Text Study on Matthew 9:18-35 (Part Four)

Within Judaism or Without?

I want to begin by recommending “The Two Testaments” podcast, hosted by Professors Rony Kozman and Will Kynes. Both are on the faculty of Samford University in the Department of Biblical and Religious Studies. The podcast offers resources on a number of Hebrew and Christian texts.

For our purposes, they offer a series on the Gospel of Matthew. You can hear from an excellent variety of scholars with deep expertise on the Matthean materials. I have listened to all the episodes of this series and have found the conversations stimulating and helpful. As you continue to work your way through the Matthean account this year, I think you will benefit from these podcasts as well. I access them on YouTube, but they are available in a variety of formats.

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I have also continued to pursue the work of Anders Runesson, Dean and Professor of New Testament at the University of Oslo. His articles on issues in Matthean studies show up on Google Scholar and other research engines. I find his work and perspectives deepening and challenging as we read the Matthean account together.

Runesson is engaged in the conversation about whether the Gospel of Matthew should be read as a text from within Judaism (intra muros) or from outside of Judaism (extra muros). Runesson argues, along with the current majority of scholars, that the Matthean account comes from within Judaism. But that argument requires a great deal of methodological, historical, and theological nuance. The Matthean account is a complicated text arising in a complicated time.

I would commend to you a brief YouTube video where Runesson outlines what it means to talk about a “Within Judaism” perspective. While these comments are part of a symposium on the Gospel of John as a “within Judaism” document, his comments can serve us well in our study and interpretation.

The video is under four minutes, and you can watch it here. I’ll also take some time summarize his talk and see where it impacts our current conversation. He makes four points.

1. If we are to be fair to an ancient text, we need to treat it as we would an archaeological dig. We need to examine and remove the most recent layers first and keep them in mind as we dig into deeper and earlier layers. As we know (but don’t always practice), we can’t be faithful to a text if we pretend that that there’s no distance between the here and now and the real world of the Matthean author and text.

2. When we ask whether a text such as the Matthean account was “within Judaism,” we can’t do that based on assumptions that fit with current Christianity. Nor can we assume that ancient Judaism is identical to or even consistent with contemporary Judaism. If we ask our questions based on contemporary Christianity or Judaism, Runesson argues, then the New Testament texts are neither Christian nor Jewish (my emphasis). Read that final statement with the caveat included. But take it seriously.

3. The New Testament texts fit very well into the Second Temple scene of the first century “where we find neither Christians nor rabbis.” One way to understand these texts is to study and understand the institutions in which these texts arose. That is, we can read the New Testament texts as evidence of how those institutions worked.

The institutions in question, Runesson says, are ancient synagogues. These synagogues are manifestations of ancient agreements and understandings. He says that it is nearly impossible to speak about ancient “Judaism” without considering these institutions, the synagogues. We dare not confuse these ancient institutions with their modern counterparts. More on this below.

4. It is not enough to limit our study of the text to their “inception history” (that is, how the texts came about). It is also necessary to study and know their “reception history” (that is, how we have used these texts down the years and the way those layers of usage shape our current interpretation).

Instead of reading the Matthean text along a Christian vs. Jewish binary, we need to allow the text to be what it is. As Runesson notes, in the first century following the destruction of Jerusalem, the Jesus movement was expressed in multiple “within Judaism” ways, of which the Matthean text is one example. In addition, there were expressions (still within Judaism) designed specifically for Gentile Jesus followers.

With those points in mind, I want to review briefly Runesson’s work on the institutions he mentions in #3. I would very much like to read his technical work, but as a poor, retired preacher, I can’t afford those academic tomes. That being said, we can access his 2014 article on synagogues in the Gospel of Matthew through Google Scholar. This is important both for interpreting especially Matthew 9:35 and then for our understanding of the apostolic commission in Matthew 10.

“And Jesus went about all the cities and the villages,” we read in Matthew 9:35, “teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming The Good News of the Kingdom and healing all illnesses and all infirmities.” Runesson argues that these synagogues were public municipal institutions, “a religio-political city hall of sorts” (page 9). These were places where civic business was done by all in the village or city. And they were places where Torah was read, taught and debated on the Sabbath.

Runesson calls this “the public synagogue.” These are the locations mentioned in Matthew 9:35 and elsewhere. These are the places where Jesus taught, healed, and tossed out the demons. “In these public synagogues,” Runesson writes, “decisions were made regarding all things local; archives were kept there, judicial proceedings took place there, and since, in antiquity, people did not distinguish between the secular and the religious, the Torah was read and discussed publicly on Sabbaths” (page 10).

In addition, there were “association synagogues.” These were, Runesson suggests, analogous to the Greco-Roman collegia. They might focus around occupations, ethnic groups, educational activities, or religious commitments. These groups had their own practices and rules. They maintained membership standards and enforced those standards. Runesson suggests that the Qumran community could be seen as a closed associational synagogue. Other such Jewish associations were typically somewhat more open.

The real problem is that numerous words were used to describe these associational synagogues – including the words we would translate as “synagogue” and “church” (ekklesia). In the Matthean account, the word we translate as “synagogue” refers to the public synagogues. The word we translate as “church” refers (three times) to an associational synagogue. It is only a few centuries later that the words part company as Jewish and Christian labels.

In the Matthean account, Runesson argues, the public synagogues function as “eschatological battlefields.” Jesus enters these institutions and engages in debate over Torah interpretation and teaching. Runesson puts it thus:

“The Matthean Jesus and his disciples…are campaigning across the land in public institutions and elsewhere, clearly aiming at setting in motion a mass movement to save Israel, or, more precisely, to rescue ‘the lost sheep of the House of Israel,’ i.e., the people they perceived of as abused and abandoned by their leaders (Matt. 9:36)” (page 14).

That’s what happens in the public synagogues. And it is precisely what is reported in Matthew 9:35. Jesus is teaching in their synagogues. Jesus is proclaiming the Good News – the announcement that a new regime is launching. It is the Good of News of THE Kingdom. As Runesson notes, “it is impossible to ignore the political implications of this ‘kingdom talk’…” (page 14). Jesus is not talking about any other kingdom. Rather this is The One and Only Kingdom – the Kingdom of God.

Then we have the Matthean ekklesia, mentioned in Matthew 16 and 18. This is the associational synagogue of the Matthean Jesus followers. This institution, Runesson argues, “represents the model for what Jewish communal life should be as people prepare for the final judgment and the full realization of the kingdom that will follow” (page 15-16).

The Matthean Jesus followers gather to form and administer their communal life. They engage in practices distinctive to that way of life. And in the end, this association synagogue becomes the Matthean successor to the Jerusalem temple, hopelessly defiled by the faithless rulers who murder Jesus. “An important function of the ekklesia,” Runesson writes, “is to provide access to a ‘space’ where the divine may be approached once the temple has become defiled” (page 18).

Please read the article for a full description of this assertion. The Matthean association synagogue is the place where repentance and forgiveness, compassion and care, sustain a people who can be holy, pure, and “perfect” in the ways that really matter. They are the people who get what it means to desire mercy more than sacrifice. This is the righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees.

With all that in mind, Runesson argues that the Matthean account is a “within Judaism” text. In fact, he argues more strongly that it is a Jewish text. To call the account a “Christian” text is perhaps a misnomer. “A historical reading of Matthew’s Gospel should lead to, in my opinion,” Runesson writes, “designating this text as a first-century Jewish text, regardless of its later reception; after all, few would call the texts included in the Hebrew Bible ‘Christian’ despite the fact that they were appropriated by Christianity and made it into the Christian canon” (page 21).

The Matthean account makes sense in its original setting. It becomes harder to accommodate in later Christian settings. This is not a commentary on the status of the text in the Christian canon. It is, rather, a limit on the ways in which we Christians are allowed to read the text and read into the text. “We must resist, as historians,” Runesson concludes, “the temptation to colonize the past with our own perspectives which in the end can do little more than serve our own identity needs.”

Well, that sets a preacher back a bit, eh?

Text Study for Matthew 9:18-35 (Part Three)

Pushbacks and Ponderings

9:21-22            Malina and Rohrbaugh argue that the woman would be regarded as ritually unclean and constantly so. “Matthew avoids any mention of the woman touching Jesus,” they observe. “Jesus seems to know what she is thinking and therefore avoids touching which might raise questions of impropriety arising from violating the boundaries of the body” (Social Science Commentary on the Synoptics, page 84).

Point taken on the absence of any direct mention of Jesus touching the woman. However, anything beyond that seems to be an argument from silence where the theory drives the data rather than the other way around. There is no indication that Jesus knows what the woman is thinking. When that is the case, the Matthean author is quite capable of pointing that out.

Amy-Jill Levine has noted in several places that the source of the woman’s bleeding is not specified. As she notes, it could be coming from her head or her feet. Warren Carter notes that the word used here “is not limited to menstruation or vaginal discharge; it includes any bleeding” (Matthew and the Margins, page 225).

We don’t know the source of the bleeding, and we shouldn’t assume that we do. To do so, Levine argues, is to engage in bad exegesis, bad history, bad theology, and bad faith. I will share some of Levine’s arguments here.

The topic of uncleanness does come up in the text. Carter affirms this observation in his comments. The Matthean author has no trouble mentioning or implying uncleanness when the topic is germane. The real focus, according to Carter, is the length of her suffering. This time reflects the intractability of her condition.

 In addition, it is not at all clear from the historical record that Jewish communities of the time prohibited a menstruating woman from social contact. Levine quotes Shaye Cohen in this regard: the “Gospel story about the women with a twelve-year discharge…does not give any indication that the woman was impure or suffered from any degree of isolation as a result of her affliction” (page 108).

Levine notes that Jesus does not touch the woman. Rather, she touches him. I’m not sure if that’s a distinction that makes a difference, but Levine does. Her theological point is that throughout Matthew 8 and 9, Jesus is portrayed as fulfilling the ritual law rather than abrogating it. Jesus heals the sick and fulfills Torah.

Cohen supports Levine’s contention that traditional interpretations of the bleeding woman are bad history. He surveys the legal background of the purity rules regarding such bleeding in the Tanakh and issues this conclusion. “In sum, the belief that a menstruant poses a danger to those around her appears in Jewish sources for the first in the sixth or seventh century C.E. Its emergence and acceptance then,” Cohen continues, “may be the result either of outside influence (whether Christian or Islamic) or of new perceptions of women within Jewish society” (page 281).

As I study the text, I am rethinking where this section actually ends. For two reasons I now believe the section ends with Matthew 9:35 rather than with the preceding verse. My critical Greek text shows verse 35 as the beginning of a section entitled “The Compassion of Jesus,” which runs through verse 38. The NRSV labels the same section with the title, “The Harvest is Great, the Laborers Few.”

It’s easy to be swayed by these divisions in such authoritative texts. However, I find that they are as much hindrance many times as they are help. It seems clear to me for two reasons that Matthew 9:35 serves as a conclusion to the preceding verses rather than an introduction to the succeeding verses.

First, it now seems obvious to me that this verse is a sort of inclusio with Matthew 8:17. That verse contains the quotation from Isaiah 53 (LXX). The first round of healings in Matthew 8 (and the stilling of the storm are said to “fulfill” the word of the prophet Isaiah: “This one has taken our infirmities and born our diseases.” In Matthew 9:35, at the end of this cycle of ten healing stories, we hear that Jesus was healing all their diseases and all ailments. That latter word has the same sense of “weakness” as does the word in 8:17.

Therefore, it seems clear that this is a conclusion to the “action” section in chapters eight and nine. With that, we can move on to the Discipleship Discourse in chapter 10. Matthew 9:36-38 provides the perfect preface to that discourse. The Lord of the harvest will go about the business of training up and providing the workers.

Secondly, I see a rhetorical signal that distinguishes these verses. Matthew 9:35 begins with “and” (kai). Verse 36 begins with a “de.” The additive conjunction makes more sense being connected to the preceding. The adversative in verse 36 is often a oral marker that there is a change in rhetorical direction or something being said that is unexpected.

When we read the context closely, I would argue that this division makes good rhetorical sense. First, we read that Jesus was responding to all with good news and healing. The result of that should be well-being and hopefulness. Then we hear about the crowds that are still harried and helpless. That doesn’t fit with the previous rosy summary. It’s a change of course.

In addition, the separation makes narrative sense. The summary in verse thirty-five is enough to leave one exhausted simply from reading it. Jesus goes around to all the cities and villages in the region. He teaches in (all) their synagogues. He preaches the good news of the kingdom. He heals all the diseases and infirmities. After such a ministry marathon Jesus determined that he needed more help!

Separating the two verses helps to make better sense of each of them. So, I’m adding verse thirty-five to my reading from Matthew this week.

In addition, as Robert Smith notes, this summary is nearly identical to the words we find Matthew 4:23. Just as that paragraph serves as a conclusion to the Matthean prologue, so Matthew 9:35 serves as a conclusion to the broad sweep from the Sermon on the Mount to the turn toward Jerusalem. While the Matthean account doesn’t have the Lukan “Journey to Jerusalem,” I think we can see the same decisive turn happening here between Matthew 9:35 and 36.

As I noted in a previous post, I’ve wondered about the “Take heart!” exclamations by Jesus in this section of Matthew. He addresses the paralytic as his (male) child. He addresses the bleeding woman as his daughter. It strikes me that the Matthean author wants us to see Jesus as caring for these two as human parents care for their children. We don’t have to look far for examples.

We have the ruler whose daughter has died. Even though he tells Jesus she has come to her end, he will not give up on her without one last-ditch effort at restoration. This is an illustration of what it means to love a daughter. Robert Smith writes that Jesus “viewed the woman the way the ruler viewed his child” (Matthew – ACNT, page 141). And thus Jesus, when he calls the woman “daughter,” claims that sort of love for himself.

In like manner, the centurion shows us what it looks like to love a male child/servant to the utmost. Jesus does the same. Addressing each of these characters with the same phrase tips us off to this rhetorical strategy on the part of the Matthean author. Through this wording, we are invited to look for and meditate on the similarities of these stories and Jesus’ involvement in them.

Text Study for Matthew 9:18-34, Part Two

“You’re Gonna Need a Bigger House”

Part two: Annotations Continued

9:29 – In the healing of the two blind men we have more touching. However, the Matthean author portrays a peculiarly passive Jesus at this point. I mean that literally since most of the verbs in this section are in the passive voice. The healing of the blind men happens “according to” their faith/trust. On the basis of that faith/trust Jesus says, “Let it happen to you.” That’s as “passive” as it gets.

Is this a reminder that the healing comes from God? That may be the case since we end this healing with the accusation that Jesus casts out demons by the power of the demons. Nonetheless, this is strikingly different from the tone Jesus adopts, for example, in the healing of the paralytic. There Jesus is clearly in charge, the actor, the one with the power both to forgive and to heal.

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9:30 – The parade of passives continues. The eyes of the blind men “are opened.” Is this a divine passive as well? That is certainly possible, and I think it is likely. But why?

Jesus commands the formerly blind men to “see to it.” Formerly blind men should see to it? That contrast could slip by us without a close reading. Is this humor on the part of the Matthean Jesus? Is it Matthean irony? In any case, it is worth observing, so to speak.

And let’s not forget how much agency the blind men have in this story. The agency is ratcheted up in each of these healing accounts. The blind men followed Jesus on their own with no apparent help from anyone. They cried out to him – probably repeatedly. The blind men pursued Jesus into house with no apparent assistance. They are the ones who trigger the healing based on their faith/trust. Once they are healed, they are in charge of regional rumor management. This is the only task in which they apparently fail!

I am puzzling over what all this agency in these stories means. But I think it’s important and could be worthy of homiletical attention.

9:31 – Rather than keep things to themselves, the blind men acclaimed Jesus in the whole land. The verb can be translated as “spread the news.” But it has “fame” as a part of its structure. This is more than news reporting. This is talking Jesus up as an honorable, powerful person. That acclaim is spread to “that whole land,” the same construction as we find in Matthew 9:26. The Matthean author wants to make it crystal clear that everyone was hearing about Jesus and hearing good things about him.

9:32-33 – More passives. This time a demon-possessed mute man is brought to Jesus. Jesus doesn’t throw out the demon. Instead, when the demon had been thrown out – another divine passive? Regardless, when that happened, the man began to speak.

The crowds reappear and have a different function. They are “amazed.” That’s always an ambiguous word. It can be positive. It can mean that people are astonished in a good way. It can also mean that people are unpleasantly surprised by something. It seems that the crowd has a positive response, but we can’t be certain of that.

“Never before has something like this appeared in Israel!” the crowd declares. That’s a peculiarly ambiguous response. First, there’s another passive. So, this could be an acknowledgement that God is indeed at work in these healings. We can find our way back to a previous pronouncement by the crowd in Matthew 9:8. “But when the crowds saw [the healing of the paralytic], they became frightened and glorified God who gave this sort of authority to human beings.” Attributing the healing to God is clearer in verse eight than here.

In addition, we can take the crowd’s amazement as a mixture of fear and appreciation in our current story. And the statement of the crowd reflects that God has done this great act. As a result, the crowd exercises appropriate reticence in naming God too obviously as the actor. The use of such passives certainly identifies the Matthean author as a careful Jewish theologian and writer.

That being said, it’s not clear if the crowd approves of Jesus’ actions or not. “We’ve never seen anything like this before.” That can be a statement of approval. Or it can be a criticism (“We’ve never done it that way before”). The Pharisees in this story don’t dispute the crowd’s assessment. However, they identify a reason why such a thing is happening.

9:34 – I think we should translate another “iterative imperfect” here. The Pharisees kept on asserting their accusation. Jesus doesn’t answer the charge at this point in the Matthean account. The charge will surface again in chapter 12 when Jesus heals a man who is both blind and mute.

It is apparently assumed in that story that the man is demon-possessed. Other connections to our current story are obvious. All the crowds were “amazed.” But the word is different in chapter 12. The verb has a clearer sense that the crowds are disoriented and destabilized by Jesus’ actions. They are confused and in danger of losing their senses. Jesus continues to shake things up.

The crowds wonder what the blind men had proclaimed. “Might this one be the Son of David?” The blind men had called out to Jesus as “the Son of David.” And he did nothing to correct them.

In any event, we hear the drumbeat of accusation beginning in our text. It will come to full force in chapter 12. So, keep that in mind.

I have a number of additional wonderings regarding the context and intratextual connections and contrasts.

The Matthean author certainly wants us to link these stories to one another in specific ways. As we’ve seen, we can make a connection between the reaction of the crowd in Matthew 9:8 and the reaction in Matthew 9:33. That reaction is always receptive but mixed.

Does this speak to the situation of the Matthean churches – surrounded by folks who are intrigued by Jesus but also hesitant? I think it certainly speaks to circumstances of American congregations, surrounded by more and more “nones.” Some of the “nones” have no interest in Jesus and his church. But some do.

This response could certainly be incorporated into a message that encourages a congregation to take heart and keep bringing the Easter good news to a world that often seems hostile to that message.

 Jesus’ response to the crowds is described in the next paragraph (Matthew 9:35-38). The mixed response of the crowds makes sense in light of the description there. They are “harried and helpless, like sheep who are without a shepherd” (9:36). They are chased by predators with no means of defense. When someone offers to lead them, the mixed response of hope and fear seems reasonable.

There is something about the stories of eating with tax collectors and sinners and the healing of the blind men that bespeaks a connection. Both stories mention “mercy.” When a Sermon on the Mount idea shows up in a Matthean reading, we should pay attention. “Fortunate are those who give mercy, for to them mercy shall be given” (Matthew 5:7).

Jesus apparently gives mercy to the tax collectors and sinners. The blind men ask for mercy and receive it. I am reflecting on what the nature of that connection and comparison is.

I noted previously how often Jesus heals by touch in this section of the Matthean account. The one exception to that method is when Jesus interacts with the demon-possessed. Note the language in Matthew 8:16 – “But when it was evening, they brought to him many who were demon-possessed, and he threw out the spirits by means of a word…”

I thought that might be a casual observation, but now I’m not so sure. When Jesus heals the demon-possessed mute man in 9:32-33, the absence of touch is notable in comparison to the other stories. I wonder if the Matthean author is making a comment on clean/unclean entities here. It is not disease (not even leprosy) that makes one unclean. Therefore, Jesus can heal all such people with a touch, or being touched, in the case of the woman.

But when it comes to demon-possession, that does in fact render the person unclean. Therefore, Jesus heals with a word rather than with touch. It’s not the case that the clean/unclean distinction is irrelevant. Rather, Jesus draws the boundaries in a radically different way. Jesus, the Matthean author reminds us, comes to fulfill Torah, not to abolish it.

In addition, it would seem that Jesus wants to redraw the boundaries of “the house of Israel.” As I write that phrase, I have a small flash of inspiration. Perhaps this is the answer to the question of why so many of these healings happen “in the house.” Those in need of healing come into a house or are brought into a house by Jesus. This is even more powerful if the house in question belongs to Jesus. I suspect this has already occurred to you, but I’m catching up.

Jesus says in the Matthean account that he has come for “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Those in need of healing are certainly among the lost sheep. Jesus brings them back into the house of Israel as he heals them. He is redrawing the boundaries of insider and outsider. Perhaps this is a call to the Matthean community and to us always to be about the same business. I’m thinking that one possible sermon title this week might be, “You’re Gonna Need a Bigger House” (with apologies to the movie, Jaws).

More in the next post…

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.”

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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…