Matthew 9 – Spoiler Warning, the Girl Lives

Matthew 9 Bible with Green and Blacks 85 percent Cacao Dark Chocolate

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Today’s PassageMatthew 9

This chapter marks the first time that Matthew records a resurrection. It would appear that it’s not the first time Jesus brought someone back from the dead, though; as we saw in Luke 7:11-17, he gave a widow her only son back in the middle of the guy’s funeral procession. Moreover, when Jesus resurrects the synagogue official’s daughter in today’s chapter, Matthew gives us the most cursory of the synoptics’ accounts, not even dedicating ten verses to the incident, while Mark (Mark 5:21-43) and Luke (Luke 8:40-56) each give us over fifteen. If you wanted to know which synagogue official, you’d have to turn to the other accounts, because Matthew doesn’t so much as give us his name (it’s Jairus).

In fact, in painting with such a broad brush, Matthew appears to undercut the drama of the event. Luke and Mark tell us that Jesus’ trip to Jairus’ house gets interrupted when Jesus stops to acknowledge a woman who stealthily touched his cloak in order to receive healing. After the stop, a messenger arrives, reporting that Jairus daughter has already died. Has Jesus’ compassion caused a greater tragedy? Is Superman caught between two people to save, with only enough time to save one? But Matthew robs the account of its dramatic tension by circumventing such questions. He simply states at the outset, “A synagogue official…said, ‘My daughter has just died; but come and lay Your hand on her, and she will live’” (18). His report raises questions of its own, namely, “What the crud, Matthew?”

I don’t think Matthew is misreporting the incident. It was common in the ancient Near East to report a messenger’s words as their master’s; if someone came from King So-and-So to tell you he’d accepted your offer of seventy sheep for his daughter’s hand in marriage, you’d say that King So-and-So said, “I accept your offer of seventy sheep for my daughter’s hand in marriage.” Matthew just cuts to the chase with a summary. But why does he rush the story instead of letting it unfold pace by pace, interrupted first by the woman seeking healing and then by the bearer of bad news from Jairus’ house? I don’t know.

But I do know that, in a way, we already know that Jesus will be able to heal the daughter. Turn back to Matthew 8 and recall the centurion with faith in Jesus’ power to heal at a distance. Jesus doesn’t need to go visit the house to heal the girl. By following Jairus, he seems simply to be honoring the man’s request “Come and lay Your hand on her.” If we’re reading Luke’s account, Luke has already spoiled that Jesus is capable of raising the dead (Luke 7:11-17). We only read these stories for the first time once. After that, we’re going to come back knowing how they turn out, and we’re going to have to put ourselves in the heads of its personages–Jairus, the healed woman, the mourners–in order to feel the tensions at play in the unfolding story. And that’s true of the initial read-through too.

So why did Jesus not heal the daughter where he stood? Why the rigamarole? Again, I speculate, but I think he did it for Jairus’ faith. Jairus appears not to have the centurion’s conviction in Jesus’ omnipotence, or at least authority, and Jesus rolls up his sleeves and gets involved in Jairus’ life beyond snapping his fingers and getting the job done. People aren’t jobs; they’re people. Jesus takes the time to encourage and show compassion on the woman who grabbed at his robe for a quick heal. He takes the time to go to Jairus’ house, and he kicks out the mourners so that Jairus is one of the only people present when his daughter returns from the dead. Jesus refuses to commodify his power, take shortcuts to showing love, or treat life as a means to an end. When he heals, Jesus shows people that they matter.

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