Posts Tagged ‘desperate faith’

Matthew 9:18-26
Jesus, Interrupted

Many times in the Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is interrupted from what he is doing at a given moment. The world outside his focus at that particular moment crashes in. Those that do this “crashing in” are typically ones who need Jesus’ help the most and are willing to do anything to get to Him. Jesus goes into action at these requests.

In the book from which I appropriated the title of this message from, Girl, Interrupted, a 1993 best-selling book by Susanna Kaysen that later became an Oscar winning movie, we find that the central character struggles with the issue of freedom vs. captivity. The book is a memoir of the author about her life just before, during, and after her stay in a mental institution. Through parts of the book, she describes the trade-off between being a patient in a mental institution and being free in the conventional sense of the word. Though restricted by a complex set of rules she also describes how not being out in the real world sets her free from the expectations of parents and society when it comes to education and work. Though in captivity, she finds that she has more real freedom, freedom of the soul, than those who are free outside the hospital’s walls.

Isn’t that a sad commentary on modern society with all its expectations and rules of what we are supposed to be, how we are supposed to act – that one feels more freedom in captivity than being supposedly free out in the world.

That thought of people not being free in the real world got me to thinking about Jesus’ ministry as expressed here in these recent passages. Jesus came to free us from the heavy burden of the Law and how that came to be expressed in society. He came to say that I am the Messiah. He is joy of the good news of the New Covenant. He came to say it was the heart that matters not through keeping of ritualistic laws as a sign of one’s salvation. He came to give us the joy that can be found in recognizing that He is the Messiah.

In Matthew 9:18-26, we find the freedom several people felt when Matthew writes:

18 While he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” 19 And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples. 20 And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, 21 for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” 22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. 23 And when Jesus came to the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, 24 he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. 25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. 26 And the report of this went through all through that district.
In this passage, we see Jesus is interrupted twice. Actually, the second interruption occurs during the middle of the first interruption. But the key in all of this to me is that Jesus responds to faith. Through faith of believers that Jesus is the promised Messiah, our deliverer, we find grace. Through grace, we become free.

As we have seen throughout this gospel of Matthew, Matthew keeps the focus of every passage on the Messiahship of Jesus. His literary style is very minimalist compared to the other two historical gospels (or synoptic gospels as the scholars call them) of Mark and Luke. Whereas Mark and Luke tell the history of this same string of events in much more detail, Matthew takes great pains to keep the focus of his writing squarely on Jesus with no other details that would detract from that. Therefore, his perspective is to point a big neon arrow above Jesus’ head to his first century Jewish audience that “hey, this Jesus guy is THE GUY!” As we move through this passage, we see that Jesus is the Messiah – the Messiah that meets our needs, the Messiah that rewards our “all out” faith with “all out” effort on our behalf.

In the passage, we see a ruler come before Jesus and bow. Matthew does not identify what type of ruler he is as does Mark and Luke. Matthew again wants the focus to be on Jesus rather than who the ruler is. I also think that Matthew, by using a generic term, wants to emphasize what the ruler does rather than who he is. Mark indicates that the ruler is a ruler at the synagogue so he is some sort of religious leader at the local synagogue. Jewish leaders throughout the area were aware of Jesus and saw him as a threat as we have seen. So, for this leader from the synagogue to come and bow before Jesus was a major personal step and a major professional risk. He no longer cared that he was this local Jewish leader. He no longer cared about the wealth that came with it. His daughter was dead. He had heard of the miracles of Jesus. Word had spread. He threw caution to the wind. When he bowed before Jesus and asked for his help, it no longer mattered who he was. He was humbly presenting himself to the Son of God. The fact that he believed that Jesus could raise his daughter from the dead is evidence that he saw himself helpless before God’s own Son. He was casting his cares at Jesus’ feet. Matthew effectively gets this point across by not giving the man’s title. He was just a helpless man expressing his faith in the power of Jesus. His title doesn’t mean a thing in this situation. The man knows this and that is why he is here begging for his daughter’s life to the only one on earth who can do anything about it. When we fall before his feet not caring about who we are, what we are, and what others think, Jesus sees humble faith. His wealth and status set him in stark contrast to the ailing woman we will discuss next in the story, but his grief has reduced him to the same position of dependence on Jesus. Often it takes drastic circumstances for us to realize that we are not “all that.” We go through most of our lives thinking that we have this thing all figured out and do not need God’s help. Sometimes, God uses our circumstances in life to demonstrate to us that we are not in control and that we do, indeed, need Him. In this scene, we see a man who is made desperate by his circumstances. Desperate enough to humble himself from his worldly position of wealth and power and bow before Jesus Christ. He admits his inadequacy before the King of Kings. Are you in that place, are you railing against your circumstances and blaming God or are you humbled by them and are finally seeing that only God can deliver?

The Messiah responds to this humble faith! Corpse-uncleanness was the most serious uncleanness anyone could contract, rendering a person unclean for seven days (Numbers 19:11). Because others could have thought that touching the girl would render him unclean, Jesus showed his exceptional kindness and willingness to get involved by taking the girl’s hand when he raised her up. Jesus responds to full-on faith by getting dirty and meeting a need in response to real faith. Jesus will meet us where we are. He will get dirty to save us. Do you feel as though you are too far gone for those people at church? Do you think that you cannot darken the door of your church because you have made your life so filthy that it cannot be made right? Well, you might be right in many churches. However, Jesus is not about appearances. Jesus is not about what you have done no matter what it is. He is about a humble heart of faith. He can redeem the worst and the dirtiest and make it clean and new.

In the midst of his first interruption, we meet a woman who interrupts him again. We find a woman who has had menstrual bleeding for twelve years. Because of this woman’s continual flow of blood, she was not permitted to move about in crowds; anyone she touched or whose cloak she touched became unclean. Abbreviating as he often does, Matthew omits Mark’s crowds (Mk 5:27) but retains the woman’s intention: she is so desperate that she will touch the teacher, knowing full well that this will make him unclean under the law (Lev 15:25-27). She would have been treated as lepers were treated. She would have been ostracized from society. She would have no husband. She would have had no job or possibility of earning income. She would been on the freaky fringe of society. She would be poor, destitute, and desperate.

Her condition is desperate both for medical reasons and because of its social consequences; her ostracism would extend even to her private life. Her ailment probably had kept her from marriage if it started at puberty, and almost surely would have led to divorce if it began after she was married (which would have been within a few years after puberty), since intercourse was prohibited under such circumstances (Lev 18:19) and childlessness normally led to divorce in 1st century Israel. Singleness is difficult for many people in Western society, but to be a woman who was not marketable to be wed in first-century Jewish Palestine must have often been terrifying. The stigma of childlessness, the pain of feeling “left over” and the dilemma of being unable to earn an income yet having neither husband nor children for long-term support would have made this woman’s condition seem almost unbearable. Yet her desperation also begets confidence that Jesus is an absolutely certain source of her healing. Desperation has driven many of us to a faith that refuses to be deterred. This woman was undoubtedly more desperate than most of us have been, and she pressed her way to Jesus with the determination of faith, regardless of the consequences.

Jesus acknowledged her act as an act of faith. He demonstrated by saying that your faith has healed you that it by God’s power and not automatic magic of a touch. By not rebuking her for touching him, he was in effect saying that he was unashamed to be identified with her uncleanness. In the times of our deepest pain, we are open and teachable. In our times of greatest desperation, it then that we are willing to do whatever it takes to reach the garment of Jesus. Just as Joe Montana and the 49ers of the 80’s were desperate for victory with their many come from behind at the last minute victories, so sometimes are we. We are open to full-on faith in Jesus as our Messiah. In response, Jesus does not rebuke us for not observing the law as we should. He gets dirty with us. He got dirty for us. Jesus accepts us when we rebuke the worldly and come humbly before him. Is there not complete freedom in that? It is when we care what the world thinks that we lose access to the real freedom that Jesus offers. When let the world determine who and what we are, we become slaves to our titles and positions. When we let the world determine who and what we are, we allow others to cut us off from the world. People are so often caught up in appearances and labels that they write off those who do not meet those standards. Jesus does not care about your labels. He cares about your soul. When people care about status, we marginalize people who can’t make the cut. We write off people whose circumstances have forced them to be where they are. How many people who are desperately poor or homeless decided one day that they wanted to be poor and homeless. Yet, we avoid them as if they have a disease. Sometimes, the unfairness of a fallen world will cause us to fall into desperate straits in life. Sometimes, our poor choices do too. But, do we write people off because they do not live in the same standard of living that we do. Sometimes, we use labels to write people off just so we do not have to get our hands dirty and help them.

No wonder in Girl Interrupted, the main character found comfort and a sense of freedom from what the world thought she should be when she was in the mental institution. Inside the hospital, there was no condemnation for being “a little off!” Inside the asylum, she was not defined by the customs of the day. She was not marginalized. She was accepted by the other “a little off” people for who she was.

In Jesus, we find that the Messiah does the same thing, he accepts us for who we are when we come humbly before him. He does not care about pretenses. He does not care what the world wants us to be. When we come to him in complete full-on faith, he will get down in the dirt with us. He will ease our pain. When the world pushes us aside, he accepts us. When we realize that all of our worldly titles and wealth mean nothing and bow before him, when we reach out in faith and touch his garment, we are ready for the miracles that Jesus has in store for our lives. When we are ready to live inside His hospital in and accept the freedom of staying there, then we are no longer slaves to the world outside. When we see that freedom, Jesus brings miracles to our lives.

Jesus was interrupted by their faith. Jesus responded to their faith. Jesus set them free once they no longer cared about what society thought and humbled themselves before God in the flesh, Jesus Christ. Are you desperate enough to cast convention to the wind, to cast you own pride to the wind, and bow before Jesus and seek the power that He only has. Now is the time. Come to Jesus. Interrupt Him. Beg Him to heal you. He will respond to your act of faith. Jesus, Interrupted. Lives changed forever.