Focus on where it is your are and what you hope to be at the end of this session
Try to settle down, and get yourself still. There are a number of ways you might do that; Today become aware of where you are sitting. Sit as simply as you can, either on a chair, with feet on the floor, and eyes closed, or on the floor or armchair in a position that you know they can maintain for the whole period. Feel your seat beneath you, and focus on where it is your are and what you hope to be at the end of this session.
Then, when you have stilled yourself, at least for a while, turn to God, and say ‘Here I am; speak, Lord ‘your servant is listening’.
Matthew has added in two other tales, that of the call of the tax-collector called Matthew and an argument about fasting
In Mark’s gospel, this story, which is really two stories wrapped round each other, comes straight after the story of the Gerasene demoniac; but Matthew has added in two other tales, that of the call of the tax-collector called Matthew and an argument about fasting. That probably makes a difference to the way you experience the double story in today’s session.
While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying, ‘My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.’ And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples. Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, for she said to herself, ‘If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.’ Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, ‘Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.’ And instantly the woman was made well. When Jesus came to the leader’s house and saw the flute-players and the crowd making a commotion, he said, ‘Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him. But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up. And the report of this spread throughout that district.
How would you feel if you were waiting for Jesus’ response?
- We have two stories in this particular reading. We will call them ‘Story number one’, and ‘Story number two’. In story number one, we encounter a man desperate for Jesus’ healing touch over his daughter. We are told that the function of this man is a ‘leader’, or, as some translations call him, ‘an official’ of the synagogue, which means that we are expecting trouble, (wrongly as it happens). Story number two shows the act of healing through the plight and faith of a woman.
- First, as so often in Matthew, Story number one, starts with the command, ‘Look!’ or ‘Behold’, as Matthew invites us to pay attention to what is happening in this double story.
- The official makes a request, for his daughter, who is apparently ‘dead’, though in Mark she was ‘at her last extremity’. Can you imagine what the feelings of the ruler whose daughter has died would have been like?
- We notice, further, that the official shows quite exuberant confidence in the power of Jesus’ healing mercy: ‘come and put your hand on her - and she will live’, he asserts. Have you ever felt this confident in the power of Jesus’ healing mercy?
- Look at Jesus’ reaction: he ‘arose’ (we have seen in previous sessions that this is a Resurrection word), and ‘followed’. This word, rather surprisingly, is used to indicate discipleship; so the story already leaves us a bit puzzled. What has this word, ‘arose’, meant for you over the course of this retreat?
- Now Story Number two starts, marked with our old friend ‘Look!’; the hearer’s attention turns to the person who wants something; and she turns out to be a ‘woman’, which means that she is more on the margins of society than the ‘ruler’. She also does not waste time putting a question to Jesus. Instead she goes for what she wants, and grabs it. Is this something you do in your own relationship with God?
- We hear of her plight: for an unbelievable twelve years she has endured a ‘flow of blood’, which will have left her quite exhausted. Worse than that, it makes her ritually impure, and so she should not be in the crowd, should not be close to anyone, even her husband or her family; and she should certainly not be touching anyone. Can you imagine living this kind of life? Can you get inside the feelings of this woman?
- Now she does what she should certainly not have done, under any circumstances: ‘she touched the hem of his garment’, making him ritually impure. At the same time the evangelist allows us to eavesdrop on her thoughts: ‘If I just touch his cloak’, she says, ‘I’m going to be saved’. Like the ruler, she shows confidence in what is going to happen: the healing mercy she detects in Jesus will trump her impurity. How does this woman’s confidence speak to you?
- This is now put to the test, as the narrator tells us of Jesus’ reaction: ‘he turned and saw her’. We wait, wondering how he is going to respond. Will he bellow, like some religiously rigid people might, ‘You foolish woman! Now look what you have done - you have made me Ritually Impure!’? How would you feel if you were waiting for Jesus’ response?
- Jesus (of course) does nothing of the kind. Instead, he says, ‘Courage, daughter, your faith has saved you’, and we remember almost the same words being addressed to the paralytic on the stretcher, and know immediately that all will be well. What is the significance of calling this woman ‘daughter’? Can you hear God’s voice speaking these words over you as we approach Holy Week?
- ‘And the woman was saved’ (precisely what we have heard her hoping for) ‘from that hour’. Her healing is effortless and immediate. Is there a desire in you for this ‘effortless’ and ‘immediate’ healing in your own life?
Talk to God
Have you encountered God’s grace and healing power in a new light?
- We return to Story number one and follow Jesus ‘into the house of the ruler’. There we find the professional mourners (‘flute-players’), and ‘the crowd in disorder’. As always, Jesus acts to restore order into a confused situation saying, ‘Go up - for the little girl did not die. No - she’s sleeping’. How do you hear Jesus saying these words?
- Now the crowds offer their reaction to the words of mercy: ‘they laughed him down’. So they have to go, since they function as a distraction from the healing power of God’s mercy. How do you imagine the crowds and their reaction to Jesus?
- After the ‘crowds had been expelled’, Jesus was free to do what mercy does: ‘he went in and took her hand’. Once again, this makes him doubly ritually impure. Then the narrator tells us the result: ‘the little girl was raised up’. This is, you do not need to be told, the Resurrection word, and we are watching the healing power of God at work. And we discover the wider result: ‘and this report went out into the whole of that land’ (which might mean either the Holy Land or the world at large). How will you proclaim the message and good news of God’s mercy and healing?
- As you come to the end of this retreat, you might want to reflect on what has stirred in your heart. Have you encountered God’s grace and healing power in a new light? Or perhaps you have discovered healing you might need in your life. Whatever you feel at the end of this retreat, bring everything, the bad and the good, the old and the new, into the healing and merciful presence of God.