Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Two Blind Men & The Burden of Israel

And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him, crying aloud, "Have mercy on us, Son of David!" When he entered the house, the blind men came near him, and Jesus said to them, "Do you believe that I am able to do this?" They said to him, "Yes, Lord!"  Then he touched their eyes, saying, "According to the faith of you both, for you both it is done." And their eyes had opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, "See that no one knows about it." But they went away and spread his fame through all that district.  (Matt. 9:27-31)
Throughout chapters eight and nine of Matthew's gospel, numerous miracles have taken place, and now we have finally arrived at one of the last two. At first glance this story might seem very ordinary, perhaps even bland because of its fast pace, but there is actually a lot packed into it, especially if this narrative is viewed in light of where and when it began (back in chapter eight).

In this brief narrative we learn that Jesus "passed on from there." We might then ask, from where?  Well, in context, Jesus has "passed on" from the Jewish "ruler's" house where Jesus had just performed a miracle. But more importantly, keep in mind the location from which Jesus had left in the first place. Keep in mind that immediately before Jesus followed the ruler to his house, Jesus had just left Matthew's house where a great feast was being held, and where Jesus was the honored guest. Now, in this brief narrative, we find Jesus leaving the ruler's house (presumably to return to Matthew's house) and immediately he's followed by blind men. This is somewhat ironic because Jesus had just left a place where the people were ridiculing him -- a place where faith in him was apparently minimal, if there was any faith to be found at all. Yet from what Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell us, the people who ridiculed him could see clearly that the ruler's daughter was dead, which is why they ridiculed him.  And here we find blind men following after Jesus because apparently they see more clearly than anyone else at the ruler's house! 

But not only are these men blind, two of them are mentioned explicitly. The last time "two" of anything were mentioned was with the two demonic-oppressors on the other side of the Sea, in Gentile territory (Matt. 8:28), where the people rejected Jesus. But this mention of two men seems to be more than just a random, arbitrary fact. As Jesus returns from the "ruler's" house, these two men "cry aloud" to him as well. At this point, Matthew is striking a cord in the ears of those listening carefully to his gospel.

Can you remember the last time someone "cried out" to Jesus?

The last time that someone "cried aloud" to Jesus was, again, the two demonic oppressors on the other side of the Sea, in Gentile territory, where the people rejected Jesus for casting out demons. Matthew 8:28-29 describes part of that event:

And when he came to the other side [of the Sea of Galilee], ...two demonic-oppressors met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they  cried out (krazo), "What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?"
Just a couple verses before this brief encounter with the two blind men (Matt. 9:27-31) Jesus is pictured as leaving the ruler's house where a demonic spirit of ridicule is found (8:24), and because the people didn't even have enough faith to believe Jesus was making an elementary truth claim -- namely that the ruler's daughter was asleep, not dead -- Jesus didn't feel very welcome around that crowd for very long. And it's with that scenario in mind that we find Jesus returning back to the place from which he traveled, namely Matthew's house, and two blind men cry aloud (krazo) like the demons on the other side of the Sea; except this time, instead of attempting to flee away from Jesus, saying "What have you to do with us, O Son of God?" these two men are trying to draw near to Jesus, and to get his attention by shouting, "Have mercy on us, Son of David!" The vibe we should be getting from this brief encounter is that these two blind men might possibly be just as insincere and unfaithful as the crowd which just ridiculed Jesus. After all, these blind men were probably part of that crowd. But yet, considering all the other circumstances, these two blind men stand out as seeing what others in the crowd were unable to see, namely that Jesus was The King, the promised Messiah.

There also is a sense in which we learn these two blind men aren't very discerning. After all, they are making a very vocal display of their belief in his Kingly authority, and that probably was not something Jesus was as enthusiastic about vocalizing around the ruler's house. Just stop for a few moments to reflect on that possibility. When Jesus drew near to the ruler's house (i.e. the ruler of a synagogue), Jesus was very cautious about what he said and did. In Matthew's account, Jesus didn't make an ostentatious display of his power. He didn't even make any public promises. He simply saw all the flute players going through their professional routine, and that was enough evidence for him to draw as little attention as possible to his miraculous power and divine authority. He told everyone that the girl was asleep, not dead. And still, the crowds ridiculed him. But that didn't stop him from doing what he came to do. He walked into the ruler's house anyway, grabbed his daughter by the hand, and she rose from her previous state of unconsciousness. No other words are spoken; no ostentatious display of authority; just a quick, in-and-out encounter, and back to Matthew's house he goes. Yet these two blind men don't care that Jesus has just been ridiculed. These two blind men hear all of the commotion and they conclude that Jesus is indeed the King of kings -- the Messiah.  And so, while others stand in shock of what they just saw, these two blind men feel the urge to proclaim him as God's anointed One, even though they didn't see a thing!

From this point on, the story gets even more interesting. Now we have arrived at the point where we might expect Jesus to do something great in response to their "crying aloud." If we suspect their faith is indeed false, we might expect Jesus to rebuke them or to ask them to stop making a big scene. If we suspect their faith is great, we might expect Jesus to respond by healing them on the spot, just as he had done with the suffering woman in the previous narrative. But instead of responding to their cries, we find perplexing silence from Jesus. Jesus just keeps on walking without speaking a word. And it's not until Jesus returns to "the house" from which he left earlier (i.e. "the house" in which Matthew threw a feast for Jesus earlier that day; Matt. 9:10) that we find Jesus saying some thing to these blind men. Not only do these two blind men believe Jesus is the Messianic King -- which was a huge claim to be making publicly in those days -- but their faith carries them all the way back to Matthew's house! Remember, these men were blind, not deaf!

But this is not all. There are still a few subtleties which need to be drawn out in order to appreciate the depth of Matthew's narrative. Not only do these men follow Jesus back to Matthew's house (c.f. Matt. 9:10 & 9:28), but when they finally do enter his home, the first thing they do is "come near" him. In Greek, this word is proserchomai, which means to come or go toward something. It's the same verb used to describe the suffering woman in Matthew's house who "came near" behind Jesus and touched the tassel of his garments as he was leaving to heal the ruler's daughter. Here again in Matthew's house, the two blind men come near to Jesus, echoing the great faith of the woman who suffered for twelves years.

...and Jesus said to them, "Do you believe that I am able to do this?"
Now I don't know about you, but when I first read this, I got the impression that Jesus was still a bit skeptical about their sincerity. And if he wasn't skeptical (which might just be my own perception of Matthew's narrative), he was at least testing their commitment to their very own claims about his divinity. Notice carefully that Jesus doesn't simply heal them after they draw near. Instead, Jesus asks them about their belief in his ability. He asks, "Do you believe I am able to do this?  Again, we find an echo from a previous encounter with Jesus. At the very beginning of this ongoing series of miracles, Jesus is confronted by a leper who tells Jesus, "Lord, if you will, you are able to make me clean." Then Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, "I will. Be cleansed!" (Matt. 8:2-3). Here, towards the end of this ongoing series of miracles, we find a faith which Jesus seems skeptical about. Instead of presuming that they have come near to him because they believe he can do this, he asks if they believe he can do this. What the leper stated boldly at the outset of this larger narrative, Jesus wants to ensure is the case with these blind men. 

But sill, we might ask, what ability is he asking them to believe in? In other words, believe in what? So far, the only thing which the blind men have been crying out for Jesus to do is to show mercy on them. But what does the mercy they're interested in look like? Does Matthew assume some connection between the leper's belief in cleansing ability, or are we supposed to make a connection between something else? Perhaps Matthew writes it this way to have us question their faith, thereby making a connection between their need for true faith and Jesus' ability to provide it for them. There isn't any way to be sure what the exact idea was that Matthew had in mind. Perhaps it was all three abilities: the ability to cleanse, increase faith, and heal. Perhaps.

My own personal opinion is that within the immediate context of Matthew's narrative, mercy is most likely what Jesus had in mind when he asked them about their belief in his ability. In other words, Jesus asks them if they believe he is able to show mercy in tangible, practical ways (like cleansing and healing). After all, it was within Matthew's house that Jesus teaches God's desire for mercy, not sacrifice (9:13). And when the ruler of the synagogue came and knelt before Jesus, interrupting the feast, Jesus rose and followed him because God desires mercy, not sacrifice. When the unclean woman clung to the tassel of his garment to get his attention as he was leaving, Jesus stopped, turned around, and healed her because God desires mercy, not sacrifice. And when Jesus arrived at the ruler's house, only to find crowds who would sooner ridicule him than believe simple truths, he went into the house anyway to raise the girl to life again because God desires mercy, not sacrifice. Now, after returning to Matthew's house, these two blind men come near to him in faith, and instead of showing mercy immediately, Jesus asks them if they believe he is able to show mercy. How else would Jesus know they believe in his ability, other than to ask a simple question? After all, how would they have known Jesus healed the ruler's daughter? They didn't see Jesus heal anyone! They're blind! They can't see anything. The only evidence they had to "see" concerning Jesus' divine authority were the mixed opinions of crowds who ridiculed and gossiped about him. Yet still, they believed, and so even when they're confronted with Jesus' question, they answer unhesitatingly with an affirmative "Yes, Lord!"

Jesus therefore aptly responds with more than mere words. He responds with a "touch." This touch is the same action with which the suffering woman came near to Jesus for receiving life again (9:20), and it's also the same action which Jesus chose to use when cleansing the leper at the very beginning of this larger narrative (8:3). Then Jesus says:

"According to the faith of you both, for you both it is done." And their eyes had opened.
As I picture this historical event in my mind, I imagine Jesus reaching one hand out to each blind man, with his fingers resting upon their eyelids, and at the very moment when Jesus said the words "according to the faith of you both..." they knew the Son of God -- not just the Son of David -- was showing mercy upon them. They knew God himself was laying his hand upon them. They knew that the person they followed all the way back to Matthew's house was the living and true God who had come to show mercy upon the people of Israel. If this was indeed the case, what a tremendous faith!

But then the story makes a surprising shift again. After their eyes had opened, we find that Jesus "sternly warned them." This is not what one might expect to receive after traveling blindly from such a distance, and being drilled for an expression of sincere faith. Interestingly, in the original Greek text, the word translated as "sternly warned" denotes Jesus' indignation, giving the very clear impression that Jesus was scolding them. But because there isn't anything within the surrounding narrative to warrant indignation or scolding, "sternly warned" is probably a better way of smoothing over the connotations of Jesus' feelings toward them. The connotation of a stern warning is considerable caution, and even fatigue, which might be the reason why Matthew describes Jesus as warning so frankly and abruptly. And if his fatigue was truly an aspect of the caution Matthew is depicting, Matthew is finally coming around full circle in his depiction of Jesus the suffering servant (as quoted earlier in Matt. 8:17). 

Let us reconsider something I mentioned earlier in this post, namely that Jesus is not interested at all in ostentatious displays of power and authority. Jesus doesn't go around healing and working miracles to showboat his divine skills. He doesn't walk around touting how marvelously powerful he is, or how magnificent his display of Kingly authority can be. Even from the beginning of chapter eight, with the first miraculous account of healing a leper, we learned that Jesus cleansed him because the man was coming to him, and yet Jesus told him, "See that you say nothing to anyone..." (Matt. 8:4).  By the end of the third miracle -- and what appears to be the evening of that same day -- we learn that many Israelites were flocking to Jesus for healing. Nowhere does Matthew leave us with an impression that Jesus was advertising his power. As time moved on, more and more people within Israel recognized that he truly was unique among men. He cared for and healed the people of Israel, not because he gained more and more popularity from it, but because he loved them; that was the calling of the Messiah. After the third miracle (Matt. 8:16-17), we learn that:

That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: "He took our illnesses and bore our diseases."
By the end of chapter nine, after a continual series of miracles and an increase of popularity throughout Israel, Jesus seems exhausted; Jesus seems burdened. And if we are reading this miracle with the two blind men within the larger context of chapters 8 & 9, the reason why Jesus probably didn't respond to the cries of these two blind men was because of the weight of the burdens he had already been carrying. Jesus is the God-man, but he is still human. He still needs rest. He needs practical help from others too. He can't do everything, all by himself, for ever. And yet throughout chapters 8 & 9, Matthew depicts the ministry of Jesus as though there is little-to-no rest for his head (8:20). So far, the only rest we find Jesus taking is in the bottom deck of a boat, and he's in such a deep sleep that he doesn't even know there's a storm so great outside that it's about to sink the boat! It's as though, no matter where Jesus goes, there's always something to be done and therefore some rest to be interrupted. And when Jesus gets back to land, there's always someone new who wants to follow him, or someone new who needs healing from him. Day after day, night after night, the burden increases. Yet Jesus doesn't stop showing compassion. Jesus continues to bear the burden no matter how little the sleep or how great the increase of burden. 

This unique account of ignoring, then questioning, then finally healing of these two blind men, followed by a stern warning, is designed to give us the clear impression that Jesus is burdened. And the final statement about their excitement, the statement that "they went away and spread his fame through all that district," should actually heighten our sense of the inescapable, unavoidable, and increasingly immense burden which Jesus had to bear for the people of Israel.  

Matthew's narrative, above all, makes clear that among all the people of Israel, especially among it's ruler's, Jesus alone truly carried Israel's burdens, taking upon himself their illnesses and diseases. Little did they know, at that time, that not only would Jesus carry their diseases, but he would be the only one willing carry all of their sins as well. This wilderness stage of Jesus' ministry is only the beginning of a burdened ministry, the destination of which is a crown of thorns and a cross with a sign affixed above it, saying, "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews."

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Salvation from death, part 3

...While he was saying these things to them, behold! one of the rulers came in and knelt before him, saying, "My daughter has died just now! Nevertheless, come place your hand upon her, and she will live." And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples. And behold! a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came near behind him and caught hold of the tassel of his garment, for she said to herself, "If only I just catch hold of his garment, I will be saved." Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, "Have courage, daughter! Your faith has saved you." And the woman was saved from that very moment. And when Jesus came to the ruler's house and saw the flute players and the crowd causing a disturbance, he said, "Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping." And they ridiculed him. But when the crowd had been cast out, he went in and grabbed hold of her by the hand; and the girl arose, and this news went out into all that district.  (Matthew 9:18-26)

As I mentioned in the previous post, salvation from death is the central focus of this narrative, and it's central character is a "daughter" of Israel (9:22) who had been suffering for twelve years because of a medical condition which made her ceremonially unclean according to Pharisaical standards of law. But before the arrival of this central character, Matthew began this miraculous narrative with a Jewish ruler interrupting table fellowship within his house. This ruler interrupted table-fellowship in order to tell Jesus about his dead daughter and his trust that if Jesus would only travel to his house to "place his hand upon her," her life would surely be restored. And to the amazement of everyone in the house, Jesus actually got up and followed this ruler to his house! It is only after the second interruption by the suffering "daughter" of Israel that Matthew tells us:

Jesus came to the ruler's house and saw the flute players and the crowd causing a disturbance, he said, "Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping." And they ridiculed him. But when the crowd had been cast out, he went in and grabbed hold of her by the hand; and the girl arose, and this news went out into all that district.

There are few things about the ending of Matthew's story which are very peculiar. First of all, Matthew's account of these events is much shorter than the gospels of Mark and Luke. Matthew's ending is merely four verses long, whereas Luke has expanded his ending to total nine verses, and Mark expanded his to ten verses in length. Therefore the endings of Mark and Luke are each more than double the length of Matthew's ending. Surely Matthew must have had a very different focus in mind when writing the details of his narrative. 

Secondarily, the description of people whom Matthew highlights at the ruler's house are very peculiar. In Mark and Luke, Jesus finally arrives at the ruler's house and he sees everyone mourning over the loss of the ruler's daughter. No specific description of people are mentioned as mourning because everyone is mourning. But in Matthew's story, he mentions two groups of people in sight: the "flute players" and "the crowd," and none of them are said to be mourning. In Matthew's account, there are no tears, no sorrow, and no weeping among the crowd. Instead, this
 nondescript "crowd" is described as "causing a disturbance," and nothing more is said about the way in which a disturbance was being caused. This disturbing crowd is simply a general reference to people who were already there at Matthew's house or had rushed ahead of Jesus as he followed the ruler to his house. But notice carefully that before Matthew mentions the very nondescript and general "crowd" of disturbance, he highlights a very descriptive group of people among the crowd, a group whom everyone recognized as flute players. This is interesting because the mention of "flute players" is unique to Matthew's account. There is no mention of flute players at all in Mark or Luke. Therefore it's reasonable to ask why Matthew goes out of his way to distinguish "flute players" among the rest of the crowd who are "causing a disturbance."  What would this have meant to Matthew's Jewish audience?  How would Jesus' audience have identified with these flute players?

I think the reason for this specific mention of flute players by name is because Matthew's Jewish audience would have been familiar with the common customs in Israel pertaining to the death of friends and family. Although this might sound strange to modern American and European customs, by the turn of the first century it was very common among the wealthier class of Jews to hire professional mourners upon the announcement of a deceased loved one; and these professional services included flute players. Commenting on this passage of Matthew's gospel, Craig Keener observes:

Mourning was of great importance, and because bodies decomposed rapidly, mourners gathered quickly. Women mourners (according to the rabbis: Jos. War. 3.437) were hired to display grief as ostentatiously as possible, and flutists normally accompanied them (11:17; Jos. War. 3437), as Matthew adds here.1

As one might imagine, the ostentatious profession of flute-playing could be viewed as a very insincere practice by many Jews, especially Jews who would have mourned out of the genuine sincerity of their own hearts and love toward their brethren. But such genuineness of heart and sympathy for the loss of loved ones is completely omitted from Matthew's account. Instead, Matthew portrays a crowd causing a "disturbance," while at the same time being accompanied by professional flute players that are paid to entertain the weeping friends and family. Instead of finding a scene where the righteous weep compassionately with other loved ones, Matthew gives the impression that the rabbinical traditions are interfering with the true healing that is needed. 

And this is an ironic twist of events because the story has begun with such an overwhelmingly positive account of faith by the Jewish ruler; and since his faith in Jesus was so great and so profound, we should expect to find another positive account of faith with someone at his house. But in fact, when we look carefully, sadly, we don't find any positive account of faith. We don't even find a repeated emphasis upon the ruler's faith as Jesus raises his daughter from death to life again! (And in fact, there really isn't any emphasis upon that miracle either!) This, I contend, is a very intriguing way to end such an emotionally charged and exciting narrative, and Matthew has done this intentionally. Matthew has structured this narrative so that at the point in which we expect to find something extraordinarily positive and faithful, we find the very opposite; we find an expression of piety which is surprisingly negative and faithless. And Jesus seems to have sensed this as well when he arrived at the ruler's house. Instead of telling the ruler or his wife or his disciples that he can raise the girl from death to life, the only thing that Matthew wants us to know is that Jesus was trying to avoid that kind of attention at the ruler's house. Instead of pronouncing his great power, he simply says: 

"Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping."

This statement is short, simple, and easy to believe. But immediately after Jesus speaks this way, any and all hopes we might have had for seeing another great testimony of faith, like the ruler or the suffering woman, get dashed to pieces. Immediately after Jesus tells them this simple, plausible statement -- that she's not actually dead, but instead is sleeping -- Matthew tells us that "they ridiculed him." Wow. Talk about a contrast of faith!  Jesus tells them something that is very easy to believe. He tells them that the girl is alive, not dead; she is sleeping, and all she needs to be is woken up. But the crowds think they know better than Jesus. They know what they're eyes have seen and what they're ears have heard. They understood that when professional flute players start playing some tunes, someone has died. And once someone has died for sure, there's no point in pretending it's only a deep sleep. And so, what we find in this ending of Matthew's narrative is a very clear portrait of faith, but it's not faith in Jesus; it's faith in their own traditions; it's faith in their own wisdom and experience; it's faith in their own ability to see and hear the truth. And interestingly, the following disciples who approach Jesus in faith are blind and deaf/mute (vv. 27, 32)!

Now let's take a few steps back and look at the entire picture of this brief narrative. Let's zoom out and compare the faith of this crowd, along with its flute players, with the faith of others in this story. Matthew begins this story with feasting and "reclining at table" with tax collectors and "sinners" (which was a snobbish Pharisaical label placed upon Jews who don't observe the Torah as strictly as the Pharisees). But Jesus stops feasting because he finally sees a "ruler" of Israel whose faith is tremendous. Jesus stops feasting in order to draw near to an unclean daughter of a faithful Jewish ruler. And as he is leaving the feast he finds another unclean "daughter" of Israel in great need already near to him. This woman draws near in trusting faith and full assurance that Jesus is the only ruler in Israel who can save. This woman, as well as the "ruler" of the synagogue, does not go to other well-known Jewish leaders -- not the Scribes, the Pharisees, or the disciples of John. Instead they both go to Jesus because they know Jesus alone has greater authority than the Scribes and Pharisees. They both believe in salvation from death. But not only do they believe that Jesus is the only one who could save from death, they believe that he could do so with only a touch. They believe Jesus was the only ruler of Israel who could make the unclean "sinner" clean, thereby bringing the ceremonially dead back to life again. Both the ruler and the suffering "daughter" of Israel draw near to Jesus because they see God in their midst first drawing near to "sinners" like themselves -- "sinners" whom the Scribes and Pharisees would refuse to eat with because of their man-made traditions. While the rulers of Israel restrict access into Herod's Temple for reasons of uncleanness, Jesus draws near to Israel by "tabernacling," teaching, and healing among them

And unlike the ruler and the suffering "daughter" whom Jesus gladly welcomed near to him, Jesus casts out (ekballo) the crowds from the ruler's house like the demonic oppressors on the other side of the Sea had been "cast out" (ekballo) by Jesus (8:31-32). And he does so for a very good reason: the crowd does not care about Jesus' authority, nor are they interested in trusting the words of Jesus as truth. And in this sense, even the demons on the other side of the Sea have greater faith in Jesus than they do! At least the demons believed Jesus was the "Son of God" (8:29)! Here in the ending of this narrative, the crowds and their flute players don't even believe that much. They don't care if he claims to be the Son of God, and they certainly don't believe Jesus has authority from God to show mercy by raising the girl to life again. Instead of desiring mercy, they only care about appearing merciful before others. Instead of sacrificing their own time and energy by weeping with those who weep, and comforting those who mourn, they play flutes because that's what they're paid to do. Instead of trusting the simplicity of God's word that the girl is not dead, but sleeping, they ridicule him. This is because their faith is worse than demons. Their faith is like the Scribes and Pharisees who question Jesus' authority to teach and heal Israel. Therefore it comes as no surprise to find out after the girl arises according to the word of Jesus, "this news went out into all that district." The crowds don't know what to think about Jesus and his authority. What kind of man is this? How did he know the girl was not dead, but sleeping? 

In Matthew’s story, the land of Israel is in great need of healing and restoration, and Jesus has come to do just that. But Jesus does not come to save the righteous. He comes to save sinners. Jesus comes to heal and save because his desire is not for adherence to Pharisaical law, but rather for loyal, merciful love. Among Israel, there are many who are outwardly clean, but their faith is really dead on the inside. Those who are clean, like the Scribes and Pharisees, may have access within the Temple granted to them, but the “ruler” of the synagogue and an unclean "daughter" of Israel both know better than the Scribes and Pharisees. They know God is tabernacling among them. And sadly, because the leadership of Israel is so unfaithful, deriding laughter among their disciples still remains. 

 1.  Craig Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary [Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; 2009] p. 304

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Salvation from death, part 2

...While he was saying these things to them, behold! one of the rulers came in and knelt before him, saying, "My daughter has died just now! Nevertheless, come place your hand upon her, and she will live." And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples. And behold! a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came near behind him and caught hold of the tassel of his garment, for she said to herself, "If only I just catch hold of his garment, I will be saved." Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, "Have courage, daughter! Your faith has saved you." And the woman was saved from that very moment. And when Jesus came to the ruler's house and saw the flute players and the crowd causing a disturbance, he said, "Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping." And they ridiculed him. But when the crowd had been cast out, he went in and grabbed hold of her by the hand; and the girl arose, and this news went out into all that district.  (Matthew 9:18-26)

In the previous post we finished discussing Matthew's introduction to the miraculous story contained within 9:18-26. In that post I discussed such important factors as what the central focus of this narrative is, and what the surrounding  events of this narrative look like. We learned that a Jewish "ruler" of a synagogue bursts into the scene of table fellowship within Matthew's home where Jesus is feasting with tax collectors and "sinners," while, at the same time, being surrounded by censorious disciples of the Pharisees and John the baptist. And this Jewish "ruler" not only interrupts the table fellowship, but he also kneels before Jesus in a posture of worship to proclaim before everyone in the house that Jesus is the only man who can raise his dead, unclean daughter to life again by touching her. This ruler's great faith is bold and self-sacrificial, and it's that kind of faith which Jesus was not at all ashamed or embarrassed to "follow" (Matt. 9:19).

According to Matthew's account, we don't find the detailed description of crowds swarming around Jesus on every side, effectively restricting his ability to maneuver around easily. Those are details which Mark and Luke considered important to emphasize. Matthew chooses instead to omit those details and simply state that Jesus "followed" this ruler, and that his disciples followed as well. As one can imagine, when Jesus got up from feasting at Matthew's table, lots of disciples and wanna-be disciples rose quickly to see if he actually could raise the ruler's dead daughter. And if you can imagine this scene with all of it's surrounding drama, it is here and at this time when everything suddenly comes to a halt because of an unnamed woman who had suffered for twelve years: 

And behold! a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came near behind him and caught hold of the tassel of his garment, for she said to herself, "If only I just catch hold of his garment, I will be saved."
According to certain laws which God declared to the people of Israel in the wilderness, Jews knew that they were instructed to be mindful of "bodily discharges" and the ceremonial impurity which could spread contagiously as a result.  Leviticus chapter fifteen contains those specific instructions which God declared to Israel in the wilderness, and Matthew's Jewish audience would have definitely thought of those laws as they heard the shocking news about this bleeding woman. But another thing which would have been shocking is her suffering for twelve years. Matthew did not have to mention her suffering for twelve years. If all he wanted to focus upon was her medical condition, the long time frame of suffering for twelve years need not be mentioned. But it was mentioned, and therefore it was important to help identify with the uniqueness of her suffering. And the more I read and re-read Matthew's account of this story, the more I gravitate toward the view that Matthew is not highlighting her medical condition as the cause of her suffering (contra Mark and Luke); nor is he highlighting a type of suffering caused by the laws of Leviticus fifteen. Instead, Matthew is highlighting a type of suffering caused by the Jewish rulers of her society -- rulers like the scribes and Pharisees in the background of this very scene within Matthew's house. For example, when discussing the interpretation of Leviticus fifteen among first century Jews, Craig Keener describes the way Pharisaical law would have impacted this woman's lifestyle: 
Because of her continual flow of blood, she was not permitted to move about in crowds; anyone she touched or whose cloak she touched became unclean. Those who were most pious seem to have been most concerned to avoid unnecessarily exposing themselves to impurity (e.g. m. Nid.), even if it was impossible for married men to avoid that totally. ...Indeed, at least in theory any strict Jewish man must learn whether a woman who touched his clothing or sat in a boat with him was unclean and therefore had rendered him as unclean. 

... Her condition is desperate for medical reasons and because of its social consequences: her partial ostracism would extend especially to her private life. Her ailment probably had kept her from marriage it if started at puberty, and almost surely would have led to her divorce if it began after she was married, since intercourse was prohibited under such circumstances and childlessness normally led to divorce. The stigma of childlessness, the pain of feeling "left over," the economic consequences of being unable to earn sufficient income, yet having neither husband nor children for long-term support, probably would have made her condition seem almost unbearable.1

With this first century context in mind, there are a number of startling points which are worthy of consideration. For example, why is this woman inside of Matthew's house? Doesn't she know that every Jew within Matthew's house sees her as unclean? And why is she all-of-a-sudden willing to spread her uncleanness upon Jesus by touching him? Doesn't she know she is forbidden to spread her uncleanness upon others? These are only some of the questions we could ask, but to appreciate the depth of suffering which this woman had endured for twelves years, we need to take this woman's ceremonial uncleanness seriously. 

This woman was not ignorant of first century Rabbinical traditions. This woman knew what every Jew in that house would have been thinking had they known that she was sitting among them. This leads me to believe that one implication of Matthew's sudden and dramatic interruption of this unnamed, unclean woman is that she has been hiding her uncleanness from everyone in Matthew's house. (Luke even mentions that she was hiding, Lk. 8:47.) It's as though, out of nowhere, this woman bursts onto the scene with just as much, if not more faith as the Jewish "ruler" of the synagogue; only this woman is not trying to make a huge scene. This woman has been waiting quietly because she doesn't want everyone in the room to know she's unclean. She is simply taking advantage of an opportunity that appears to be advancing towards a sudden loss as she sees Jesus following the ruler further and further away. 

This woman also appears to have been attentive to the doctrinal claims of the Jewish ruler too. Just as he believed in Jesus' unique authority to touch and give life to his dead (and therefore unclean) daughter, this woman also believes in his unique authority to cleanse her from twelves years of uncleanness. She too is a dead "daughter" of Israel (9:22), and so she reaches and tries to grasp the tassle of Jesus' garments before it's too late, before he's out of reach. What is unique to Matthew's account of this story is that there is no indication that her "touch" upon Jesus' garments healed her (contra Mark and Luke). Instead what we find in Matthew's story is that by catching hold of the tassle of his garment, this caused Jesus to pause and turn around toward her, giving her the attention she so desperately wanted and needed, even if it was but for a single moment of time; for she said to herself: 
"If only I just catch hold of his garment, I will be saved." 

And it is to this great faith in Jesus that he "turns" toward her and, without any conversation or publicity about her medical condition, declares:
"Have courage, daughter! Your faith has saved you."  And the woman was saved from that very moment. 
In Matthew's account of this story, the authoritative words of Jesus are what bring healing to her. Her faithful "touch" upon Jesus doesn't heal. His word alone heals. And if Matthew's account of this story was the only available to us, we would be left with the impression that no one else in the room ever became aware of her uncleanness. Her faith led her to Jesus and his comforting recognition of saving faith was all that needed to be mentioned. 

But what did Jesus mean when he said, "Your faith has saved you"? Doesn't this  imply some sort of works-righteousness or salvation by works? Well, as you may have already noticed, most modern translations avoid this implication by translating the word "saved" as "made well" or "made whole." So, for example, when this woman says to herself that if she could only catch hold of his garment, the ESV unfortunately translates the next phrase as "I will be made well." And likewise, Jesus says to her, "Your faith has made you well." And then afterward, as you might have already suspected, it says the woman was "made well." This Greek verb (translated in the ESV as "made well") is sozo, which literally means to "save." That is why I have translated it as "save." In Matthew 1:21, Joseph is told by an angel of the Lord that Mary, his betrothed wife, will bear a son, and he would name her son "Jesus" because "he will save (sozo) his people from their sins."  Matthew 27:40 portrays Jesus suffering on the cross while mockers proclaim to him, "You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save (sozo) yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!" A couple verses later they chide against him again, saying, "He saved (sozo) others; he cannot save (sozo) himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross and we will believe in him" (27:42). And finally, even within the list of ten miracles recorded in chapters 8 & 9, Jesus' own disciples cry out to him in desperation for deliverance, saying, "Lord! Save us! (sozo) We're perishing!" (8:25).2

Clearly then, when this woman says to herself, "If only I just catch hold of his garment, I will be saved," she's not thinking of spiritual "salvation" in the sense of deliverance from eternal condemnation (and so there should be no worries concerning works-righteousness either). She's thinking of "salvation" in its broadest sense, the sense of full deliverance from her medical condition and its social consequences. Matthew does not portray a woman who simply needs some medical discomfort alleviated. (Mark and Luke both portray that, actually; cf. Mk. 5:26 & Lk. 8:43.) Matthew portrays a woman who has suffered socially for twelve years because of a medical condition which every Jew treated like an unclean corpse. It is only because of first century Pharisaical traditions and their foolish interpretation of Leviticus fifteen that this woman is hiding her ceremonial uncleanness. 

I suppose that since I've already mentioned it, now is as good a time as any to clarify what I mean by their "foolish" interpretation of Leviticus fifteen. I want to take just a few moments to clarify just how unnecessary it was for Pharisees and their ilk to interpret Leviticus fifteen as though it endorsed ostracizing women with long-term conditions like this.3 After a close examination of those particular laws, the literary structure distinguishes between long term and transient "bodily discharges."4 And the ceremonial restrictions for each of those were different. For men, long term problems of bodily discharge would likely be caused by venereal diseases, and they were treated very seriously. For women, their monthly, transient period was taken just as seriously; and when I say "very" seriously, I simply mean those laws were more strict when compared with others in direct relation to them.5 

However, the treatment was not serious at all for men with transient discharges or with women who had long term complications of "bodily discharge" (like this woman in Matthew  9:20-22). Scholars are divided as to why that might be the case, and I certainly have my own opinion,6 but it's not very difficult to figure out from the law itself that women who had long term medical complications of bloody, bodily discharge were alleviated from the stricter ceremonial restrictions placed upon her and others during her ordinary menstrual cycle. Leviticus 15:19-31 are the laws which specifically handle long term medical complications of bodily discharge among women in Israel (under the Old Covenant), and those laws only state that "every bed on which she lies" and "everything on which she sits shall be unclean. ...And whoever touches these things shall be unclean."  (Lev. 15:26-27)

How difficult would it be to avoid touching this woman's bed on which she lays down? And how difficult would it be to avoid touching a chair that she sits on? It wouldn't be difficult at all. And on top of that, even if someone did touch those things, and were therefore deemed ceremonially "unclean," they would only be restricted from entering the Temple because of its ceremonially holy space.7 Furthermore, if they did want to enter the Temple, and incidentally they had become ceremonially "unclean" by touching an unclean chair or bed, there was a provision for that: all they would have to do is wash their clothes, take a bath, and wait until the sun goes down in order to be ceremonially "clean" again (Lev. 15:27). And how awful would that be, seriously? The answer is, it wouldn't be. And that's because the Law of God was not designed to make life miserable.8 It would have required greater self-discipline, but not greater misery.

Now, my hope is that all of this background information is going to help us appreciate Jesus' response even more; and here's what I mean by that. In the Greek text, Matthew portrays Jesus as knowing the existence of her faith in him already. In Matthew's story, this woman gets Jesus' attention, and he then turns around toward her and says, "Your faith has saved you." And when he says her faith "has saved" her, that verb is in the perfect tense. In Greek, the perfect tense is unlike the English perfect. In Greek the perfect tense indicates the continuation and present state of a completed past action. In other words, Jesus speaks as though he knows something which only she has known and has been hiding within Matthew's house, something which otherwise would have remained hidden from her if Jesus had not told her; and what he declared to her was that God had orchestrated all of these events to bring her faith in the past to this point of salvation from death, both medically and socially, in the present. Her faith, Jesus says, has saved and continues to save her. Her faith believes, along with the ruler of the synagogue, that Jesus is the only man who can touch the unclean and deliver from death. And so we read that within that very hour she was "saved."

Salvation from death is the central focus of this narrative, and Matthew isn't entirely finished with it yet. Matthew still has not concluded what he introduced, namely the resurrection of the "ruler's" daughter. However, I intend to show in the next post that Matthew's conclusion to this narrative is not actually focused upon a miraculous resurrection of the ruler's daughter (which is the clear emphasis that Mark and Luke both give in their narratives), but instead is a third illustration of faith which is intentionally juxtaposed with the salvation offered to this unclean woman. And it is that peculiar juxtaposition which launches us into, and helps us interpret, the final two miracles of chapter nine. But I'll save the exposition of those verses for other posts.

1.  Craig Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary [Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; 2009] pp. 303-304
2.  This use of sozo is especially clear when compared with the wide variety of expressions in Greek used to describe healing. Matthew 4:24 says: "So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed (theropeuo -- lit. "cured") them."  Matthew 8:8 says: "But the centurion replied, "Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say a word, and my servant will be healed (iaomai -- lit. "healed")."  Mark 5:34 says: "Go in peace, and be healed (hugies -- lit. "made whole")"

3.  In Rabbinical studies, Numbers 5:1-5 is often viewed as a standing law. And what I mean by describing it as a "standing" law is that it maintained a permanent legal status as long as Israel was a nation. I do not agree with that interpretation of Numbers 5:15. Instead, I see Numbers 5:1-5 as a temporary provision for Israel at Mount Sinai to help them prepare for their march toward the promised land. It is only a few chapters later (Num. 10) that we find Israel leaving Mount Sinai for the first time, and after that time we find no further reference to people with discharges being "put out of the camp." And so, I see this as a temporary provision, not a permanent provision for all times and all places. 
4.  Gordon Wenham provides a sketch of the Leviticus 15 and it's literary structure which I found to be very helpful. I have tweaked the way it looks a bit, but the essence is the same as his:

Introduction:  “The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron”  (v1)
                              A)  Long Term  (v2-12)  
Male Discharges:               Cleansed by sacrifice  (v13-15)
                                    B)  Transient  (16-17)
                                                      and intercourse  (v18)
                                    B’)  Transient  (v19-23)  
Female Discharges:                  and intercourse  (v24)
                              A’)  Long-term  (v25-27)  
                                      Cleansed by sacrifice  (v28-30)

Purpose of Law:  Not to defile the Tabernacle   (v31) 

Gordon J. Wenham, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Leviticus [Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.; 1979] p. 216
5.  When the transient discharges of women (Lev. 15:19-24) are compared with the long-term discharges of women (15:25-30), one major difference among the transient discharges (for women only) is the restriction upon those who merely "touch her" (v. 19). This could mean touching her skin, her body in general (clothing and all), or it could mean her genitalia.  In a similar manner, stricter restrictions are placed upon men with long term discharges (not short term discharges, like semen excretion). Instead of restricting people from "touching him," the unique restrictions of long term discharges for men are two-fold: 1) "whoever touches the body of the man" (v. 7) and 2) "if the man with the discharge spits on someone who is clean..." (v. 8). The "body" mentioned here in verse 7 is Basar in Hebrew, and it is used euphemistically here and in verse 19 for genitalia, which is what leads many hebrew scholars today to believe that the passing reference about "touching her" in verse 19 also refers to her genetalia. 
6.  There definitely seems to be a clear association of ceremonial death (and it's contagious forms) with the constant reminder of Adam's fall into sin, God's curse upon his biological descendants, and the ultimate curse of death/final judgment for all those united with the first Adam. It is also my understanding that there are only three general categories in which contact with the "unclean" is considered contagious, and this helps me make this association more easily. Those three categories are 1) contact with corpses (i.e. actual death), 2) contact with "leprous" skin diseases (external death), and 3) contact with bodily discharges (internal death). All other laws which infer a contagious uncleanness (like touching the carcasses of unclean animals, living in moldy/disease-ridden houses, and the uncleanness associated with childbirth) are either sub-categories of these three or not actually described as contagious at all. They are simply considered to be unclean. In the case of bodily discharges and the difference between men and women (both transient and long-term differences) I see a direct connection between God's curse upon mankind (death), long term bodily discharges due to sexually transmitted diseases (in men), and the transient menstrual cycle of women (which necessitates the regular shedding of the uterus lining after the life producing time of ovulation). Man's sin, his seed, and ultimate death are very clear associations in my mind when I think of how this might have been understood when the Law was originally given in ceremonial form to Israel.
7.  The purpose of the law is stated at the end of Leviticus 15, which says, "Thus you shall keep the people of Israel separate from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness by defiling my Tabernacle that is in their midst."  The most obvious inference from this purpose clause is that death is the sentence which God would execute (either ceremonially or literally) upon those who draw near to him in His Tabernacle with their uncleanness, thereby polluting His "House." Hence, the very next chapter of Leviticus (Lev. 16) is about purification of the Tabernacle from uncleanness. If they did not draw near to God in their state of ceremonial uncleanness, there wouldn't need to be a fear of death for polluting God's House; but uncleanness taught them, ceremonially, to fear death and to fear drawing near to God (literally, in the Tabernacle) if they were living in a state of "uncleanness." Gordon Wenham interprets this law as meaning: "Those who were unclean could not participate in divine worship in the tabernacle. If they did, they not only polluted the tabernacle but were liable to death at the hands of God." -- Gordon J. Wenham, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Leviticus [Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.; 1979] p. 221
8.  It is a common misunderstanding among Christians to think of these ceremonial laws as being impossible to obey and therefore miserable to live by, when in fact, they would have been relatively easy to remember and obey if understood properly. For example, the ceremonial law pertaining to a woman's transient menstrual cycle is often portrayed as a horribly miserable set of laws to live by, when in fact, it would have been relatively easy to live by. Consider, for instance, the fact that many women married godly men when young, had many children, and breastfed all of their children. Then consider the fact that once a woman gets pregnant, she doesn't have to worry about ceremonial uncleanness until she gives birth to her child because she doesn't get her period back until after giving birth; and as long as she is breastfeeding her newborn child and toddler, she won't have her period during that time either; and as long as she keeps on having children, she won't have her period for an even longer amount of time. And after a certain age, that woman would go through menopause and her menstrual cycle would cease permanently. And so, the average woman who got married, had children, and raised children, probably wasn't concerned with her ceremonial uncleanness many times in her life, especially when compared to women who never married or were barren. As Gordon Wenham observed, the "women likely to be much affected by the law of Lev. 15:19-24 would be unmarried teenage girls." -- Gordon J. Wenham, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Leviticus [Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.; 1979] p. 224

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Salvation From Death, part 1

...While he was saying these things to them, behold! one of the rulers came in and knelt before him, saying, "My daughter has died just now! Nevertheless, come place your hand upon her, and she will live." And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples. And behold! a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came near behind him and caught hold of the tassel of his garment, for she said to herself, "If only I just catch hold of his garment, I will be saved." Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, "Have courage, daughter! Your faith has saved you." And the woman was saved from that very moment. And when Jesus came to the ruler's house and saw the flute players and the crowd causing a disturbance, he said, "Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping." And they ridiculed him. But when the crowd had been cast out, he went in and grabbed hold of her by the hand; and the girl arose, and this news went out into all that district.  (Matthew 9:18-26)

In the previous two posts (here and here) I focused upon two things: 1) the major differences between Matthew 9:18-26 and it's corresponding accounts recorded by Mark and Luke, and 2) the literary structure of Matthew's narrative. In this post, I won't be reviewing much of that content. Instead I plan on diving into the narrative in order to draw out Matthew's purpose and design. It may take a couple posts to accomplish, but I am confident that the end result will be well worth it. And so, with that in mind, the first thing you need to know is that the focus of Matthew's narrative (9:18-26) is not upon a Jewish "ruler" and his faith; nor is it focused upon the resurrection of a Jewish ruler's daughter. It certainly begins with a Jewish ruler's faith and ends with the restored life of his daughter, but neither of them are actually the focus of this narrative. In this brief narrative, as presented within Matthew's gospel, the focus is actually upon the salvation of a woman who suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years. And so, instead of viewing Matthew's narrative as focusing upon two miracles (which, indeed, incorporates two miracles into one story), Matthew's design is to focus upon one central miracle. Everything else is placed in juxtaposition with that central miracle. (Mark and Luke, however, do not juxtapose all the surrounding events, nor do they follow the same literary structure.)

Now, as I was explaining in a previous post, this particular narrative is a "sandwiching" story. And in academic circles, it is referred to as narrative intercalation,1 which is a fancy way of describing one story that's inserted between one other story, effectively splitting one story into two by means of a second story. And the purpose of the first story -- the one that gets split into two parts -- is to provide a context and commentary upon the second, central story "sandwiched" in between. In Matthew 9:18-26, the first story is about a "ruler" whose daughter has just died and Jesus' willingness to go and heal her; whereas the second story is about another daughter, a daughter of an even greater "ruler" in Israel, a "daughter" of God himself. To appreciate this distinction, let's first take a look at Matthew's perspective regarding this "ruler" and his entrance into the narrative.

Matthew begins this next and final triad2 of miracles with the statement: "While he was saying these things to them..." This is a very clear indicator of the location in which this following narrative takes place. It takes place within Matthew's house during a great feast where Jesus is "reclining at table" with his disciples, along with tax collectors and "sinners" (which, as I showed in a previous post, was a snobbish name that Pharisees used to label Jews who did not adhere to the strict Pharisaical laws about food, tithing, and purity).3 And it is within this time of feasting that some disciples of the Pharisees and John decide to crash the party and disrupt the table fellowship with provocative questions. And so, Jesus decides to share a few words with them in response. And it is during this point in time -- this time of feasting at a table -- that Matthew records the following words: 

"While he was saying these things to them, behold! one of the rulers came in and knelt before him, saying, "My daughter has died just now! Nevertheless, come place your hand upon her, and she will live."
Now, if you were one of the original recipients of Matthew's gospel, namely a 1st century Palestinian Jew, then this interruption of table-fellowship would have been very alarming, and for many reasons too. The first shock would have been in hearing about "one of the rulers" coming directly to Jesus. In context, because this "ruler" is not distinguished by any title of gentile nobility or official rank, most commentators suggest that it would have been understood by Matthew's audience as a Jewish ruler of a local synagogue. Hence, Mark and Luke go out of their way to clarify to their audience (which was different than Matthew) that this ruler was a "ruler of the synagogue" (Mk. 5:22; Lk. 8:41). As one of the rulers of a synagogue, this man would have been a leader and director of weekly worship, and he would have been known by all of the local Pharisees in town, including those present within Matthew's house. And yet, despite the conflict which would undoubtedly ensue in future relationships among the Pharisees, this "ruler" of a synagogue bursts into Matthew's house, falls to his knees before Jesus in a posture of worship and abject humility, just to tell Jesus that his daughter has just died.Now, it doesn't take a rocket-surgeon or a brain-wizard to figure out that Matthew is painting a word-picture of complete and utter desperation. This ruler has no one else in the world that he can go to for help. And his tremendous faith in God is manifest, not only in believing that Jesus could bring his daughter back to life, but that he was willing to confess this in front of everyone -- even his respected colleagues. But this is still only part of Matthew's shocking introduction to this narrative. 

Not only is this ruler a respected leader among the Jews, and not only his he disrupting table-fellowship in Matthew's house, and not only is he kneeling before Jesus in a posture of worship before the Pharisees, and not only is he displaying a very clear belief that Jesus -- and Jesus alone -- can raise his dead daughter back to life, but this ruler insists that Jesus only has to touch his daughter to be healed. It is at this point which Matthew's audience would have definitely been aghast. Every Jew understood that a plea from a Jewish "ruler" to intentionally touch a dead body was more than just a faux pas or slip of the tongue. That was a huge doctrinal statement. In essence, this Jewish ruler was willing to let everyone know that Jesus could cleanse the absolutely unclean.

Within first century Jewish tradition, contact with dead bodies was absolutely prohibited by priests and Levites, and as E.P. Sanders has argued persuasively, most "rulers" of the synagogues (archisynogogos) were priests.5 Not only was direct contact with the dead prohibited, but they were forbidden to enter any house, or approach any spot, where a dead body was lying or had been buried, or even any part of a dead body -- even a piece the size of a grape -- or blood to the amount of half a "log" (which was a little over one cup in modern measuring standards). The ruler was also forbidden to touch anyone or anything that became unclean through contact with parts of a dead body.6 And so, what we find in this brief narrative is a ruler who knows the Rabbinical traditions of law, and yet he still publicly confesses his faith that Jesus can raise his dead daughter to life again by touching her. From this perspective, this ruler is not merely desperate; he really believes that Jesus is the only "ruler" in Israel with the authority to touch his dead daughter. This ruler is incredibly faithful -- more faithful, in fact, than the Pharisees who are squabbling over eating with tax collectors and "sinners." If anyone is going to be viewed as a "sinner" in the eyes of the Pharisees from now one, it's this Jewish ruler and the man he kneels before publicly. 

But there is still a lot more going on in this brief narrative. Not only does this ruler risk his public reputation in order to confess his faith in Jesus, but Jesus actually gets up and follows himThis is the first time in all of Matthew's gospel where Jesus is said to be "following" someone. All we have seen up to this point are people drawing near to Jesus. But now, even in the midst of table-fellowship and feasting, Jesus stops what he's doing, gets out of his seat, and follows this ruler to his house. What an amazing event to behold! Matthew also mentions that the "disciples" of Jesus followed along too. People must have flocked toward Jesus once they saw him get up and follow this ruler, which means that Matthew's house must have become really crowded shortly after they saw Jesus get up and leave suddenly. Interestingly, Mark and Luke both go out of their way to emphasize that there were crowds of disciples swarming around Jesus and pressing him in on all sides (Mk. 5:24; Lk. 8:42). 

This is the dramatic scene in which Matthew goes out of his way to interrupt by introducing an unnamed woman who had been suffering from a discharge of blood for twelve years: 

"And behold! a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came near behind him and caught hold of the tassel of his garment..."
This is also the scene which will be continued in a future post....

1.  I explain more about intercalation in the link.

2.  A triad is a group or set of three things, and here in Matthew chapters 8 & 9 there are three sets of triads separated by two narrative interludes. For more information about the literary structure of Matthew 8 & 9, see my previous post here.
3.  As an additional note to what I have recorded in previous posts, Jakob Van Bruggen, professor of New Testament at the Theological University of Kampen, Netherlands, has observed that: "In the Judaism of Jesus' day, a much broader notion of "sinner" had developed. Anyone who did not act in the manner prescribed by the Pharisees (which was much more detailed than the Torah) was to be condemned as "sinner," as "lawless" (in the Pharisaical sense of the word)." -- Jakob Van Bruggen, Jesus The Son of God: The Gospel Narratives as Message [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company; 1996] p.20
4.  Mark and Luke both begin their narratives with the ruler's daughter as "dying" (Lk. 8:42, 49) and "at the point of death" (Mk. 5:23, 35), whereas Matthew clearly wants his readers to recognize how dramatic this scene was in real life, by depicting the daughter as having been dead already. In both accounts of Mark and Luke, Jesus receives a report that the daughter had just died, and yet Jesus travels to the ruler's house anyway. In contrast with that, Matthew is obviously not interested in "sandwiching" his story with details about a dying girl. Mark and Luke both "sandwich" their stories by beginning with a daughter who is alive (but dying), and then they both finish with the same daughter dying (in order to resuscitate her). But Matthew is only interested in beginning with a dead daughter and ending with a risen daughter.
5.  E. P. Sanders, in his book Judaism: Practice & Belief 63 BCE-66 CE [London: SCM Press; 1992], makes the claim that priests controlled most of the synagogues, even those among the Diaspora. He writes: "Philo indicates that priests retained their status as leaders in the Diaspora (Hypothetica 7.12f.), and archeology confirms that in at least some places outside of Palestine priests were specifically designated as such" (pp. 52-53). Elsewhere he writes: "What is clear is that the rulers of the synagogue were priests, three generations of them, and very prosperous at that. If we must assign them to a party, the Sadducean would be the most likely guess, but there is no reason to think that they represent the party. What we learn from the [Theodotus] inscription is that a family of wealthy priests who could speak Greek built and maintained a synagogue for Greek-speaking pilgrims, and that the synagogue had a dual purpose of serving as a guest house and a place of instruction. The inscription supports the evidence of the literature: it was the priests who taught the law" (pp. 176-177). And finally, Sanders writes: "The Theodotus inscription is graphic evidence of the role of priests in synagogues, a role that some retained in the Diaspora. We recall that according to Philo a priest or elder was responsible for sabbath instruction (Hypothetica 7.13). At the synagogue in Sardis an inscription was found that refers to a man who was a 'priest and teacher of wisdom'. This is from the fourth century. Its relevance is that it shows continuity with the passage of Philo and the Theodotus inscription. In neither Palestine nor the Diaspora did priests withdraw from public life and community study and worship. ...The priest or elder read and interpreted the Bible, and others for the most part remained silent (Philo, Hypothetica, 7.13)" (pp. 201-202).
6. For Talmudic sources, see Sifra, Emor, i. 1, ii. 1; Naz. vii. 2, 4; 42b, 43a, 47b, 48b, 56a, b; Yer. Naz. 56c, d; For Mishnaic sources, see "Yad," Bi'at ha-Mikdash, iii. 13-15; ib. Ebel, iii.; Shulhan 'Aruk, Yoreh De'ah, 369, 371.