November 18, 2007

Trinity 24 - Matthew 9.18-26

For twelve years, the woman had suffered. St. Mark describes her body as being a fountain of blood. She had suffered many things from many physicians. She had spent all that she had on her medical treatment; yet it did not make her better. Just the opposite – her condition grew worse.

For twelve years, she had suffered. And her suffering was magnified by her isolation. She was driven to aloneness, because the fountain of blood coming from her sick body made her ceremonially unclean. She could not go to the temple and eat of the peace offering; for her there was no peace. Those who were clean would avoid her; and it must have seemed as though God was avoiding her too.

During those same twelve years, a man named Jairus had a daughter. Some things have changed in the two millennia since Jairus’s wife first learned that she would have a baby, but more things have not changed. I think it’s safe to presume that Jairus was overjoyed when he learned he would be a father. As the ruler of the synagogue, he had surely sung the Psalm, “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb is a reward,” and he would have received that little girl as a gift from God. He must have looked at his wife with joy – bone of his bones, flesh of his flesh, and thanked God that for them the Psalm had been fulfilled: “Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the very heart of your house, your children like olive plants all around your table.”

But now, after twelve years of joy, his little olive plant was withering. Jairus’s little girl was at the brink of death. The physicians that could not help the woman whose body was a fountain of blood also were no help with Jairus’s little girl. “I’m sorry. There’s nothing more we can do,” said the doctor.

Where is joy now? Where is God now? Which Psalm now shall Jairus sing? “Out of the depths have I cried to Thee, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice!” And with that Psalm, off he went to the Temple. Not the temple on Mount Zion, but to the Temple made without hands: the Lord Jesus.

Jairus threw himself at the feet of Jesus. He has come to Jesus the true Temple, and he worships. His prayer is fervent, urgent, incessant: “Come and lay your hand on my little girl, and she will live!”

On His way to the twelve-year old girl, Jesus passes the woman with the flow of blood. She could not go to the Temple – but the Temple had come to her. God had not abandoned her! She was not alone. No physician could help, but the Good Physician had come. Not daring to speak, her prayer is her outstretched hand, reaching out for the tassel hanging from Jesus’ garment. The tassel was a reminder to the Jewish man that he must remember the commandments and do them. The Pharisees made their tassels large, flaunting their so-called obedience to the Law.

But only Jesus was truly obedient. Only Jesus fulfilled the Law in its completeness. The tassel which reminded the Hebrew man to obey the Law—that tassel on Jesus signified the perfect obedience which God demanded. When that tearful woman, bloody, shamed, miserable, alone, reaches for the tassel on Jesus’ garment, she reaches for the perfect righteousness, the perfect holiness, which the Lord Jesus is.

She reaches in faith for that which she does not have. It is not a faith that things will get better. That hope vanished long ago. It is not a sunny disposition, a be-happy attitude that reaches out to Jesus. It is despair, grief, shame, pain that reaches out, knowing that there is nothing in her that can make her well. Faith must have an object, and there was the object walking by—Jesus—and faith says, “O Lord, have mercy on me!”

He does, and the fountain of blood stops instantly. Jesus draws her out from the crowd, not because He does not know who has touched Him, or why, but because He wants us to know. He wants us to have a faith like this woman. In other words, by holding up this woman as an example, He is inviting us to do the same thing, to direct our faith only, completely in Him. He wants you to know that He wishes to help, He promises to help, help where the physician cannot.

But the help Jesus gives this woman delays Him from reaching the home of Jairus. Some messengers come: “Don’t bother Jesus any more. The girl is dead.”

Is she? Some people that seem alive are dead. Some people that seem dead are alive. “She is not dead, but sleeping.” And they laughed at Him. Not the kind of laugh that comes from a good joke. The kind of laugh that mocks, ridicules. They jeered at Him.

The dead, after all, stay dead. Look – the funeral has already begun! The girl lies on the bier, the pallbearers are ready to take her to the ground. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. So it has been for a very, very long time.

But Jesus is right. She is sleeping. Oh, she was dead all right. Dead as the world counts dead. Dead as far as we can determine death. But God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. God is still her God. And so nothing is dead that God declares alive.

To Him, she is sleeping. And that is all the death of the body is for the child of God – sleeping. “After my skin is destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God,” said the prophet Job. The Lord “will swallow up death forever,” said the prophet Isaiah. And now, the Living Redeemer whom Job saw by faith had come, standing at that little girl’s coffin. The LORD of Hosts whom Isaiah saw had come, to remove the veil of death hanging over mankind. Talitha cumi, He says to her in Aramaic. “Little girl, I say to you, arise.”

And she did. Not all that is dead is dead to God. Not all that seems alive is alive to God. Why do you walk in the things of death, is God has already spoken His Word of life to you in Holy Baptism, and again and again in the Absolution? Why keep on staring at lewd images like a spiritually dead man? Why keep on harboring grudges like an unforgiven man? If God has made you truly rich, why keep on worrying about the riches that moths eat up and rust destroys? If God has promised you eternal life, why be in so much anxiety over this short life which must end?

You are not dead, but alive. He who believes in Jesus shall never die.

When we visit the graves of our dead, we visit the chambers of those whose bodies are asleep, but whose souls are alive with Christ. And as we confess our faith in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come, we know that those bodies will be raised from dead in a wonderful way we cannot begin to imagine.

Going to sleep, then, is each night a drill for death – confessing sins, commending our selves and all we love into God’s keeping. And then at the last, the Lord will come to your grave as He came to this little girl’s, and with a word He will raise you up. And so we shall ever be with the Lord, free from sin, free from sorrow, free from death.

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