Thursday, October 8, 2009

Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well

While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying, ‘My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.’ And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples.

Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, for she said to herself, ‘If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.’ Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, ‘Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.’ And instantly the woman was made well.

When Jesus came to the leader’s house and saw the flute-players and the crowd making a commotion, he said, ‘Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him. But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up. And the report of this spread throughout that district.

- Matthew 9:18-26

This passage appears in this same way in both Luke and Mark (I've linked my previous commentary to each). That is, the story of the synagogue leader's daughter and the healing of the woman with the haemorrhage are linked together in those gospels as well. This is quite pleasing to me, because I think of it as very significant that they are linked. It is once again a teaching about what is clean and what is unclean, and how we are to view healing and compassion.

In Mark and Luke, we are informed that the leader of the synagogue's name is Jairus. He comes to Jesus, concerned about his daughter. His faith is great enough so that he says that all Jesus has to do is lay his hand on the girl, and she will live. So, from the beginning of this passage we have another note about "touch" - the touch that heals. This is for a very young girl (about twelve years old, we're told elsewhere), someone of very little note in the society but for the concern and love of her father. But Jesus' concern for her health is complete. He immediately sets off to the house of Jairus.

But on the way to Jairus' house, something else happens. Amongst the crowds, a woman touches the fringe of Jesus' cloak. As long as the young girl has been alive, so has this woman been suffering from haemorrhages - for twelve years. It's important to understand that this woman would have been deemed unclean. In the Old Testament, haemorrhage caused ceremonial defilement. There would be religious and social restrictions imposed concerning her, because contact with blood was prohibited. So, we can imagine the suffering this woman endures, and also her great shame. As with the lepers, she is cast out of the society, unclean. To touch Jesus' cloak may have been her one hope of help, but she does so in secret, without his knowledge, because of her social condition. In the other gospel versions of this story, Jesus says that he has felt power go out of himself, and he asks his disciples who touched him. The crowds are so great that his disciples protest they cannot find who touched him, but the woman comes forward to admit that it was she. It is interesting to note the incidence of touch: Jesus will touch and heal the child just as he has touched and healed the unclean lepers. Here the woman's touch - along with her faith - makes this "healing circuit" complete. Once again, we discern that for the healer, for the clean, nothing is unclean. 'Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, ‘Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.’ And instantly the woman was made well.'

All of this happens on Jesus' way to Jairus house. Although it is the leader of the synagogue who has asked him for help, Jesus has time for this unclean woman who has been bleeding for twelve years. A great lesson about compassion in this story - not only for the victim's "outside" and unclean status, but also because Jesus was on his way elsewhere. We take our time for those who need our compassion; there is always time for whatever else calls. I think it's also important to note that those who need help make the effort to ask. Or, just as with the paralytic, others ask on their behalf.

Finally, Jesus goes to Jairus' house. The mourners and flute-players are already there, because they all believe that the girl is dead. Jesus tells them, ‘Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.’ And they all laugh at him. But they are sent out of the house, and Jesus touches the girl by the hand, and she is healed - she awakens. Once again, Jesus' fame spreads via an effect that no one has ever seen.

In this passage, the two stories are linked for an important reason, in my opinion. They teach us about the equality between all people, about restrictions that would brand a person clean or unclean. They teach us about social status and how to view it: both of these healed people are female - one cast out as unclean and beyond capacity for childbearing, the other too young for childbearing and therefore lacking social status. They teach us about two daughters: one the daughter of the leader of the synagogue, and the other whom Jesus calls "daughter" himself. Most importantly, we learn the nature of Jesus' healing touch. There is nothing that stands in the way between us and that touch. There is nothing that interferes with his compassion that connects with our faith. Whatever way we get there, via a secret prayer or the prayers of those who love us, nothing can stand in the way. There is none of us who are of too low social status, or too dejected or cast out so that our prayer is not heard and effective. It is faith that makes this circuit with Christ, and no social or religious convention, no dejection or rejection by others, nor feeling of unworthiness on our part, can stand in the way of its effect. The work of the Spirit makes its circuit; its energy will be felt despite all obstacles.

Do you know someone who needs your compassion, your healing touch or your prayer? Say it in secret so the Lord may help. A word to this person in private may help them as well. You will be expressing your compassion, as we are taught. Nothing should stand in the way of that prayer, and of that compassion. There is time for it all. Sometimes it is the social convention itself that is the oppression; a healing word may be all it takes to lift that oppression and help. Perhaps it is you who needs the prayer. Reach out in secret for the healing touch of love.

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