Sermon Commentary for Sunday, June 11, 2023
Matthew 9:9-13,18-26 Commentary
Each of the main characters that interact with Jesus in this story go through a significant transformation that rewrites their future. They share the fact that they are all in need (whether they know it or not). And, they all seem to act with a simple faith that who Jesus is and what he says, is true and powerful.
We start with the tax collector Matthew. Matthew will become the gospel writer, the very one the Holy Spirit will make sure includes this story of his calling. It takes all of one verse (9), but nothing is the same in Matthew’s life after he gets up and follows Jesus.
But, did Matthew know he was in need? Was his quick willingness to follow Jesus an indicator that he was unsettled with his chosen path in life, feeling uneasy about the fact that his riches came off robbing the poor? Or, did he realize the hollowness of his former choices only as he walked the long path of obedience as a disciple? Maybe Jesus’s invitation to become his disciple pulled at a childhood wound of being rejected and not good enough in the religious system—after all, if he had been “good enough” he would already be discipled to another rabbi. We don’t know what motivated Matthew, we only know what it led him to do and what it resulted in.
We do know, however, Jesus’s motives and action. The accusation from the Pharisees gives us this insight. Though the Pharisees ask Jesus’s disciples to explain their rabbi’s behaviour, Jesus takes it upon himself to explain. In verse 12, Jesus appears to use some sort (or part) of proverbial saying to make his point: he is here for the sick. And, Jesus cryptically indicates that he is transforming the way of cultic sacrifice. It will no longer be as an offering to God alone, but it will be most fully shown by giving mercy to one another. By calling God’s people to mercy, sinners are led to a new life of obedience that produces God’s flourishing shalom in the world—a good for the whole community. (Of course, this was always the intent, but the people of God, as we often do, had become focused on the easier, religious ritual sacrifice of animals and grains outlined in the Old Testament and lessened their attention on the laws about caring for one another.)
Matthew’s storytelling style doesn’t always make the timeline clear, so when we get to verse 18, we aren’t sure if we are still at the tax collector dinner or a new setting. Either way, the contrast of the two parties is still fresh in our minds: Jesus has gone from being in the midst of the universally-despised tax collectors to having a respected leader of the synagogue come to ask him for help with the impossible: undoing death.
The leader, known as Jairus in the gospel of Luke, tells Jesus what he believes, that Jesus can undo death with just a touch of his hand. There is a parallel to the way that Jesus responds here with the way that Matthew responded to Jesus earlier. Both Jesus and Matthew simply got up and followed the call laid before them. There’s a reminder here for us; Jesus is our leader who is committed to the call that he invites others to—he does not call us to where he himself has not gone and does not ask us to do what he himself will not do.
While Jesus is following the synagogue leader to his dead daughter, another woman in need comes up behind him. Unlike Jairus who has the position, authority and therefore the communal welcome to approach Jesus with boldness, this woman is an unclean, marginalized person. Since she’s been bleeding for twelve years, she is not only physically unwell, but religiously dangerous according to purity laws. And yet, she has the same kind of faith in Jesus’s power as the synagogue leader and trusts that the littlest of contact with Jesus will be enough to change her future. Jesus confirms her belief and heals her—an act of restoration that will utterly change every aspect of her existence.
Then, Jesus goes on and tells the crowd gathered outside the home where death reigns that they should leave. In essence, he tells them that this reality is not true—she isn’t dead, she’s sleeping—and he proceeds to usher in the true reality he has promised to those who laughed at his words. Just as the synagogue leader believed it could be, Jesus touched the young girl’s dead body and brought her back to life. Like the bleeding woman, the rest of her life becomes possible again, a story yet to be told.
In these short verses we have a vocational-180, a restoration, and a resurrection. We have various kinds of people shown mercy by Jesus the Christ: a despised sinner, an unclean woman, a dead child, a respectable religious leader. They were all sick or sinners in different ways, healed by Jesus. Each story involves simple faith and action that results in new possibilities for life, wholeness, and purpose. Because of Jesus, everything changed for them. May it be so for us as well.
The Greek word idou (meaning “look!” or “behold!”) occurs twice in our text, and both times it is used to draw our attention to the person(s) with Jesus. In verse 10, it is tax collectors and sinners hosting Jesus as their guest of honour. It is disreputable for someone in Jesus’s position, but here he is, doing it anyway! In verse 18, a leader of the synagogue (a stark contrast to the dinner party) comes in faith and asks Jesus for a miracle. Jesus is here for both of them, proving what he says to the Pharisees’ accusation: he is here for the sick and sinners and he will do his healing with loving mercy.
The woman who is bleeding doesn’t have an idou introducing her, but that’s because of the way she’s approaching Jesus—seeking him from behind, and only hoping to touch the hem of his clothes, she isn’t looking to be detected and beheld. Of course, Jesus doesn’t let her stay in the shadows, but acknowledges her in his light of love and healing and celebrating the fact that it is her faith, like the one that brought the synagogue leader to him, that has played a pivotal part in her being healed.
I think that most of know what a significant change becoming a disciple brought to the lives of those Jesus called to follow him. This image from a fifteenth-century prayer book helps us remember this truth for Matthew. As the Visual Commentary for the image describes, the depiction of Matthew’s two lives are juxtaposed: from tax collector to evangelist and servant of the church. The other two healings are just as life-altering—though, unlike Matthew, we do not know the rest of their lives’ stories, we know what the lives of the woman and girl (or lack thereof) would have been like. But because of Jesus, their lives are now open and with actual possibilities. For those unhappy, unsettled, in need, even bored with their lives, these healings remind us that a different story is possible with Jesus Christ.
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