The faith of the unknown woman (Matthew 9:18-26)

The nameless woman had a long-term illness that had isolated her. Those who knew her would shun her because contact with her would affect them in a ceremonial way and make them unfit for the worship of God. I suspect she felt all alone in the world. Who could she turn to for help? Moreover, the disease she had was regarded as incurable. Another gospel mentions that she had tried many doctors, but none had been able to help. Who could she turn to for hope in her sad situation?

It is interesting that Matthew shows little interest, as far as recording material is concerned, in the fact that the daughter of Jairus was born in the same year as the woman’s illness commenced. Other accounts tell us that Jairus’ daughter was twelve years old. This lack of focus by Matthew surely is designed to tell us that what matters for him was not coincidences, but cures. His decision not to include it does not mean we should ignore it when reading the other accounts of this incident, but it points to us paying attention to what Matthew is highlighting.

Is there a significance in the woman’s decision to touch the hem of the garment of Jesus? This item is mentioned in Numbers 15:38-41: ‘Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lordyour God.’ Since the point of this item of clothing was to remind everyone to obey the commandments of the Lord, what would the woman have thought of Jesus when she looked at his tassels? She must have believed that he kept the commandments, otherwise how could he have healed her if he was disobedient to them?

From one point of view, her action was unusual for someone who did not want to be seen because the option she chose involved her having to bow down in front of people in order to reach his garment. Of course, it may have been getting dark and perhaps she also thought that would help hide her. If all she wanted to do was touch him, then she could have jostled her way towards him and touched him similar to how others did in the throng. In a sense, she did what Jairus did, which was to bow to Jesus, even if she hoped that she would not be observed. In this, she is a picture of those who recognise the greatness of Jesus but who do not like to be in the public gaze.

Her faith included confidence in Jesus. She had no doubt that she would be cured if she touched his clothes. Matthew uses the imperfect tense when recording her words. She kept on saying to herself, ‘If I only touch the hem of his garment, I will be made well.’ Probably she told the disciples afterwards that she had been saying this to herself. This reminding herself of what Jesus would do was not a sign of unbelief. It is like us repeating his promises to ourselves. We can imagine ourselves repeating to ourselves the promise, ‘Him that comes to me, I will never cast out.’

Matthew also records what we can call the reward of faith because she received words of assurance from Jesus. His statement to her indicated that she had a place in his divine family and that she had it immediately. She moved from being alone to a place where she belonged to the disciples of Jesus. Maybe she became one of the women from Galilee who ministered to Jesus. The fact that Matthew knew she had been repeating to herself the certainty of a cure indicates that she later was involved to some degree with Jesus and his disciples. The one thing that is clear is that her faith in Jesus led to her becoming a member of the family of God.

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