Text Study for Matthew 9 18 to 34, Part One


(18) While [Jesus] was saying these things to [John’s disciples], behold, one of the rulers came and knelt down to him and said, “My daughter has just died, but come and put your hand on her, and she will live.” (19) So Jesus got up and followed him, as did [Jesus’] disciples.

(20) And behold, a woman who had suffered with a hemorrhage for twelve years came up behind and touched the fringe of his garment. (21) For she kept saying to herself, “If only I could touch his garment, I will be saved.” (22) But Jesus turning and seeing her said “Take heart, daughter! Your faith has saved you.” And the woman was saved from that hour onward.

(23) And when Jesus went into the house of the ruler and saw the flute players and the agitated crowd, (24) he said, “Clear out! For the little girl has not died but rather is sleeping.” And they laughed at him. (25) But after he threw out the crowd, he went in and grasped her hand, and the little girl was raised. (26) And the acclaim of this went out into the whole of that land.

(27) And as Jesus was going away from there, two blind men followed him, crying out and saying, “Have mercy on us, son of David!” (28) But after he went into the house, the blind men came to him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you trust that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” (29) Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your trust, let it happen for you.” (30) And the eyes of the blind men were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them and said, “See that no one comes to know of this.” (31) But when they went away, they acclaimed him in that whole land.

(32) But when they had gone away, behold, a mute man who was demon-possessed was brought to him. (33) And when the demon had been thrown out, the mute man was beginning to speak. And the crowds were amazed and said, “Never before has something like this appeared in Israel.” (34) But the Pharisees kept saying, “By the ruler of the demons is he casting out the demons.”

Photo by Eduardo Braga on Pexels.com

Let’s start with some annotations and questions.

9:18 – Why does the Matthean author omit the Markan assertion that this is a ruler “of the synagogue”? And why does the NRSV insist on reinserting that identification?

Why does the Matthean author say that the little girl is already dead? This removes the dramatic urgency of the Markan intercalation. Is the Matthean author nervous about the Markan tendency to portray Jesus as less than the master of all circumstances? I suspect that is the case, and we’ll see the Matthean efforts to “correct” the Markan account at several points in this text. One nettlesome question is, of course, what are we to make of such “corrections”?

Watch for the emphasis on touch as the mode of healing in Matthew 8 and 9. And watch for those moments when the use of touch is avoided – especially in the brief story of the demon-possessed mute man.

9:19 – Why does Jesus do the “following” in this part of the account? The Matthean author uses the verb reserved mostly for the action of following Jesus as a disciple. It may be nothing, but it doesn’t seem like nothing. In fact, the sentence sounds a lot like the call stories of some disciples – that Jesus “got up and followed.” Curiouser and curiouser. The healing accounts in this week’s reading seem to highlight the “agency” of those who request the healing (whether they are the direct beneficiaries or not). Is this “following” another way that the Matthean author chooses to highlight that agency? Perhaps.

9:20 – Notice first of all that Jesus is probably wearing tzitzit, the ritual fringed garment worn by observant Jews. He is portrayed throughout the Matthean account as an observant Jew – but one who has some challenging interpretations of Torah.

The woman comes from behind Jesus. Perhaps this is to avoid attention or confrontation and/or to portray humility and respect. However, the woman is also already acting the part of a disciple. She is “following” Jesus in a quite literal sense. She is trusting in him as a source of healing and hope. She is one of the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” for whom Jesus has come. She recognizes something in him that impels her to come after him. What does the Matthean author have to tell us about people who aren’t “official” Jesus followers, then and now?

9:21 – Daniel Wallace (Exegetical Syntax, 546-547) lists this verse as an example of the “iterative imperfect.”  This construction describes a repeated past action that occurs within a limited and short time frame. “The picture painted,” Wallace writes, “seems to be of a desperate woman who repeats over and over again, ‘If only I touch his garment,’ attempting to muster up enough courage for the act” (547). That is a compelling and poignant picture.

9:22 – I think we get more of the Matthean “correction” of Mark here. The Matthean author omits the dialogue between Jesus and the woman. The author leaves out any mention that Jesus might not know what is happening. Unlike the Markan account, the Matthean account makes it clear that the woman’s healing doesn’t happen until Jesus says it does.

That being said, we should note that we have another example of how the Matthean author gives a great deal of agency to those who seek healing from Jesus. The woman takes the initiative and the risk. It is her faith/trust that has saved her. The woman is not a helpless victim here. Rather she is someone who can act. Is this another example of someone who hears Jesus’ words and does them?

What is the significance of the phrase “Take heart!” here and in Matthew 9:2. We know by now that when the Matthean author repeats something, we should pay some attention. But it’s not clear to me why we should attend closely to that phrase at this point.

Once again, Jesus sees the person who receives the healing. The Matthean author makes a point of this in several of the healing accounts. People who have been rendered invisible by the community due to their conditions – these are the people Jesus sees. We know in our time the power and importance of being seen. That’s a preaching “hook” if one has not yet exploited that in the Matthean cycle.

9:23 – Many of Jesus’ healings in the Matthean account take place “in the house.” It’s worth wondering why that is. Does the Matthean author want to make a connection to the early Christian “house churches”? Is this a reference to the “household of faith”? I’m not sure.

The crowd doesn’t come off all that well in this section of the Matthean account. Here they are portrayed as disorderly, unruly, agitated. The presence of death in the house of a local worthy has disoriented and destabilized them.

9:24 – Jesus summarily dismisses the crowd. “Clear out!” Another reasonable translation could be “vacate the area!”

9:25 – Part of the reason for that aggressive translation in verse 24 is that the language here sounds like the language for expelling demons. Jesus threw out the crowd and then raised up the little girl.

Here’s another example of healing touch. However, this time it is both more assertive and intimate. Jesus grasps her hand. And the little girl is raised. This is clearly a “resurrection” verb. I think we need to read other instances of this verb in chapters 8 and 9 in light of this story.

9:26 – The “fame” of this deed exited “into the whole land.” There are clear verbal connections between this sentence and the conclusion to the healing of the two blind men. Another “fame” word shows up in Matthew 9:31. And we have the same description of how far the fame spread. It spreads “into the whole land.” The word for “land” here is “earth.” It is, therefore, deliciously ambiguous. The NRSV translation here is, I think, unhelpfully restrictive.

9:27 – Jesus goes away from there, that is, the house of the ruler. He is accosted by the two blind men. Does he go back into the house of the ruler (verse 28)? Does he return to the previous house where he healed the paralytic? That’s unclear in the text, but I lean toward the latter (not that it matters much for interpretation or does it?).

It is worth exploring the piety of the time surrounding David (in the Psalms) as an agent of healing.

Like the woman earlier, the blind men are already acting like disciples. They follow Jesus. They ask for help. They call him Lord. They have faith.

And we come back to mercy – the priority over sacrifice, as we saw in Matthew 9:13.

More in the next post…

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