NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MATTHEW
Part III (Con’t)
Verse 22: Jesus turned and saw the woman. He said, “Cheer up my daughter! You are healthy again because you believed.” The woman was instantly healed.
We saw that Jesus did not hesitate to respond to the synagogue leader’s request, and on His way to this prominent Jews house, a woman with a incurable disease that caused her to incessantly menstruate waited for Him because she had gotten word that Jesus the healer was in town. From what she heard, all she needed to do was touch Jesus and His power would cure her.
But she also had another issue that made her touching Jesus a possible embarrassment. A woman with such a flux is just one step below a leper in uncleanliness. The law was very clear: “Anyone who touches her will be unclean.”1 In fact, there is an entire section in the Jewish Mishnah that deals with women who are in this unclean condition. Such a state of uncleanliness began on the day of the initial flux and remained in effect until it stopped.2 Furthermore, there were penalties for anyone who had such an issue of uncleanliness. In the Babylonian Talmud there are thirty-six of them listed, one of which is a woman with such bleeding. Furthermore, the penalty for defiling someone else with such uncleanliness was “extinction,” meaning that the perpetrator’s life is cut short by Providence.3
Mark in his gospel gives a more detailed description, but Matthew was content to say that Jesus told the woman that her faith had been rewarded. Not only was she so happy to be healed, but I’m sure she was relieved from having to abide by the laws affecting her purity.4 And furthermore, Jesus was not upset that an unclean woman had touched Him. But I wonder what His disciples thought after they found out the woman had what they called a “flux” as defined in Scripture.5
But none of this bothered our Lord. He greeted her like the sages of old by calling her “daughter.” We find this in a story in Jewish tradition by Rabbi Simeon ben Gamaliel. He said that a woman came to his father and told him that she had defiled her hands by reaching into some earthenware vessel. So Gamaliel’s father said, “My daughter, what made it unclean?”6 Apparently, this was an accepted way to welcome someone who came for help. So again, Jesus shows how in touch He was with the people of Galilee. He didn’t tarry long, and got back underway.
With this aspect in mind, Chrysostom gives a more enlightened response in interpreting why Jesus did not see her actions as disrespectful of Him or or the Law. He writes: “What then is His intention in bringing her out into the open? First, Jesus puts an end to her fear. He does not want her to remain trapped in dread. He gives no cause for her conscience to be harmed, as if she had stolen the gift. Second, he corrects her assumption that she has no right to be seen. Third, He makes her faith an exhibit to all. He encourages the others to emulate her faith. Fourth, His subduing the fountains of her hemorrhage was another sign of His knowledge of all things.”7
Verse 23: Jesus continued walking with the Jewish synagogue leader and went into the leader’s house. He saw people there who make music for funerals. And He saw a crowd of people crying loudly.
According to the traditions of that time, the father was obliged to defray the expenses of the burial of his daughter in accordance with his position, and provide for two flute-players and one professional mourner8 This was required even if the Jewish man was of the poorest.9 These mourners were already in place by the time Jesus arrived. It was also the custom for the body of the deceased to be washed and placed on the bier before the funeral procession began, with the accompaniment of trumpets, dirges and lamentations chanted by wailing women.10 We are told: “Jeremiah wrote and sang some funeral songs for Josiah. And the men and women singers still sing these sad songs today. It became something the people of Israel always do—they sing a sad song for Josiah. These songs are written in the book, Funeral Songs.”11
But the synagogue leader’s faith had kept him from going that far. So when Jesus shows up, He immediately tells the paid musicians, singers and mourners to go home, that the girl was not dead, she was only sleeping. Apparently their reverence for Jesus was not as high as that of the synagogue leader. But I’m convinced that he made sure Jesus’ instructions were carried out. Since this girl was the daughter of the synagogue leader, the number of flutes and mourners was increased substantially. Nevertheless, it still obligated Jairus to fulfill the tradition of paying the wages of men and women to recite laments and eulogize his daughter.12 However, Jesus would have none of that because to Him the girl was not dead, so they were being paid for doing something that was not needed. I’m sure these flutist and paid mourners were upset because this itinerant Nazarene was costing them to lose money.
Verse 24: Jesus said to them, “Go away. The girl is not dead. She is only sleeping.” But the people laughed at Him.
There was no reason for them to laugh since referring to someone who had died as “sleeping” was a common phrase in those days. After all, that’s how it’s referred to in Jeremiah.13 And in the Rabbis’ commentary on that verse they say: “Concerning such persons it is said, they remain in a state of limbo forever.”14 This was also the message in Deuteronomy,15 which the Jews quote in their verbal teachings.16 And some saw it the way Jesus did, as their Rabbis taught: “The fact that we awake from sleep is some evidence for the resurrection.”17 Our Lord was echoing the words of Isaiah: “But the Lord says, ‘Your people have died, but they will live again. The bodies of my people will rise from death.”18 These people could have expressed faith and perhaps witnessed a miracle, but their doubt got them thrown out.
Early Church scholar Peter Chrysologus gives us his understanding here of the difference in Jesus’ mind between death and sleep. He writes: “With God, indeed, death is sleep, for God can bring a dead person back to life sooner than a sleeping person can be wakened from sleep by humans; and God can sooner restore life-giving warmth to limbs frozen in death than humans can infuse vigor in bodies immersed in sleep. Hear the words of the apostle: ‘In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye the dead shall rise.’19 And how does time enter the picture when something eternal is given outside of time? Even as time applies to temporality, so does eternity exclude time.”20
And another Early Church scholar named Chromatius gives his take on why Jesus treated the unruly crowd the way He did. He writes: “In the flute players and bustling onlookers who laughed to scorn the Lord who said, ‘The girl is asleep, not dead,’ we see an example of the synagogue rulers and the onlookers of Jewish people who, when they heard that the hope of eternal life had been promised by the Son of God to the Gentiles, held up to ridicule and contempt this great grace of the Lord. Not unjustly did the Lord order them to be sent outside. He showed that incredulous and unbelieving people of this kind are to be excluded from the promise of eternal life or from God’s kingdom by him who is the Author of life and the Lord of the heavenly kingdom.”21
Verse 25: After the people were put out of the house, Jesus went into the girl’s room. He took the girl’s hand, and the girl stood up.
So once in the room, Luke tells us: “He didn’t allow anyone to enter except Peter, John, James, the father of the child, and her mother.”22 Then in Mark we read: “Taking the child by the hand, He said to her, ‘Talitha cumi!’ which means, being interpreted, ‘Girl, I tell you, get up!’”23 Again this reminds us of the story of Rabbi Johanan and Rabbi Hiyya ben Abba, where the healer said to his ill comrade, “Give me your hand. He gave him his hand and he raised him.”24
Chromatius offers a spiritual aspect on Jesus raising this girl from death. He says: “In the synagogue ruler we perceive a figure of the prophets or apostles, especially Peter, by whom the calling of the Gentiles was first heard; that is, the girl represented all those holy people who pleased God, not through the works of the law but through the righteousness of faith.…Moreover, for us to understand that the entire mystery of our salvation is prefigured in this girl; after she was raised from the dead, as Luke reports, the Lord directs her to eat something. Evidently the order of our faith and salvation is here shown. For when each believer among us is freed in baptism from perpetual death and comes back to life upon acceptance of the gift of the Holy Spirit, it is necessary that the person also be directed to eat that heavenly bread about which the Lord says, ‘Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you’.25”26
Verses 26: The news about this spread all around the area.
Matthew tells us that word of her resurrection spread rapidly around the city and territory, even though Mark and Luke record that Jesus asked them not to tell anyone.27 Although Christ could not finish answering one request before He was besieged with a new one, yet He carried on undauntedly. Caring, forgiving, healing as He came to each person. However, He never went on a vacation; He didn’t set up office hours, but rather carried on in the thick of it all and His only request was that they should pray for more workers in the vineyard.
Not workers to relieve Him or do His job, but to learn from Him and carry on, doing the many tasks that would be left undone after He departed. Such tireless dedication no doubt was brought on by the fact that He knew He only had a short time – about three years, to accomplish the task for which His heavenly Father had sent Him. In that respect, there is no reason for us sons of men to try and accomplish what the Son of God was able to do. But the one thing we can emulate is His faithfulness and undying commitment to the cause.
1 Leviticus 15:19
2 Mishnah, Sixth Division: Tohoroth, Tractate Niddah, Ch. 1:2
3 Babylonian Talmud: Seder Kodashim, Masekhet Kerithoth, folio 2a
4 Ibid. 15:19-23
5 Ibid. 15:2-3
6 Ibid., Tractate Yadayim, Ch. 3:1
7 Chrysostom: Matthew, Homily 31:2
8 Jewish Mishnah, Third Division, Tractate Ketuboth, Chap. 4:4
9 Moses Maimonides, Mishnah Torah, Sefer Nashim, Ishut, Chap. 14, Halacha 23
10 Jeremiah 9:17; 20:16)
11 II Chronicles 35:25,
12 Mishnah Torah, Ibid., Sefer Shoftim, Tractate Avel, Ch. 12, Halacha 1
13 Jeremiah 51:39
14 Jerusalem Talmud, op. cit. Tractate Berakhot, Ch. 9:1, [II:3 A]
15 Deuteronomy 31:16
16 Jerusalem Talmud, Ibid., Tractate Abodah Zarah, 2:7, [III:1 F]
17 Bereshith (Genesis Rabbah), p. 66
18 Isaiah 26:29
19 1 Corinthians 15:52
20 Peter Chrysologus, Sermons 34:5
21 Chromatius: Tractate on Matthew, 47:7
22 Luke 8:51
23 Mark 5:41
24 Babylonian Talmud, Seder Zera’im, Masekhet Berachoth, folio 5b
25 John 6:53
26 Chromatius: ibid., 47:6-7
27 Cf. Mark. 5:43; Luke 8:56