Formations 03.04.2018: Jesus Shows Compassion

Matthew 9:18-26, 35-38

Jesus as the Good Shepherd, depicted in a third-century catacomb

My granddad died well before I was born. What I have of him has been given secondhand—ties and desk ornaments, pictures and stories. Among the easily believed and even the photographed, some stories are harder to accept.

One of these is a healing story. As it goes, my grandparents were driving to a Rotary dinner. The driver in front of them swerved off the road and down into a ditch. They pulled off the road. My grandmother flagged a car down to go find a phone. My grandfather tended to the man, offering pressure to a severed artery. The ambulance came, and they went on to their dinner. He cleaned the blood from his shirt and covered what was left with his jacket. On the way home, they stopped at the hospital to check in on the man.

It’s simple enough. But I know through years of hearing it and remembering it, the story has changed. I’ve added some details with little basis in history. I’ve forgotten others. And the only proof for these types of stories are the words of the storyteller. They are rarely impartial observers. More often they are family or friends celebrating and passing down histories of the people they loved. And yet, despite a mix of doubt and acceptance, this story allows me to meet a loved one I never could.

I expect it is similar with the miraculous stories of Jesus. The Gospel writers remember him differently, and yet we confess that they all remember him truly. Matthew, for example, more than any other Gospel writer, remembers Jesus as a teacher. Luke and Mark, on the other hand, give more time and deeper description to the healings and feedings that Jesus brought as the kingdom of God.

This week’s story begins not on the road, as in Mark and Luke, but at a dinner table with Matthew’s friends (v. 10). While eating, some Pharisees ask why Jesus dines with tax collectors and other assorted sinners. After all, they threatened Israel’s holiness and God’s national favor. So Jesus teaches about mercy, not sacrifice. Then some of John’s disciples come to ask why they don’t fast (vv. 11-14). Jesus offers parables about feasting with bridegrooms, sewing shrunken patches on old cloaks, and putting new wine in new skins (vv. 15-17).

Then a man, a leader from the synagogue in fact, comes to Jesus, not with a question, but with a request: “come and lay your hand on her, and she will live” (v. 18). While Jesus followed him, a woman, who had suffered twelve years from hemorrhages, touched his cloak. When he saw her, he said, “take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well” (v. 22). But when Jesus came to the daughter’s house, he dismissed the public mourners who offered thoughts and prayers for suffering and cynicism for hope. He followed the family into the house. He took the daughter’s hand and woke her up.

Jesus’ healing shows us Christ’s power. But Lent invites us to hear this story with an ear to Jesus’ compassion. This season reminds us that suffering, not just affection or intense emotion, frames Jesus’ compassion. Suffering draws Jesus from the table. In fact, suffering may determine which table he chose in the first place (see v. 12). Throughout this passage, Jesus joins in suffering to proclaim “the good news of the kingdom” (v. 36).

The good news is that we may participate in this. We may follow him as he followed a grieving father. And as we prepare to tell the story of Christ’s Passion, we may remember the believable but shaky promise that shared suffering leads to shared life.

Discussion

• What does Christ’s shared suffering teach us about God?
• When have you felt that Christ suffered with you?
• What experiences of suffering in your life and community have you shared with others?
• Where might you participate in suffering to offer healing?

Reference Shelf

Jesus’ Ministry to Women

The First Evangelist gives only the bare bones of the Markan story he had in his source (Mark 5:21-43), severely abbreviating the account and leaving out many of its interesting circumstantial details and asides. As D. Hagner says, he cuts out one third of the first part of the story about the dying girl, two thirds of the story about the woman with the blood flow, and two thirds of the conclusion of the story about the dying girl. We get the impression that the First Evangelist is not interested in telling these stories for their own sake, but only insofar as they teach his audience something about following Jesus or about the character of Jesus himself. This is one of those instances where it seems clear that Mark is the source and the First Evangelist is the editor, as the Markan account is much more detailed and fresh, sounding like a firsthand account.

The more notable deletions of the First Evangelist include Jairus’s name, the fact that he is a synagogue ruler, his pleading, references to the crowd, the extent of the woman’s suffering, the clear reference to her healing, the fact that Jesus knew power had gone out from him, his question “Who touched me?” (which suggested he needed to be informed), the later report of the death of the girl (in Matthew the ruler reports she has died up front; cf. Matt 9:19 and Mark 5:23), the taking of only three disciples and the parents into the presence of the girl, the words Jesus spoke to the girl, the reference to her walking and being given something to eat, and the reference to the astonished reaction of the crowd. There are a few Matthean additions, chiefly the reference to flute players being present at the ruler’s house, the reference to the fringes on Jesus’ garment, the phrase “take courage,” and the words about it being reported throughout the region (v. 26).

In the Matthean telling of these tales, the Evangelist has placed stress on the raising of the dead, this story being an illustration that Jesus was capable of such. After the ruler comes and kneels before Jesus, making his request, Jesus and the disciples go with him, and the process is interrupted by a woman who touched the fringes on Jesus’ garment. This detail about the fringes or tassels is not found in Mark’s account. Fringes are mentioned in Numbers 15:38-39 and Deuteronomy 22:12 as reminders to observant Jews of God’s commandments. This detail makes clear that Jesus sought, in ways that accorded with the coming of the Dominion, to continue to be an observant Jew. This was one of the confusing things about Jesus. In some respects he seemed observant, and in other respects he seemed to be going his own way, even making up his own rules and practices. Both things were true, which is why Pharisees and others questioned him in particular about the ways he deviated from normal early Jewish thought and praxis.

Ben Witherington III, Matthew, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2006), 202–3.

The Passion

Passion is a technical term for the suffering, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus, especially the events of the last week of his ministry as recorded in the Gospels. Because the resurrection is an inseparable part of that event, it is often embraced in the comprehensive use of the term.

Reformation theologies, especially those shaped by John Calvin, tended to focus exclusively upon the death of Christ as a propitiation for human sin, satisfying the wrath of God or preserving the divine honor. Such a transactional view of the significance of the suffering of Jesus has been highly modified in recent theologies by broader emphasis on the incarnation of Christ, his entire servant ministry, and his continuing ministry “at the right hand of the father.”

Jesus own self-designation, SON OF MAN, found more than eighty times in the synoptic Gospels, refers in more than half of those occurrences to his earthly suffering, rejection, and approaching death. This makes his entire incarnate life and mission a ministry of suffering. Thus it shifts the emphasis from a transaction between the Son and the Father at Calvary’s CROSS, to a life-style of crossbearing and suffering for the Christian disciple. This is reinforced by the strong influence of the suffering servant image of Isaiah in the Gospel portrait of Jesus and in the early Christian interpretation of the life of Jesus in the Epistles.

Wayne E. Ward, “The Passion,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 647.

William Scruggs is a graduate of Mercer University. His favorite pastimes are adding music to his listening list, TV shows to his viewing list, and books to his reading list. When he isn’t pretending to check items off these lists, he spends time with friends and plays music. He is excited for the opportunity to continue exploring the rivers of Middle Georgia and to stay in Macon as an associate editor at Smyth & Helwys.

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