Friday, February 8, 2013

Too Sneaky for Jesus?

Matthew 9:18-26 wins the award for "most insensitive section heading" in the 1984 NIV Bible (my favorite version). It was called "A dead girl and a sick woman." Please tell me I'm not the only one that thought this was incredibly awkward. Glad to see the 2011 NIV changed it to "Jesus raises a dead girl and heals a sick woman."

I googled "insensitive title" and this came up. Doesn't relate to my post at all, but you can never have too much Aladdin. You're welcome. Image source.

But anyway...

So let's talk about what's going on in this passage. A synagogue ruler (Jarius, though Matthew doesn't give us his name) comes to ask Jesus to raise his dead daughter to life. While Jesus is on his way to this guy's house, a women who had had a bleeding-related problem for 12 years sneaks up and touches Jesus' cloak, and is healed. Jesus stops and speaks directly to her, saying, "Your faith has healed you." Then, when Jesus finally gets to Jarius's house, he finds an unruly crowd there. After sending the crowd away, Jesus raises Jarius's daughter back to life, and all is well.

First of all, Mark and Luke tell this same story, and I think it's useful to read their accounts to get some more of the details. (We know from Mark and Luke that the dude's name was Jarius, for instance.)

Okay, why is it that in Matthew's version, Jarius says "my daughter has just died" when he meets Jesus and asks for help, but in Mark and Luke she's "dying" and then after Jesus has to stop and talk to this bleeding lady, then the news comes that she's dead?

I see 2 possibilities:
  1. Typo in the bible. Either Matthew wrote it down wrong or it got changed by somebody in charge of copying the bible a few thousand years ago, something like that. It's really not a big deal- it's a very small mistake in the grand scheme of things, and doesn't change anything about the overall message and reliability of the bible. (Don't worry- Matthew can be wrong about when this girl died, but Jesus still loves you!) It changes this particular story a lot- raising questions about whether Jarius believed Jesus could really raise the dead, etc- but still, not a big deal. The bible is allowed to have typos and Christianity isn't going to implode.
  2. Matthew's account is shorter than the other ones; he leaves some stuff out, and maybe he felt like it made sense to just say she was dead from the beginning, instead of having to talk about how they got this new information halfway through the passage. His original audience (a culture different than ours) would have agreed this was a totally reasonable way to tell the short version of a story- they wouldn't have been like "Matthew is WRONG!" after reading the accounts in the other gospels.
But probably the most important thing about the way Mark and Luke tell it is Jesus' interaction with this bleeding woman. Matthew only has 3 verses about her, but Mark and Luke go on and on about how she had spent all her money to try and heal this medical problem, and she believed touching Jesus' cloak would heal her, and it did. And then Jesus feels that "power had gone out from him" but seems to not know what happened, so he stops and makes a big deal out of it, asking "who touched me?" So finally the woman, very afraid, comes up and tells him everything, and he says, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace." (At which point some messengers show up with the news that Jarius's daughter is dead.)

I love this, I really do. I love that Jesus stopped to talk to this woman, to show that he really cared about her and the healing wasn't some accident, something contrary to God's will that she was clever enough to get away with.

What if he hadn't stopped to do that? She would be healed, but maybe she would doubt whether God cared about her. Maybe she would be afraid that it wasn't God who had healed her, but her taking things into her own hands and being sneaky enough to steal it. Maybe she would come to the conclusion that she couldn't count on anyone but herself.

Maybe, when Jesus talked to her, it showed that she would never have to hide from God.

And oh goodness, this relates to my life. So, I'm trying to move to China, and I'm so afraid that God's not on board with it- that I'm just "sneaking around" and trying to get what I want before God has a chance to stop me.

(And that comes from a lot of misconceptions about God, which I'm trying to sort out...)

I am confused, much like this kitten. (I'll leave it to my boyfriend to judge which of us is cuter.) Image source.

And another interesting interpretation I've heard: Perhaps this woman believed "if I only touch his cloak, I will be healed" in a sort of superstitious way, like the cloak itself is a magical object. She had faith, but also some incorrect beliefs about how it all worked. But it's okay! She is still healed, and Jesus speaks to her to clarify that it was her faith that healed her, not a magical object.

It's okay if you're wrong about God! God is so big and complicated and greater than any human mind can understand. EVERYONE believes some wrong things about God. I believe some wrong things about God. It's okay! See, Jesus healed this woman anyway, and commended her for her faith.

Umm, wait, perfectnumber, how can you say "it's okay if you're wrong about God"? Don't Christians believe that everyone who's not a Christian is going to hell? Where do you draw the line? How much incorrectness does it take to not be Christian enough to get into heaven?

So... that's beyond the scope of this post. (And one of the most loaded questions I've ever seen.) I'm just telling you what I'm seeing here in Matthew 9. It looks as if this woman had some misconceptions about how the healing would work, and Jesus was still happy with her, and maybe the reason he stopped and talked to her was to clear that up.

But perhaps I'm wrong about the "she had misconceptions" bit. Maybe I'm reading too much into it. Like I just said, I believe some wrong things.

SO ANYWAY, Jesus finally gets to Jarius's house, and has to kick out "the noisy crowd and people playing pipes." I've heard that back then, they used to hire "professional mourners"- so these people aren't actually sad, and the "they laughed at him" bit isn't so befuddling.

And then Jesus brings this dead girl back to life! Yay!

So, because I gotta be that guy, I'm going to ask: Was she really dead?

"Mostly dead is slightly alive." Image source.

What is the definition of "dead"?

Medically, we can say "dead" means a person's body (brain/heart/etc) has stopped, in such a way that it's impossible for them to ever start again. (Okay I just made that up. Anyone have a better definition?)

So... by this definition, if Jesus brings her back to life, then she wasn't "dead." Or we could amend the definition to say "dead" means it's impossible to bring her back without a miracle.

And wait! Jesus says, "The girl is not dead but asleep." What did he mean? What does Jesus mean by "dead" and "asleep"? Maybe she was in a coma or something? Or, since he seems to be speaking figuratively, "asleep" means, for lack of a better term, "mostly dead."

But at any rate, Jesus heals her. Awesome.

Image source.
So, to recap: Jarius came to ask for Jesus to heal his daughter. While they were on the way, a woman who had a bleeding problem came up and sneakily touched Jesus, so Jesus stopped to find her and talk to her. Then Jesus got to Jarius's house and brought his daughter back to life.

But this bothers me. Why did Jesus stop and talk to that lady? Healing Jarius's daughter seems kind of like a time-sensitive thing, right? (Especially in Mark's and Luke's telling of this story, where the news of the girl's death comes right after Jesus finishes his lovely chat with the woman he healed.)

Is it good that Jesus did this, because it shows he gives people individual attention and he's never too busy for you? Or is it bad because he had a total disregard for priorities and just left Jarius hanging for a bit?

Jesus is Jesus, so we can say "he knew he'd have enough time and it would all be fine." But what about me, trying to follow Jesus' example, trying to treat people right and not be "too busy" to help someone?

There has to be a balance- it's not practical to constantly drop what you're doing and be incredibly compassionate toward the needs of any random passerby.

But can Jesus model that balance? It seems like he can't. Jesus knew everything, right? (Did he? We can debate this one too.) So how can he show us how to make decisions and set priorities in the face of uncertainty and limited information?

Let's suppose you're an awesome doctor and you're going to heal Jarius's daughter. Would you stop and help this other woman? Should you stop and help? What if the delay means Jarius's daughter is past the point where you could have saved her?

I mean, this lady had been bleeding for 12 years. Surely she can wait another half hour.

IN SUMMARY: Okay I talked about a ton of things in this post. Basically Jesus is really great, helping everyone and giving individual attention, and we can't be like him.


This post is part of a series on the gospel of Matthew.

Previous post: Jesus the Unpredictable (Matthew 9:1-17)

Next post: Don't get your theology from Mickey Mouse (Matthew 9:27-34)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.

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