A sermon for the sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Gen 21:8-21; Psalm 86: 1-10; Rom 6:1b-11; Matt 10:24-39)
This morning we have a wealth of great texts. This is not to say that the scripture we hear other mornings is somehow less important or inferior, but there is just so much that “will preach” here. The calling of Abraham, Paul’s midrash on the calling of Abraham, the Exultate of Psalm 33, and then this gospel lesson of calling and healing – all very rich stuff.
I want to mention the text from Genesis primarily because of the weeks ahead of us in the lectionary cycle. In Year A, the year when Matthew is our primary companion for the Gospel lesson, we are also privileged to hear some of the greatest stories ever told in the lessons from the Hebrew Scriptures, what we commonly call the Old Testament.
Last week we heard the account of Noah, the great flood and the ark. Now this week we have witnessed the birth of Israel – God’s first call and promise to Abraham that his descendants would be a great nation. Not only would they be great and be blessed, but they, the people of God, the children of Abraham, would be a blessing to the nations.
Paul’s commentary on this call highlights the faith of Abraham in the face of God’s call to him, and that it was his faith that produced righteousness, not adherence to the Law. Over the coming weeks we will be hearing more of these amazing stories of the founders of the faith, Abraham and his descendants, even a few women! We don’t often hear these stories outside of Sunday School or the Easter Vigil, so I hope you will enjoy hearing them, and not just enjoy them, but look forward to them from week to week.
And in the Psalm we hear one of the great hymns of praise, a text these same children of Abraham had been singing long before the birth of Jesus. We are still singing these words today in our own tongue.
Despite all these amazing and rich texts, my focus this morning will be the gospel lesson, which should come as no surprise to most of you who have heard me for any length of time from this pulpit. In seminary, my more low-church and Evangelical friends would marvel – “why do you Anglo-catholic types love the Gospels so much?” Well, I don’t consider myself worthy to be called truly Anglo-catholic, even though I may look like one from time to time, but I do particularly treasure the narratives connected to the life and ministry of Jesus, and given the chance to preach, I’m more likely to focus on the stories and the sayings of the Lord.
Turning then to Matthew’s account, we have before us three episodes in the life and ministry of Jesus that come in quick succession in the narrative this morning. All three of these episodes take place in the synoptic Gospels – that is, in Matthew, Mark and Luke, but not quite in the same order. John doesn’t record any of these stories. In all three of the other gospel accounts, the call of Matthew, aka Levi, to become a disciple happens immediately after Jesus heals the paralytic man. You know the story – his friends have to tear open the roof of the crowded house where Jesus is so that Jesus can heal him. It is right after that episode that Jesus calls Matthew.
The healing of Jairus’ daughter and the healing of this woman who touches Jesus’ robes occur later in Mark and Luke, but the important thing is that these two healings are always put together in the gospels, juxtaposed, as it were.
In our account this morning we first hear of Jesus calling this man Matthew or Levi, to be his disciple. Now, Matthew, we are told, is a tax collector – a profession that is held with great contempt in that culture. Tax collectors were considered to be collaborators with the occupying Roman force. So what does Jesus do – he has dinner with Matthew and Matthew’s friends – other tax collectors and sinners! Be careful, Jesus, this might hurt your reputation. Jesus says, “I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
It is here in Matthew’s account that a leader of the synagogue approaches Jesus, he is identified as Jairus in Mark and Luke. In Mark and Luke, Jairus’ daughter is ill, and he begs Jesus to come quickly. In Matthew’s account, his daughter has already died and he is asking for Jesus to come and raise her from the dead! Regardless of these differences in detail, the point remains the same – this is a bold step for Jairus to take. He was a very public religious leader, and to seek Jesus’ help is tantamount to endorsing his ministry, which might cause him some trouble with his fellow Jewish leaders. In some ways, Jairus’ desperation is forcing him to put his prestige on the line. His love for his daughter and his faith in God’s power have made him choose between his reputation in society and the possibility of a miracle. Stories of Jesus’ miraculous healings have been spreading throughout the region, and his desperation is driving him to seek Jesus’ help.
So Jesus agrees to go with Jairus. Now, just when the story is getting good – will Jesus be able to raise this girl from the dead, into the narrative this woman intrudes, literally. The contrast would have been much clearer to the original audience. Jesus is accompanying an important religious leader who needs his help. Suddenly, an unclean woman, a woman of no status in Jewish culture, gets in the way.
Because of Jewish sexual purity codes, any woman who is menstruating is considered unclean, and is treated so. She must separate herself from her husband and be cleansed at the end of her cycle. But this woman has a condition where he has suffered from hemorrhaging for twelve years. She has been “unclean” this whole time and has been condemned to a life of rejection by society. In a sense her life has been a living death – always sick, never healed, always outcast, never clean. As in the case of lepers, no one could touch this woman without themselves becoming defiled.
Now, it seems that she does not intend to interrupt the proceedings – Jesus has already agreed to go to the home of this important Jewish leader, and I’m sure there was a great procession. But, this woman is all alone. Unlike Jairus’ daughter, she has no one to go and get Jesus for her. She has no father, no husband, no advocate. She is unclean, an outcast. If she is going to seek healing from Jesus, she is going to have to make it happen all on her own. From the distance that had defined the last twelve years of her life, she thinks, if I can just touch his clothes, I will be made well.
Can you see her faith? She doesn’t need Jesus to acknowledge her presence. She doesn’t even need Jesus to say anything – she only needs to touch his clothes. And it is her faith that truly makes her well.
In the other Gospel accounts there is this almost amusing moment when Jesus, surrounded by a mob of people, asks, “Who touched me?” What did Jesus sense, her healing or her faith? Regardless, life has returned where there once had been only death. And what’s more, Jesus gives her something she hasn’t had for twelve years – not just life but status. Jesus calls her “daughter.”
Before she touched Jesus, she was alone. But now, Jesus speaks to her as one who has worth, no longer outcast, because of her faith. Jesus calls her “daughter.” Jesus shows her to be part of his family, if no one else’s. Is it any wonder the good news of Jesus spread even when he asked people not to say anything? This woman’s life is transformed in an instant, from sick and outcast to whole and part of Jesus’ family all in one instant of faith. And Jesus doesn’t leave it as a private matter – he makes her faith public. This outcast woman is suddenly an example of faith to this throng of important religious leaders, the very leaders that had kept her at a distance.
The kind of faith this woman has demonstrated is very soon going to be in short supply and Jesus knows it. The faith of this outcast and desperate woman has just brought about a miraculous healing. Will Jairus have this same faith as well?
When they arrive at Jairus’ house, the professional mourners are there, in full display. It’s interesting to me that this time Jesus gets rid of the crowds – here, he opts for privacy, but not before he turns their mourning to laughter, quite unintentionally. He tells them that the girl is not dead, but asleep. They laugh at him. Faith, faith like the woman whom Jesus just healed, seems to be in very short supply.
It is now in this more intimate setting, Jesus brings this young girl back to life. In the other gospel accounts, we hear that she is twelve, the same number of years as the woman suffering with the flow of blood – another connection between the two healings. In both cases, life has been restored, daughters have been healed. One family has been restored, and another family has welcomed a new member.
So we have before us these two stories of healing and faith. Life has been restored. Thanks be to God. We need to visit stories like these again and again. Faith requires action. We, like the woman with the flow of blood, like Jairus, must seek Jesus. We must reach out in hopes of touching him, for all too many here, in hopes of being healed.
This is why we gather here, not just to receive grace from God in worship and the Eucharist, but to minister God’s presence to each other. It is hard thing sometimes to receive love and compassion from others. It requires great patience.
Let us always remember that we need each other, whether we feel more like a religious insider or a societal outcast. Jesus saw no difference, and neither should we. Like the woman, we need the faith to reach out. Like Jairus, we need the faith to allow our need to be on display, to be vulnerable. Like Abraham, sometimes we need the great faith to leave our comfortable lives behind and follow God’s call into new places and new lands.
May we learn to live by faith, with these examples to lead us, to reach out, to touch and to be touched, to step out in faith. And then may we move from death to life as Christ calls us to stand before an amazed world, healed, whole, and fully aware that we are all daughters and sons of God. Amen.