Bible Text: Matthew 9:18-26 | Preacher: Pastor Christian Preus | Series: Trinity 2023 | It’s beautiful to see Christian faith at work, especially in two people as different as this man and this woman in our Gospel lesson. The faith is the same. First, and most obviously, their faith is in Christ. Any other faith will disappoint. I suppose they both had faith in medicine at first, but the medicine hadn’t helped Jairus’ daughter, she’s dying, and St. Mark tells us that the woman had had her flow of blood for 12 years and had suffered many things from doctors (sound familiar?), and instead of getting better she’d gotten worse. This isn’t to disparage medicine – there are religious wackos out there who will tell you not to take Tylenol or get a pacemaker, just to pray to God instead and if your faith is strong enough God will heal you, and that’s pure evil. Medicine, like food and drink, is a gift from God and God uses it to heal our bodies. But medicine has its limits. And just as too much food and drink can damage your body, so over reliance on medicine can hurt both your body and your soul. You see this in America especially with the overprescription of anti-depression drugs, which for way too many people, especially young people, just make them more depressed. Medicine is good, but it has its limits and this man and this woman have found it. Jesus is the only One who will deliver from death in the end and who will take away the shame and disgrace and corruption of our bodies and the despair of our minds. He is the true Physician. And whether taking medicine or not, we should seek healing of body and soul from Him. So that our trust is entirely in Him.
Second, the man and the woman both touch Jesus. That’s what faith does. It touches Jesus. Literally. Not just spiritually. The man grabs Jesus’ feet. The woman touches the hem of His cloak. This is what Jesus wants. It’s why He gives us the sacraments. He puts His body in our mouths and makes us drink of His blood. God has become a man. And when He is with us He is not simply with us spiritually, but with His body, so that we know that the God who created us, loves us, is our Brother, shares our flesh and blood, and as surely as the Son of God reigns in heaven, so Man reigns over all things, because He is a man, and so He will never leave us or forsake us.
Third, their faith is very public. Mark tells us there’s an enormous mob of people. So much that the disciples think it’s ridiculous that Jesus would ask who touched Him. “People are everywhere, pressing in on every side, constant, and you ask who touched you?” And it’s before this enormous crowd that this ruler and this woman grab hold of Jesus. They are not ashamed of their Lord. They are not ashamed that everyone sees them bow and beg before Him. They don’t hide their faith.
Americans imagine religion is some private thing, just between you and God. But it’s the Lord Jesus who says, “Whoever confesses Me before men, him will I confess before My Father who is in heaven.” And “Let your light so shine before men that they see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” There is literally nothing you should be more proud of in all the world than being a faithful Christian. In fact, St. Paul says, “Forbid it Lord that I should boast save in the cross of my Lord Jesus Christ.” This doesn’t mean that you should go around preaching on the streetcorners or stealing the mic at Smiths and reading the Bible on the loudspeaker (though that would be pretty awesome and way better than the music they play – why can’t we just play Bach or Vivaldi at grocery stores?). It means you talk the faith when the situation calls for it. You use Jesus’ Word at home, you speak it to your children, you talk it at the table at Thanksgiving, no matter who’s invited; when asked why you’re always unavailable on Sunday mornings, you say how much you love going to church. Always being ready to give a defense to anyone who asks for the hope that is in you. I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation for all who believe.
But it’s the differences between this man and this woman that show how beautiful Christian faith is. They are very different. The man is an important man, a ruler, a man people respect. He wears a suit, people call him sir. And he gets down on his knees and bows in public before His Lord. Jesus is no respecter of persons. You might be an important person, have impressive degrees and titles, have the respect of all sorts of other important people, and that’s wonderful, thank God that you can use these to His glory, but they aren’t your credentials before God. Jesus sees a man in the dirt begging for mercy, and that is what moves His heart. Not, “I have done this, or I have accomplished this,” but “a broken and contrite heart, these O God, you will not despise.” Jesus raises the lowly.
The woman is very different. She has no one’s respect. Her flow of blood is menstrual blood. It’s lasted twelve years, constant. Now of course that means she’s cramping and hormonal and miserable all the time. But more importantly it means she’s full of shame. She can’t get married, a man can’t touch her, it’s against the law. She can’t have children. She can’t even participate in most of the rites of the Temple. She’s unclean, like death, because death is flowing out of her.
We live in a culture that doesn’t know how to blush. Witness the commercials featuring feminine products. God taught the Hebrews how to blush. The laws of uncleanness were to teach men and women that we are corrupt, that we are sinners, that our very bodies show it, and that what God meant for life, the woman’s egg, has become a monthly reminder of death and sin and decay. That was the purpose of the laws of uncleanness. And so filth and shame were synonymous with that flow of blood. Isaiah’s famous words you know or should know, where we confess our sins and say, “All our righteous deeds are as filthy rags,” but what it actually says in the Hebrew is all our righteous deeds are like menstrual rags, because that flow of blood and the filth and shame of sin and death were synonymous in their minds.
So with that, look at this woman in all her shame and filth. And see an absolute heroine, see Christian faith personified. She touches Jesus. It’s illegal for her to touch anyone. She’s unclean. She is filth. But she touches Jesus, she touches God, and she does it with the full confidence that she won’t anger Him, won’t dirty Him, won’t make Him unclean, but He will make her clean and take away all her shame. “If only I touch the tip of His garment, I will be healed.”
And Jesus points it out. He makes a big deal about it. He has her confess in front of everyone what just happened. And that’s not to expose the poor woman to shame, but to show that He takes it all away. He heaps her with honor. He calls her daughter, names her a child of God. Says her faith has saved her, not simply healed her of a medical problem, but saved her, very literally, from shame and disgrace and the mark of death, because faith clings to Him. Faith’s strong hand the Rock has found, grasped it and will leave it never.
Jesus is life. The woman knew it. If only I touch His clothes. He is life because He is God and God is Love and that Love is directed toward us in Jesus Christ. Nothing stops it. No sin of yours, no shame, no guilt, nothing. His touch takes it all away, and He not only erases it, but He then glorifies you, publicly calls you His child in your Baptism, (as He did for Myra this morning), puts the name Christian on you, and gives you the dignity and honor of adoption into the divine family. Jesus takes away all shame and pain and filth, because He suffers it to fall all on Himself. He becomes unclean to remove all uncleanness from you. The shame of the cross, the guilt of your sin, the filth of your corruption and death, He bears it. And the flow of Jesus’ blood gives life. It is no reminder of sin and death and corruption and shame. It is the guarantee that sin and death and corruption have been drowned by the blood of our Creator and our Brother, it is the fountain of honor and glory that springs up into eternal life.
Our Gospel ends with Jesus giving life to the little girl. She was dead. She wasn’t sleeping. The people laughed at Jesus when He said she wasn’t dead, because they knew what their eyes saw and what was medically certain. She was dead. So they are embarrassed at Jesus.
But what we need to see is that Jesus is embarrassed at them. They’re making a lot of commotion. They’re wailing and playing the flute and making useless noise that won’t change a thing. They ridicule Jesus, but they are themselves ridiculous. They can’t do anything in the face of death. That’s a picture of unbelief. It’s ridiculous. It puts its trust in things that cannot save, that cannot take away death or sin, it soothes its mind and emotions with useless wailings and complaints, but then has the audacity to challenge the Lord Jesus and laugh at His words.
Jesus says, “Get out of here.” Leave. He tells them to go away. There is no room for this useless display of unbelief when Life itself enters the room. He leaves the world in their ridiculous state. But He goes to where faith receives Him. And then the girl is alive because Jesus speaks to her and takes her by the hand, and so we are alive and we will live forever because Jesus speaks to us and takes hold of us in the holy communion. What no manmade medicine could do, He does with the medicine of immortality. And then we join with Jesus and laugh to scorn the gloomy grave and at death no longer tremble. Amen.