Matthew 9:20-22

ALL HEAVEN’S POWER FOR ONE

Matt. 9:20-22

And, look you, a woman who had had a hemorrhage for twelve years came up behind him, and touched the tassel of his cloak. For she said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be cured.” Jesus turned and saw her. “Courage, daughter!” He said. “Your faith has brought you healing.” And the woman was cured from that hour.

From the Jewish point of view this woman could not have suffered from any more terrible or humiliating disease than an issue of blood. It was a trouble which was very common in Palestine. The Talmud sets out no fewer than eleven different cures for it. Some of them were tonics and astringents which may well have been effective; others were merely superstitious remedies. One was to carry the ashes of an ostrich-egg in a linen bag in summer, and in a cotton bag in winter; another was to carry about a barleycorn which had been found in the dung of a white she-ass. When Mark tells this story, he makes it clear that this woman had tried everything, and had gone to every available doctor, and was worse instead of better (Mk.5:26).

The horror of the disease was that it rendered the sufferer unclean. The Law laid it down: “If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time of her impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond the time of her impurity, all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness; as in the days of her impurity, she shall be unclean. Every bed on which she lies, all the days of her discharge, shall be to her as the bed of her impurity; and everything on which she sits shall be unclean, as in the uncleanness of her impurity. And whoever touches these things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the evening (Lev.15:25-27).

That is to say, a woman with an issue of blood was unclean; everything and everyone she touched was infected with that uncleanness. She was absolutely shut off from the worship of God and from the fellowship of other men and women. She should not even have been in the crowd surrounding Jesus, for, if they had known it, she was infecting with her uncleanness everyone whom she touched. There is little wonder that she was desperately eager to try anything which might rescue her from her life of isolation and humiliation.

So she slipped up behind Jesus and touched what the King James Version calls the hem of his garment. The Greek word is kraspedon (GSN2899), the Hebrew is zizith, and the Revised Standard Version translates it fringe.

These fringes were four tassels of hyacinth blue worn by a Jew on the corners of his outer garment. They were worn in obedience to the injunction of the Law in Num.15:37-41 and Deut.22:12. Matthew again refers to them in Matt. 14:36 and Matt. 23:5. They consisted of four threads passing through the four corners of the garment and meeting in eight. One of the threads was longer than the others. It was twisted seven times round the others, and a double knot formed; then eight times, then eleven times, then thirteen times. The thread and the knots stood for the five books of the Law.

The idea of the fringe was two-fold. It was meant to identify a Jew as a Jew, and as a member of the chosen people, no matter where he was; and it was meant to remind a Jew every time he put on and took off his clothes that he belonged to God. In later times, when the Jews were universally persecuted, the tassels were worn on the undergarment, and today they are worn on the prayer-shawl which a devout Jew wears when he prays.

It was the tassel on the robe of Jesus that this woman touched.

When she touched it, it was as if time stood still. It was as if we were looking at a motion-picture and suddenly the picture stopped, and left us looking at one scene. The extraordinary, and the movingly beautiful thing, about this scene is that all at once amidst that crowd Jesus halted; and for the moment it seemed that for him no one but that woman and nothing but her need existed. She was not simply a poor woman lost in the crowd; she was someone to whom Jesus gave the whole of himself.

For Jesus no one is ever lost in the crowd, because Jesus is like God. W. B. Yeats once wrote in one of his moments of mystical beauty: “The love of God is infinite for every human soul, because every human soul is unique; no other can satisfy the same need in God.” God gives all of himself to each individual person.

The world is not like that. The world is apt to divide people into those who are important and those who are unimportant.

In A Night to Remember Walter Lord tells in detail the story of the sinking of the Titanic in April, 1912. There was an appalling loss of life, when that new and supposedly unsinkable liner hit an iceberg in the middle of the Atlantic. After the tragedy had been announced, the New York newspaper, The American, devoted a leader to it. The leader was devoted entirely to the death of John Jacob Astor, the millionaire; and at the end of it, almost casually, it was mentioned that 1,800 others were also lost. The only one who really mattered, the only one with real news value, was the millionaire. The other 1,800 were of no real importance.

Men can be like that, but God can never be like that. Bain, the psychologist, said in a very different connection that the sensualist has what he calla “a voluminous tenderness.” In the highest and the best sense there is a voluminous tenderness in God. James Agate said of G. K. Chesterton: “Unlike some thinkers, Chesterton understood his fellow-men; the woes of a jockey were as familiar to him as the worries of a judge. . . Chesterton, more than any man I have ever known, had the common touch. He would give the whole of his attention to a boot-black. He had about him that bounty of heart which men call kindness, and which makes the whole world kin.” That is the reflection of the love of God which allows no man to be lost in the crowd.

This is something to remember in a day and an age when the individual is in danger of getting lost. Men tend to become numbers in a system of social security; they tend as members of an association or union to almost lose their right to be individuals at all. W. B. Yeats said of Augustus John, the famous artist and portrait painter: “He was supremely interested in the revolt from all that makes one man like another.” To God one man is never like another; each is His individual child, and each has all God’s love and all God’s power at his disposal.

To Jesus this woman was not lost in the crowd; in her hour of need, to him she was all that mattered. Jesus is like that for every one of us.

Back to: THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW

Back to: Barclay’s Commentary

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