St. Matthew 9:18-25
November 11, 2018 A+D
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus is telling the disciples of John the Baptist why His disciples don’t fast when the ruler comes to worships Him and tell him that his daughter is dead. His disciples didn’t fast during His earthly ministry because He is the Bridegroom and He is with them. They will fast when He is taken away at the crucifixion.
But the daughter is still dead.
Jesus warns John’s disciples against trying to add Him to their old religion. If they just add Him to legalism they will be destroyed. He hasn’t come to patch a small hole or make a slight repair. He has come to replace, in a sense, the whole Old Testament religion by fulfilling it. You can’t put new wine in an old wine skin. When the Bridegroom has accomplished our salvation and rises from the dead, He will return to His disciples in the Feast of Holy Communion. That time has come. There is now legal requirement for fasting or dietary restrictions.
But the daughter is still dead.
Matthew introduces us to the father with the word “Behold.” His emphasis is not so much on the miracle that will be performed, we know that the daughter will be raised. His emphasis is on the man’s coming to Jesus to worship Him. “Behold!” he says, “Here is something significant, impressive, unexpected. Don’t miss this. This man has faith. Faith worships Jesus. It trusts Him even when what He says is hard to understand and even when we are suffering the worst of afflictions. It trusts in Him even when the daughter is dead. Behold. This is something marvelous.”
“My daughter has just died. But You do more than cleanse unclean foods and end fasting. If You come and touch her then she will live.” Off Jesus goes. He rises and follows him to his house. The daughter is still dead and the sky is dark but the sky is lightening. The first hint of dawn is on the horizon.
Then the story is interrupted. A woman who had suffered a flow of blood for twelve years comes up behind Jesus and touches His garment. This was menstrual blood. The Law pronounced the woman unclean for 12 years. She couldn’t go to the Temple. She couldn’t marry or even attend some family gatherings. She says to herself “If only I touch His garment, I will be saved.”
She got this idea, that touching the hem of Our Lord’s garment would save her, from the words of Jesus. She had been listening what He had been saying about new wine in old wineskins. She realizes that the Old Testament purification laws are only a shadow of the cleansing that she needs and wants. It is not enough to be outwardly pure. She needs the purification and circumcision of the heart. She needs Blood to cover her blood. She needs to die and be reborn, to be a new wineskin for new wine. So as Jesus walks away to save the ruler’s daughter, she realizes that she is also a daughter. He can save her. She embraces that faith and reaches out to touch Him.
Jesus says explicitly that she has faith and that her faith saves her. Our translation translates the word that both she and Jesus use as “made well” but it is literally “saved.” There is little in this world to give the idea of physical healing that “made well” implies. This is the word that St. Paul uses in Ephesians 3 “by grace you are saved.” By faith this woman is cleansed from her impurity. She is saved from her sins. She is freed from the Law’s condemnation. This is more than a stop to the flow of blood. The flow of blood wouldn’t make her unclean in the eyes of God any more than eating a pig or a lobster would. The Bridegroom is with her. He calls her daughter. He is more than the priests or Levites or John the Baptist. He is what all of them pointed to. So she touches the hem of His garment and she gets burning coal that cleansed Isaiah’s lips, the ladder upon which the angels ascend and descend, and the Blood of the Lamb that holds off the Angel of Death. She becomes a new wine skin and she gets the new wine of the Holy Spirit and is saved.
So there won’t be any doubt, what God did in her through His Word He confirms with a word: “Take heart, daughter, be courageous. Your faith has saved you.”
But the other daughter, the daughter of the ruler, is still dead. Matthew presents this account in a very deliberate way. The faith and healing of the woman with the flow of blood is meant to shed light on the other daughter and her father’s faith.
Jesus now comes to the house and tells the mourners to leave. They mock Him because they wrongly think that death is eternal. The daughter is not dead. She only sleeps – as do all those who trust in Christ and suffer the separation of body and soul. The ruler believes Jesus’ Word. His daughter is only sleeping. He sends the mourners out of the house. Jesus goes in. He takes the girl’s hand. She wakes up and rises.
The unclean woman could not be helped by the Law. She trusted in Christ for salvation. She became a new wine skin and she received the new wine of the Holy Spirit. The ruler believed what Jesus said. He believed that He was the Bridegroom who could overcome even death, who makes the unclean clean. Thus where he and his daughter saved.
Thus we must all die in Holy Baptism with Jesus. We can’t just be patched or add the Holy Spirit and the Messiah to who or what we were. We can’t take His Word is bits and pieces. He is no good to us no matter how wise He is if He is only a great teacher or prophet or king. We need more. We need a Messiah, a Bridegroom, New Wine. We have to die and be reborn. The Old Testament Law is instructive and illustrative of who we are and who God is and how dire our situation is. It is not arbitrary or cruel. It is reality. We are unclean. We cannot save ourselves. We have to heed John’s call to repentance and His call to behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. This is the purpose of all the Law, of all John’s preaching, of God’s patience and mercy throughout the history of Israel and then the history of the Church.
It is only Christ, true God and true Man, on the cross and out of the grave, ascended to the right hand of His Father, who can save us. For this He was born and baptized. This was His ministry, sorrow, and joy. He has come to be our Bridegroom and Shepherd, our Champion and Savior. For this He gave His life and conquered death. We do more than touch hem of His garment. We are bold to put His risen Blood to our lips and say “O death where is thy sting?” Jesus lives. So do we and our children. The end of this tale is not yet told. We take heart in Christ. Our faith has saved us by delivering to us the work and love and hope of the Messiah. Jesus lives.
The daughter is not dead, she sleeps and soon she shall awake.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.