November 10, 2013 Twenty-fourth Sunday After Trinity
Healing That Hurts
Malachi 3:13-4:3, Psalm 66, Colossians 1:3-12, St. Matthew 9:18-26
In my time in seminary I had the privilege of instruction from a number of faithful and learned men. One of them is a renowned scholar.
His name is Daniel B. Wallace and he travels the world photographing, by a special process, ancient and fragile manuscripts of the Greek New Testament to preserve them for posterity. He
derives much of his academic street cred from a book he wrote, “Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics,” that much of the English-speaking world uses as an indispensable text for unraveling the grammatical tangles in the Greek Bible.
I was fortunate to draw him for the only master’s-level class he teaches, fifth-semester Greek, which is exegesis of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. In class one day, he gave us his rationale for why modern English translations are superior to the King James Version.
Research goes on, Dr. Wallace said, and scholars know far more today about the Greek of the first century than their predecessors knew in the early 17th century. The newer works, therefore,render the Greek more accurately.
Then he threw in one caveat. Translators today have a better handle on the old Greek but, he
cautioned, they don’t manage English nearly so well as their ancestors in Shakespeare’s time.
And to that I say, Amen!
I raise the issue today as we turn to the story of Jesus’ piggy-backed healings in St. Matthew’s ninth chapter. I know that few are as enamored of antique language as I, but humor me
for a moment as we compare new and old.
Our Lord arrives at the home of the ruler whose daughter has died – or so they say. In the updated, or New, King James which we read just now, Jesus says next, “Make room, for the girl is
not dead, but sleeping.” The King James gives us, “Give place; for the maid is not dead, but
There’s a sentence that could have jumped right out of the pages of “Romeo and Juliet.”
But it’s the remainder of v. 24 I want us to notice in particular.
Our version: “And they ridiculed Him.” Other newer translations use “laughed at.” A woodenly literal rendering of the Greek would be, “And they laughed him down.”
But listen now to the phrasing of those 17th-century scholars: “And they laughed him to scorn.”
“And they laughed him to scorn.”
Does that phrasing not splash a Technicolor burst across this scene? The Creator of the heavens and the earth, of the beasts of the field and the birds of the air, of man and woman . . . the very Giver of life . . . declares that one small life is not spent but goes on. “And they laughed him to
scorn.” How dare they!
Our Lord Jesus, however, does not take offense. The Creator has appeared in His creation as Redeemer, and the work of the Redeemer is healing. But the healing of bodies alone is too small a thing for Him. He has come to restore not only bodies but souls.
He is on a mission of mercy and One so engaged must not expend His energy in nursing grievances and assuaging His wounded pride. A gentle spirit, He has come not to chastise but to forgive. Trouble is, we members of that race called sinners are a stiff-necked people.
I heard a story about a farmer who told his new hired hand, a green kid from the town, “Watch closely now; I’m going to explain to this mule what I want him to do.” Whereupon he picked up
a two-by-four and gave that mule a good whack smack between the ears.
The young man’s mouth fell open. “I thought you said you were going to explain something to him,” he said.
“Had to get his attention first,” the farmer said.
We sinners continue to offend God by our sins. We get so puffed up that we often even forget we’re sinners.The Lord Jesus does not take offense, but He will give it. He has to get our attention
At my second seminary, Cranmer Theological House, I received a valuable lesson for interpreting this passage – but from a fellow student. Her name is Joan and she, too, is a healer, if not a Messiah. She is an emergency room physician and she scattered light on what happens at the intersection of body and soul that has helped me to see.
First, though, let’s spend a little more time inside our passage. St. Matthew places it within a
narrative between two references to John the Baptist and his disciples.
The first of those bookends is in chapter 9, just before our lesson for today. John’s disciples approach Jesus and ask Him, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples
do not fast?” (v. 14). A righteous Jew must fast to starve his sinful flesh and bring it into submission to the mandates of the law.
Jesus says, “Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?” (v. 15). The Lord has come to claim His bride, the church, and a wedding is a time for feasting, not fasting, for rejoicing, not mourning.
The blessed union of bride and groom promises new life. From it will come more image-bearers, more worshipers of God on high. And when the groom is God Himself, come to “impregnate” His bride the church and sire a never-ending family of believers . . . what greater ground for celebration could ever be?
At a later date the bridegroom will be taken away, Jesus says, and then His disciples will fast. That is our present age, and we are the disciples who fast of His presence as we await His return in glory when we will eat and drink with Him in His kingdom fully come.
Until that blessed day – thanks be to God! – He allows us to join Him at His table and take in the food that sustains us until we enter into the eternal feast that is life with Him.
Yet He employs metaphors about garments and wineskins to teach that already He has brought a new dawn into His world and it will never be as it was. Where the King is, His kingdom is, and while He is among them the subjects of the King will celebrate His presence. And when He has
gone, His Spirit and His bride will pursue the ministry of healing He has set in motion.
St. Matthew is building a case. He presents here the healing of the woman with a flow of blood and the resurrection of the ruler’s daughter. Next he will show us the restoring of sight to two blind men. In chapter 11, we arrive at the other bookend. The evangelist describes the imprisoned John the Baptist sending two of his disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” (v. 3).
The Lord tells them to report to John those things St. Matthew has now related. He has restored sight and healed and raised the dead. Who can staunch a flow of blood that has persisted for years but the Great Physician? Who has power over life but the Creator of life?
Is this the One “they laughed to scorn”?
We have seen before that in the gospels the Lord’s healing never stops at the boundary of physical life. Nicodemus, the natural man, gasped at the notion of being born again, but the Christ has come to bring new birth, regeneration of the spirit.
The haughty and self-sufficient will view His miracles as a sorcerer’s work and will vanish like the morning dew when He demands of them commitment to His cause. The poor in spirit, bleeding for years from a sickness of soul no man can cure, will hail this Healer of bodies as the Savior of souls.
We will not fall away. We will abide in Him, and He in us.
Like Him, we will not fear death. For the Jew, contact with one who is bleeding incurs ceremonial
uncleanness and expulsion for a time of purifying. The woman, desperate for healing, jostles her way through the crowd, risking the contempt of everyone she touches.But when at last she touches the Great Physician, her flow of blood ceases. Who can accuse her now?
Contact with the dead contaminates a man, a special curse for a rabbi, but the One who knows no dread of death takes the girl’s hand, and she arises. If she is alive, is He unclean for having touched one who was dead?
Abide in the Giver of Life and death will lose its power over you. You will be reborn in newness of life, life which has no end.
Three more words demand our attention. Both old and new King James inform us that the ruler came “and worshiped Him.” Other versions tell us this man “knelt” or “bowed down” before Him.
At the root of the Greek verb is “to kiss.” In the ancient world, one bowed or knelt to kiss a man of superior rank – to kiss his hand or feet or the hem of his garment or the ground before him as a
gesture of homage or obeisance.
When used of one who is before a god, it signified reverence, an attitude of respect or supplication, and thus of worship.
Was the ruler kneeling before Jesus to give deference to a man of higher rank or was he worshiping Him as God?
The second word is one we’ve encountered before in the stories of healing miracles. In this passage, both the woman with the flow of blood and Jesus use it and it is variously translated
“make well,” “make whole” or “heal.” It is the same word used elsewhere for saving a soul.
All the translators here give it the obvious meaning of physical healing, but with the account of the resurrection of the ruler’s daughter wrapped around this miracle, are we justified in wondering if the Lord is making the woman whole in body and soul?
The third word is used of the girl. In every version, after Jesus takes her by the hand, she “arises” or “gets up.” Again, there is no ambiguity in the translation, but the verb can mean to arise from a bed or to arise from the tomb, as when Jesus predicts that on the third day after His crucifixion He will rise again (Matthew 20:19).
In this case, the girl arises from her bed and from natural death. Does she ascend into spiritual life as well?
Messiah has arrived on a mission of restoring life to a sin-plagued world through a ministry of healing and of generating new life in union with His bride the church. To be healed is to be born again and to be born again is to arise in newness of life. The Lord swirls natural and spiritual into a divine vortex and the finite mind can no longer separate the two.
Nor should we. What God has joined together let no man put asunder.
Yet the natural man cannot accept spiritual things, for they must be seen through eyes of faith. Natural men “laughed him to scorn.” But Jesus “took her by the hand, and the maid arose. And the fame hereof went abroad into all that land (KJV).”
The report of His miraculous touch goes abroad in our land as well, and in theirs and ours the poor in spirit greet the signs and wonders Jesus does as evidence of the arrival of the kingdom of heaven on the earth. Healing happens . . . but can real healing happen without the giving of
Jesus did not take offense when the scoffers made sport of His claim that the girl was not dead, but He did give offense, and He gave it often. He became the “stone of stumbling and rock of offense” the prophet Isaiah had foretold (8:14).
We will not know our need for a Savior unless God shows us that we are sinners. Such was the purpose of the law, and the Savior has come to fulfill the law. Like the law, the Savior will give great offense to those who hold in contempt the Father who sent both into the world to reveal Himself to men.
I learned from Joan, the healer, that the emergency room is the drain in which the putrid sins of the developed world puddle and back up. The drain clogs because the sins go untreated and real healing does not happen.
Looking on with sanctified eyes, she could see what her patients could not. She could see that it was not the knives and the guns and the drugs and the booze and the syphilis and the dirty needles that ravaged their bodies and corroded their spirits. She could see that each time they made their bodies instruments of sin they degraded their souls.
She could suture their skin. But if she stitched up another stab wound, what had she fixed? A patch of flesh to be ripped open again in the next bar fight.
It was the sin beneath the symptoms that killed them each day, and only the Great Physician could heal them of that disease. But they laughed Him to scorn. They mocked Him with their worldly ways, scoffed at His law and His love entwined in it.
Their hatred for the only One who could heal them made them sick unto death regardless of what any doctor might do. If her patients were not healed, was Joan squandering her gift of healing?
Hospital management forbade physicians to offer moral instruction to patients, to say nothing of spiritual counsel. They might give offense. Joan yearned to tell them that if they would only reach out and touch the hem of the Savior’s garment they would be made whole, even raised in newness of life . . . but she must not give offense.
She could put on her best bedside manner and coo encouraging words . . . but no more. Her exhausting labors did not generate the healing she yearned to minister to this procession of sick
souls who limped and shuffled through her revolving door. Life support was all she had to offer, and it was not enough.
And so she told them the truth . . . if not in a preacherly way, with words that flowed forth nonetheless from biblical conviction. She told them their choices were killing them. She told them they could summon the will to change their thinking, which is another way of saying “repent.”
She told them they could turn away from death, and seize life.
She gave them what she could . . . and lived in constant fear for her job. She could do no other.
Both the life God has given and the life God will give are too precious to deny when we have it in our power to help others to see. For who are we to fear those who would laugh us to scorn after what our Lord endured for us? He did not take offense.