Monday: Psalm 66-67; Isaiah 36; Matthew 9.18-38

From: Jonathan Bailes

The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all include the story of a woman being healed of a twelve-year illness simply by touching Jesus’ cloak. But whereas Mark tells the story in ten verses, and Luke in eight and a half, the version of it that we read in Matthew’s gospel today reduces it to a mere three verses. Only three verses. Little more than a footnote. But it really is a remarkable story. After twelve years of bleeding, twelve years of being unable to visit the temple, twelve years undoubtedly filled with tearful petitions, this unnamed woman has not lost her faith. Many probably would have given up after such a long time of pain and unfulfilled prayer. If the crowd around her knew what was going through her mind, they might laugh at her just as they laugh at Jesus a few verses later when he suggests that the little girl he intends to heal is not dead after all. But she is undeterred by her twelve years of suffering and unanswered prayer. She boldly approaches Jesus and touches his cloak. And, as Jesus says, her faith heals her.

If we compare this story with our reading from Isaiah, we can discern a similar theme. Sennacherib and the mighty Assyrian army have invaded Judah and are threatening Hezekiah and Jerusalem. Sennacherib sends an emissary to Hezekiah demanding immediate surrender, and the speech that this emissary gives really sounds quite reasonable. Egypt will not save Judah, and it seems absurd for them to set their hope of salvation on a God whom they have disobeyed and who seems to have given victory to Assyria over every nation with whom she has gone to war. If you think about it, the mocking voice of the emissary isn’t that different from the laughter of the crowd in the gospel of Matthew.

It seems ridiculous for a woman to think that a twelve-year-old flow of blood will dry up from touching a man’s cloak, or that a dead girl could just be “sleeping”, or that Jerusalem has any hope other than total surrender. But, if we are to take the woman from Matthew’s gospel as a model, this is what faith is: believing that God can and will still act even when he seems to be absent. Sometimes, faith means that we continue to hope in God even when, as in Psalm 66, it is God himself who has become our adversary: “You laid a crushing burden on our backs; you let men ride over your heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us to a place of abundance.” Or, in the wonderful words of Job, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him.”

Speaking personally, I needed to hear these scriptures today. At the end of this academic year, the stipend that my family and I have lived on for the last five years will be running out and I don’t know where we will get the money we need. On top of that, even if I am able to secure some kind of funding for the next year, my future job prospects are hardly secure. This uncertainty has given me anxiety, I won’t lie. But if that Jewish woman can have faith in Jesus to heal her after twelve years, and if the psalmist continues to trust God despite God’s own severity, then my anxiety seems hardly warranted. With these readings in mind, it seems far more right to say with the psalmist, “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!” 

I live with my wife and our three children in Brighton. Recently, I discovered a new sledding spot in our neighborhood, so come the next snow, I’m prepared.