June 11, 2023
Scriptures: Genesis 12:1-9, Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26
The two short stories in our gospel passage today appear in Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s accounts. And although they are similar in substance, the differing accounts give different details than the others. But today’s version from Matthew’s gospel is noticeably different in some respects than either that of Mark or Luke. The story of the woman who is suffering with a bleeding condition is fairly sparse in Matthew, and does not give too many details about her encounter. It is a much abbreviated version and does not include the full sense of the drama created when she actually reaches out and touches the robe of Jesus. In the other accounts, Jesus turns and asks who it was that touched him, thereby alerting the whole crowd that something extraordinary had happened.
The story of the Temple leader is quite different as well in that in the other two accounts he is begging Jesus to please hurry over to his house as his daughter is in danger of dying. The interruption by the woman who seeks to touch Jesus’ robe causes what may appear to be a delay, which adds a certain measure of tension to the story. In today’s passage, the leader’s daughter has already died and yet he is still reaching out to Jesus, only now asking for him to restore her to life. In fact when Jesus does arrive at the leader’s house the traditional mourning practices for the loss of a child which include flute playing have already begun.
And whereas in the past, when dealing with this story as recounted in Mark and Luke, I focused on the characters themselves, and the tension that seems to be present, it seems that Matthew’s account speaks more to the level or depth of faith of these two individuals who sought Jesus out.
There does not seem to be any indication that either of them was an active follower of Jesus, or in fact had any previous interaction with him. Rather it seems that both of them had come to Jesus as a result of hearing about him in the stories that were certainly swirling around regarding the things Jesus had been doing throughout the region.
They had heard something about him from someone, and given the depth of their need and the level of desperation both of them were experiencing, they both decided to boldly step out in faith, and see if some of the stories they had heard of Jesus’ amazing abilities were true.
And to be honest, it was truly a huge ask of Jesus on the part of both of them. As we hear in the other gospel accounts, the woman had suffered with her condition for twelve long years and had spent all she had going to various doctors searching for a cure…all without success. And the religious leader in today’s account was already in the throes of grieving the loss of his beloved daughter when he came before Jesus, hoping against hope that Jesus might perform a miracle, restoring her to life.
They had heard about Jesus, and they sought him out…that’s all. They didn’t perform any pre-worship rituals, they didn’t recite any long protracted prayers or make huge donations to the Temple treasury in advance…they did not have their requests sanctioned by the religious leaders, or even anyone else as far as we know…they just had heard about this preacher from Galilee, and reached out in believing faith…that’s all.
Which brings us to the earlier part of our gospel passage for today where Jesus is responding to the criticism of the Pharisees for sharing a meal with what they see as ‘sinful people’…people they themselves would never be caught associating with such as the Tax Collector Matthew. The Pharisee’s understanding of the faith was very rigid and rule-guided, and Jesus’ habit of ignoring or teaching contrary to their understanding of the Hebrew Law was making them increasingly opposed to anything he said or did.
And it is in this context, in his response to their criticism that we hear Jesus quoting from the sixth chapter of Hosea when he says, ‘Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’’ We know from reading accounts in the Old Testament that the Hebrew faith put a lot of stock in making sacrifices to God…in essence, seeking God’s favor by sacrificing various animals up on the altar of the Temple. And even in the gospel accounts we see this practice continuing where people making a pilgrimage to the Temple were expected to bring or purchase an animal in order to offer a sacrifice there to please God.
And even though sacrifice was still seen as a significant part of the Hebrew religious life and practice, Jesus seemingly discounts its value by indicating that his sharing a meal with those who many thought were unworthy individuals was equally, if not more holy in the eyes of God. Jesus taught that in fact extending mercy towards one another was what the Lord was seeking most from his faithful followers. Jesus prioritized fellowship and compassion, forgiveness and relationship over the following of what were widely seen as ‘proper rules’ of the faith.
And that brings us to today, and to our own expression of the faith we have been given. As I am sure you probably know by now, I too believe that there is a significant difference between a faith that is lived out within the teachings of Jesus and the commandment to love one another, and a faith that is practiced within highly structured rules, behaviors, and proper faith etiquette alone.
For in truth, there is neither safety nor salvation to be found in strictly following the ‘laws’ of our faith alone. Rather true faith must be lived out in caring and compassionate action for it to yield the results the Lord is seeking after. And it seems that far too much of the Christian faith practiced today is limited by rules that prohibit actual loving and compassionate care of one another. Far too much of the way many live out their faith has excessive rules and procedures on acceptable thought and behavior that prohibit them from truly loving their neighbor, or from even being willing to get to know their neighbor well enough to begin the process of building caring community, which is the essence of what the life and ministry of Jesus was truly all about.
So, from our gospel lesson today we have heard two important things. First, it is up to us to share the stories of our faith and the amazing love and mercy of our God. For in so doing we may create a hunger in the heart of another to learn more about the Lord…and may even give them the courage to step up and ask for their own miracle.
And secondly, we need to be sure to make the understanding of what we do and why we do it as easy to understand and to grasp as possible, refusing to put up barriers or hoops that people need to get by or jump over in order to be a part of the exciting faith journey we are on.
The woman who was desperately in need of healing, and the Temple leader who so wanted his daughter brought back to life both believed that their answer lay in drawing closer to Jesus…close enough to touch him and near enough to be able to ask him for his help.
And that my friends…that is our job…that is a part of our responsibility. We are the ones who must share our faith in such a way that people can sense the presence of God in our midst, and we are also the ones who need to share that the pathway to a believing faith lies only in taking the first step within the company of others who are already in a relationship with our God of love.
Reaching out, accepting, welcoming, and learning to enjoy the wonder and mystery of the many variations of the image of our God seen in the lives, and on the faces of all those around us…building community, holding one another in care and compassion, are the only ways to demonstrate our faith to a broken and fractured world…
…and perhaps more importantly…they are entirely sufficient!
So…share your story…share our story…keep the pathway to a loving faith clear of obstruction…and for goodness sake…keep on walking!