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It's time for the annual flu season, but this year many people will be receiving not only their flu shots, but their COVID-19 booster shots as well. For the past two years we've been preoccupied with contagious disease.

The good news this morning is that that whatever Jesus has got, it’s contagious! And it’s not a virus!  

Gospel: Matthew 9:18-26

A certain ruler seeks the raising to life of his daughter who had just died. Jesus arose and followed him only to encounter a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years, who said to herself, ‘if I may touch his garment, I shall be whole.’ The story may touch our hearts, too, and make us whole. But what does wholeness or salvation really mean?  

The ruler comes and kneels before Jesus, a powerful ruler who recognizes in Jesus someone higher than himself, a higher power. He believes that Jesus can save from death. Jesus is recognized in this amazing good news as someone who is stronger, a power higher than sickness and loneliness and rejection and death. And friends, this is the Good News for you and me today.  

We have two women before us in our Gospel, two women in hopeless circumstances. One has been hemorrhaging for 12 years. Luke tells us that she had spent all her money and all her hope, on cures that never worked. This woman was not only sick but because of this bleeding, she would have been deemed ritually unclean. And the 12 year time period of her flow of blood hints at the symbolism going one here: as there were 12 tribes of Israel, Jesus comes to cleanse the people of God who had become impure, and just so He comes to cleanse His church today.  

In a telling reversal, the religious leaders of the day, who made an outward show of holiness, masking the impurity of their hearts, would have avoided contact with this woman who was ritually impure, but who was pure and holy in her faith. So she must try to steal a touch at Jesus’ garment, by sneaking up behind him. And he assures her with the words, “Take heart, daughter.” He is not offended by this contact. Instead of his being defiled by contact with her, she is healed by contact with him.

It’s important to notice how often this reversal in the order of contagion occurs in Jesus’ healing miracles. We assume and it is our common experience, that when a healthy person comes into contact with an infected person, the contagious disease passes from the infected to the uninfected. But here the opposite occurs. Christ’s wellness, his health and life and wholeness, is passed to the sick woman and she is made well.  

The same occurs in the second miracle: His life is contagious. The abundance of life, that divine life in Christ, is contagious, and when he takes the girl by the hand, she rises, and she is made alive.  

So friends, you can catch eternal life from Jesus Christ. But how? By his touch, but also, as our Lord explains to the older woman, by faith in him. He tells her, “Your faith has made you well.” It is this contact with Jesus in faith, which is the means by which this transfer, this exchange, occurs.  

The younger girl was in an even more hopeless circumstance – she was dead. By the time Jesus arrives at the house, they had begun to mourn and lament over her. So they tell him that she’s gone and there is no chance of saving her now. Her case is hopeless, it’s over. There is nothing left but to mourn and weep. But despite these desperate circumstances, the loving father will not give up. Listen to how he speaks to Jesus at the beginning of the passage in v.18. He admits she is as good as dead, but still, he clings stubbornly to hope that Jesus can save her - even from death.  

There is in both of these figures and cases what we might call “great expectations.” “My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” “If I only touch his garment, I shall be made well.” We see here a faith in Jesus Christ, which on that basis has great hopes, great expectations.  

Jesus says to the woman, “Your faith has made you well” and of the girl, He says, she “is not dead, but sleeping.” For the Christian, death is not the end anymore. It is but a sleep, from which we shall arise when Christ calls, for He can and does raise the dead. Friends, if any of you have buried a daughter, or a son, or a loved one, hear today this comforting promise from Jesus: “The girl is not dead but sleeping.” May we know it, believe it and hope in it, with confidence and joy.  

These two women and their stories are so beautifully connected and interwoven. Note that we have here a young girl at the outset of her womanhood, and another in the twilight of her womanhood. So these two represent all women, and all of us, of all ages, both women and men. And they represent the ways in which we are all sick and dead, lifeless and unclean, hemorrhaging and finished.  

Friends, ask yourself this morning: does that describe you, or a part of your life? Where do you need the healing and purifying and life-giving touch of Jesus?  

The younger woman is healed by Jesus’ touch, and the older woman is healed by touching Jesus. Note the perfect balance between the two. In the case of the older woman, she takes the initiative and reaches out in faith to touch Jesus. In the case of the girl, it is Jesus who is the active one, as He reaches out and takes her by the hand; although even in this case, Jesus acts in response to the initiative of her father.  

So we learn something here about the nature of faith in Jesus: our faith is necessary to seek or receive the healing power of Jesus. But faith itself does not create the healing – that is the power of Jesus alone. We have two healing miracles before us of cleansing from impurity and raising from death. And if these are to mean anything to us, if they are to be ours as well, then we need to recognize our own need for cleansing and raising. We need to come to Jesus this morning in faith and hope, and say, “Lord, there’s a part of me or all of me that is just dead, but come and lay your hand, reach out to me and give life.” And we need to say, “If I can just touch him, I know I will be made well.”   I said earlier that Jesus reverses the order of contagion: His life and purity are contagious and the woman and the girl catch it from Him. It seems that Jesus is not infected by their disease and impurity. But in the end, He is indeed.  

In his passion and death on the cross, Jesus does take on the afflictions of these women, of all women, men and children. For he shall bleed for the hemorrhaging woman, and he shall die for the dead girl and for all of humanity, that we might be redeemed, that we might receive the forgiveness of sins and eternal life through him.  

He will bleed and he will die, on the cross, to save us and them from the stain and death of sin. He cleanses us from all sin, and he frees us from its grip and power. He makes the wounded whole and he makes the dead alive, he who was wounded and died for us all on the cross.  

As Peter says, He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:24 ESV)  

And in those great words from the prophet Isaiah:            

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.   But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. (ESV)        

Epistle: Colossians 1:3-12   

So friends, this morning, we come to Christ crucified and risen seeking healing from our wounds, forgiveness from our transgressions; and this can be ours through the free and unmerited gift of God, His grace.  

The Gospel, the good news of Jesus, is about the grace of God, as Paul tells us in today’s reading from Colossians. The grace of God, the free gift of His love, brings redemption to in Jesus Christ, the forgiveness of sins.  

In us, this is a matter of faith, hope and love. For if we put our faith in Jesus Christ, we find a hope for ourselves, and we are filled with a love for all the saints, all God’s people. And we bear fruit and grow, by the work of the Holy Spirit within us.  

Saint Paul says that this Christian life is one of growth and increase, and that is a word we need to hear. The Christian life means growing. Living a life worthy of him and pleasing to him means bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. Getting closer, growing deeper.  

Jesus is contagious, and you can catch the forgiveness of sins and eternal life from him. And that is the Good News. So friends, this morning, in this Holy Communion, come to him by faith, reach out to him in faith, receive him in faith, and find healing and life. Amen. 

Sources quoted and consulted

  • Michael Hawkins, Sermon for the Twenty Fourth Sunday after Trinity.
  • Peter Leithart, 'Sermon Notes, First Sunday in Lent,' Theopolis Institute.

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