Our journey through the healing stories in Matthew parallels our own experience, that healing doesn’t always progress along a straight line. Brokenness breaks in to our healing pathway, or creeps in sometimes. Healing and new life may be in process, but the brokenness interrupts. But sometimes, new life and healing breaks in to the systems of death. Nothing moves in a straight line. Our stories today model that leakiness of healing and brokenness. Jesus shows up in ways that honor those stories, and still brings new life into them. He doesn’t step back from the messiness, or even uncleanness, of life. Not then. And not now. Lean in, this is important.
Step 1: Admit a need for healing. Seek it.
Admitting that we need healing is not always easy. It is easy enough when we have a broken leg or arm – after all, accidents happen. There is little fault attached to a broken limb, and no stigma at all. But when we need healing in areas of life that are often considered private or embarrassing, it is hard to admit that we need healing.
The scene opens with Jesus at dinner with a tax collector just called as a disciple – so he is transgressing a social boundary with his table fellowship. The Pharisees would say, “He’s eating with sinners.” Jesus points to a different view, that this is a foretaste of the feast in God’s kingdom, with the bridegroom image. Fasting and mourning aren’t appropriate in his presence, because he represents life even in the presence of death.
A man interrupts the meal. It isn’t good manners. An official of the Temple, he’s likely a Pharisee who wouldn’t want to be in the same room with this crew. But he is desperate. His daughter has just died. He believes that Jesus can save her. This Pharisee is so desperate to save his dead daughter that he asks Jesus to become ritually unclean by touching her. But he is desperate – so he does.
Jesus rises up from the table to follow the man. On the way, a woman who has been hemorrhaging blood for 12 years, approaches Jesus from behind to touch his robe, believing it will heal her. In Matthew’s version of this story, it is not the touch of his cloak that heals her. Jesus sees her, turns around, and speaks to her. “Have courage, daughter,” he said. “Your faith has saved you.” And the woman was made well from that moment.
A member of the church asked her pastor, of his church. “Can I bring my friend with me? She is decent enough to enter church.” The pastor, Song Bok Jon, was struck by the contrast between the thought that people had to be suitable to enter our churches and the practice of Jesus to intentionally move outside “decent” society to reach out to people who were outside of it. He SOUGHT them. In this chapter of Matthew he eats with “sinners,” heals a woman in pain, and raises a child from the dead – each action rendering him “unclean” in the eyes of the religious community.
These two healing stories feature females on the margins, shut out by being “unclean.” One is a dead child, who can’t even speak for herself. The other is an adult woman, excluded from social networks by her long-suffering hemorrhage. Jesus moves into their circles to respond to their needs.
Both the distraught father and the woman with the hemorrhage seek Jesus for healing. They need healing, need help, and they approach Jesus for that help. And Jesus moved into their spaces to heal them.
II. Saved! New Life!
Seemingly impossible cases keep being healed in the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus regularly gives new life for old brokenness. When Jesus shows up, new life takes hold – and lives are transformed.
The woman who timidly approaches Jesus due to gender and, even more, from her uncleanness. Blood, for ancient Jews, represented life force even more than we understand today. Her constant, incessant bleeding was leaking her life. It was draining out of her…for 12 years! She was broken open and dying, and she knew it. Before she heard about Jesus, she probably thought her situation was hopeless. But things are different with Jesus. She crept up behind him. She only touched the fringe of the outermost garment Jesus was wearing. He turned and spoke to her, naming her, claiming her, as part of his family, “Daughter.” Jesus saw her as a person worthy of respect, and with his words, she was healed. Jesus broke down expected barriers to offer life to a broken-down woman and a dead girl. Ritual impurity, social stigmas, and normal interactions are disregarded in order to meet their desperate needs for new life. Their situations may look hopeless, but they are not hopeless.
Interestingly, this unnamed broken woman is the only person in the gospel of Matthew where the word sōzō, which means “saved” is applied to someone healed by Jesus. The Greek reads that the woman wants to be saved, Jesus says that she has been saved, and then she is saved. There was something special about her that leads Matthew to proclaim that SHE is the representative of what it means to be saved by Jesus.
The word that means “saved” in the Greek has double meanings. It means physical healing and restoration, but it also indicates that she is a part of Jesus’ broader saving work. She is saved from her bleeding, and symbolically from death, physical and social. Scholar Walter Wilson says that in this story, the writer of Matthew “is teaching his readers that salvation is more than the restoration of physical existence but is predicated upon the sort of courageous faith that brings one into an intimate, familial relationship with Jesus.” One of the “takeaways” from this story might be that courageous faith, and the presence of Jesus, can save.
Bellshire United Methodist Church sat on 12 acres of land in a middle class neighborhood in Nashville. 15 years prior, when Love’s Chapel UMC closed, its members were moved to Bellshire’s roll. Bellshire had been declining for years. Some members were talking about where they would go when IT closed. There were no children. They had to recruit a high school girl to teach Donny when I was appointed there. Like the woman in the story, they were as good as dead, they thought.
But with a Sunday school teacher and one child, other families with children came. Two college students began a youth ministry. A Church of God in Christ congregation began to share the building and shared neighborhood ministry began. The neighborhood, which had once been white working class and became more diverse as original residents moved to assisted living, became interested in what the two churches were doing together. The presence of Jesus touched Bellshire, and the church was saved. Jesus brings new life into brokenness. What looked like death turned out to be new life.
III. SAVED…a glimpse of a new world order
If Jesus healed people just because they needed healing, that would make him a good, caring person – a model of God’s love for us, for the world, and particularly for suffering people. BUT there’s more! Jesus’ healing points to a new way of being, a new community, a new world order where there IS NO MORE brokenness and pain. His healings point to this new world, breaking into ours through his life and the ways it touches others.
LOOK! One who was dead, mid-funeral no less, is alive and well! Her body is a sign and foretaste of the resurrection of Jesus to come.
LOOK! One who was as good as dead, suffering for years and excluded from community, is fully alive and well! And Matthew says, not only is she well – she is saved! Her body had been broken open like new wineskins with old wine, like Jesus would be on the cross;… her leakiness paralleling that of Jesus, and now she is saved, with her healed body bearing the mark of Jesus!
Matthew interrupted the story of the girl, which signifies resurrection not only for her, but for Jesus, with a story signifying suffering and the cross…to show us that the troubles of this world are CHANGED by the presence of Jesus! Our lives are TRANSFORMED by the presence of Jesus! Jesus brings something completely new to our lives, not just a remodeling or rearranging, not just a patching up of the leaks of our lives. But something of the new world order that God intends is brought into our world in him – (pause) and we are transformed by it.
Perhaps you have seen such a transformed life.
Kristy’s addicted father left her mother when she was a child, and her step-father never accepted her. In searching for a place to belong, she got pregnant early, left school, and married an addict. Addicted people were woven throughout her story and she became one of them. She had been in pain for as long as she could remember, and pain meds took it away. She lived in a refrigerator box under a bridge. She traded herself for drugs, and spent many years in jail, treatment, and hospitals due to her drug use.
In treatment and jail she met women who filled a place in her life that had always been empty. Beautiful, caring women introduced her to Thistle Farms Residential, an outreach of Magdalene House. Today Kristy is living a transformed life with meaningful employment, drug free living, and freedom.
John was a corporate banker in a big house with a sports car and a robust portfolio. But his family fell apart, and he hit the bottle. He lost everything – and then he found faith in Jesus. He would tell you that Jesus turned his life around. He has remarried and lives in a small town where he knows his neighbors when they come to him for loans. He would tell you his life is much better now, full of life and meaning.
Friends, Jesus still heals. In the scriptures and today, Jesus’ healing points to a new way of being, a new community, and a new world order where there IS NO MORE brokenness and pain -- Where we are whole and well and alive with vitality and spirit!
These stories are a window into the heart of God, where two females in need of healing encounter Jesus. And Jesus saves them. Their lives are transformed by that encounter. But they do more than show the power of Jesus to heal and save. They point to a new world order where everyone is whole. And perhaps they encourage us to seek healing with Jesus too. May we seek and find the Lord who heals…and will continue the work of healing …until that new world is among us fully. Amen.
1. Walter T. Wilson, Healing in the Gospel of Matthew, 219.
2. Song Bok Jon in Preaching God’s Transforming Justice Year A, 278.
3. See Elaine Wainwright’s book on Women and Healing. 213.
4. France, The Gospel of Matthew, 358-61. Referenced in Wilson, 216.
5. Wilson, 216.
6. Wilson, 217.
7. Wainwright, 152.
8. Wilson, 216.
9. Wainwright, 51.