Toorak Uniting Church

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Healing and Restoration

Matthew 9: 9 – 13, 18 – 26
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
8:00 am, 5 June 2005

What we’ve read this morning are three very different stories of miracles that, each in their own way, show aspects of Jesus’ ministry with people.

Matthew, whose name means gift of God, is sitting in his tax booth. He is in a very unpopular profession and it is highly likely that he was ostracised because of it. No decent person would have wanted to talk to him, let alone invite them into their company. We all probably know how tax collectors in Jesus day were considered collaborators who’d joined the enemy and made their money by making ordinary people pay for something that should have been for free often charging more than they were entitled to.

It is here the first miracle happens. Jesus does not see the man, the tax collector, but he sees Matthew the gift of God and invites him to follow him and become part of the community of his followers. And Matthew, without giving it another thought, gets up and follows him.
That’s a miracle, because I bet you Matthew had earned himself a nice big house with his tax collecting, and lots of servants, and lots of privileges with the roman occupiers, and there was not a lot for him to gain from joining Jesus and his band of disciples. For Matthew it simply meant that he’d change membership of one group of outcasts (the tax collector and roman collaborator community) for another one (the community of a vagrant wandering rabbi). But on top of that he would also lose his income, security and a lot of comfort.

The next miracle is of a completely different order. Here we meet the leader of a Synagogue doing something completely out of the ordinary. His daughter has died and overcome by grief he comes to Jesus to ask him to lay hands on her.
Well, it doesn’t say he is overcome by grief, but he must have been to ask this wandering rabbi for assistance for the healing of something that is of as little value as a daughter. You see, a daughter in those days wasn’t worth a lot, and many children tended to die young anyway. Usually not much fuss would have been made about the passing away of a little girl. Children died, and it being a girl meant there would be one dowry less to pay. Somehow this father has attached himself in a quite unusual way to this girl and goes to very unusual lengths to have her cured.

The third person we meet is a woman that has been haemorrhaging for twelve years. She tries to touch Jesus’ cloak hoping she will somehow be cured from her illness. She would a woman that would have been made to feel thoroughly bad about herself. Haemorrhaging made a woman unclean and it going on for 12 years must have been a clear sign to anybody that there was something terribly wrong with her and her family. Otherwise God would not have visited something as awful as that upon them. She would have been denied access to the community, she would not have been able to go to synagogue or perform any religious duties. Her family would have hated her for the stain she put on them, and others would have shunned her because they would have felt feel that if they’d get involved with her in any way they would be contaminated and end up unclean as well.

For all three of those people healing takes place.

The woman is cured of her illness, miraculously. That however, is not the only thing that happens. When Jesus turns around and acknowledges her and her faith something far more important happens.

The cure she so desperately wanted is made complete by the acknowledgement of her and Jesus embracing her as somebody that is important and of great faith. She, her courage and her faith are received with love and acceptance and she is made whole. Not only is her physical well being looked after, she also is restored to her humanity, to recognition as a full and worthy part of the community.

The girl is brought back to life. Here again Jesus ignores all laws of cleanliness and propriety. Touching a dead person, as was being touched by an unclean woman, was surrounded with taboos. Touching a dead girl a very silly thing to do for a rabbi. Why would he?

It is the love and faith of the father who is prepared to risk all that would have been important in his life to call on this itinerant rabbi that brings Jesus to the girl and the girl to life.
Jesus who can see beyond what others see and is prepared to reach out and touch what others would have shied away from that breaks the opens the doors of death that brings the girl back.

She is cured, but the healing goes a lot deeper than her sitting up and opening her eyes. Somebody that would have been deemed pretty worthless by society at the time is deemed important enough to push propriety and taboo aside. Somebody who overcame his pride and the prejudice of his peers to approach Jesus with this outrageous request actually, has brought healing not only to his child but to his community. When God is at work death may not have the last word and those who in the eyes of some may seem worthless and are considered lost may have a new lease of life yet to come!

Matthew, silly Matthew, gives up a good job and a comfortable lifestyle for a life on the road. He proves to be the gift of God his parents must have seen in him at birth. Jesus takes a chance with him, asks him to do something outrageous in faith and he answers Jesus’ call. He didn’t need a cure, he was fine, but he receives healing non the less.

What happens, I wonder, when we meet Jesus?
Would he be able to call us out of our settled and comfortable lifestyle like Matthew? Would we risk anything like the leader of the synagogue did and put our faith in him for healing? Do we long to receive of his grace in such a way that we will try to touch even the smallest part of him?

One thing those three stories show us, I think, is that there is no such thing as a quiet uneventful faith where a real encounter with the Lord takes place. All sorts of things may happen.

Let us reflect on what that could mean for us, in our lives and wonder where and in what way it is Jesus calls us to exercise our faith and become his followers.

And when we feel we are perhaps too anxious, too cautious, too unadventurous compared to those whose story we heard this morning, let us remember that it is the tax collector who nobody would have bothered much about, the little girl that nobody would have given another thought and the haemorrhaging woman who tried to slip away unnoticed who Jesus acknowledged as people of faith who were important to him and worthy of his full attention, respect and love. Amen.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2005

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