three of the Synoptic Gospels. Luke’s is most helpful to read in parallel because it includes much more of the conversation between Jesus and the other characters.
In Luke, we learn the Jewish ruler who came to Jesus to plead for him to heal his daughter is named Jarius. He fell at Jesus’ feet and begged him to make haste to his house before his child died of her illness. It was on this journey, surrounded by great crowds of people, the bleeding woman pushed her way through the multitudes, disregarding all propriety and even rules of purification, and touched Jesus in faith and received the healing she had sought for twelve years through great cost and pain. Jarius must have already been impatient with the slow pace caused by the large crowd, and then to be held up by this unclean woman must have been exasperating.
What Jesus was doing though was using this delay to build Jarius’ faith enough to carry him through what was about to happen. No sooner had Jesus pronounced his favorable verdict on the woman than Jarius’ servants came and said it was no longer worth “troubling” Jesus because the girl was dead. Jesus replied, “Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well.”
Imagine if Jarius had not just witnessed the healing of the woman. What a devastating blow it was to hear his daughter was dead – a blow that was blunted because of his recent experience combined with Jesus’ statement to believe. Jesus followed through by going to Jarius’ house, putting out all except a select few Disciples and the girl’s parents, and raised her up.
What can we learn from all of this? That there’s a contrast being presented between the believing woman and the unbelieving servants and the people who actually “laughed [Jesus] to scorn” because they knew the girl was dead. More than the clear call to have faith in Jesus, we’re being told that Jesus can do more than we think possible. The implication from the servants and the mourners at Jarius’ house (and also echoed by Martha when Jesus’ intentional delay resulted in Lazarus dying) that death meant Jesus would be unable to do anything. Of course, death cannot defeat Jesus.
Another aspect of this passage I have already alluded to is the combining of experience with faith. There’s a reason God instructed His people to remember the miraculous deliverance from Egypt (the Passover) and other mighty victories He won for them. There’s a reason the Psalmists recount many amazing things God had done for Israel. There’s a reason Paul tells us in Romans 15:4, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” There’s a reason Paul tells us in Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” The reason – to build our faith by hearing the experiences of God’s people throughout the ages from the Bible to Church history to the present day, and by recalling God’s working in our own lives.
To sum all this up: God uses our collective experiences – both good and bad – combined with the faith he gives us, to build us up and grow us in holiness and righteousness. Don’t be like the man from the song who was close to Jesus, but lacked the faith necessary to have it make a real difference in his life. Be like the woman who exercised faith and was willing to do whatever it took to encounter Jesus in a life-changing way.