Israel is often portrayed in the Old Testament as a young woman or a bride pursued by the Lord. The prophets love this image, and Hosea, in particular, in today’s first reading proclaims how the Lord attempts to woo Israel over and over again. Israel’s problem is fidelity, she is like an unfaithful bride whose jealous husband is constantly trying to win her back. God gives us this image of being in a marriage bond with Israel to emphasize how important His relationship is with His people. He has not married Himself to any other people, and He is committed to this relationship even though Israel behaves like a prostitute. “If only she would listen to me.” He seems to say, “She would be persuaded by my love and fidelity.”
In today’s Gospel, we have a different image of a woman: one who was probably never married and is continuously losing blood. The place of fertility has become the place where life is continuously leaking out of her body. She has sought the help of doctors and they’ve only made matters worse. This is no longer an image of Israel, but rather of the Church of the Gentiles. Israel has played the harlot, and the Gentiles have a deep inner wound that their trysts with the various pagan idols (doctors) have only aggravated. Israel is already bound by marriage to the one who can save her and make her happy, while the Gentiles have groped aimlessly for some solution to the inner wound of sin. Israel has ignored and flaunted her disobedience, while the Gentiles’ confused attempts to remedy their loss of life have only made their situation worse. While the Israelites have a husband’s love to return to, the Gentiles have the robes of the true Healer to cling to in faith. Those who are chosen need to know that the choice will never change, and those who are broken need to know that the divine Doctor heals immediately at our act of faith.
Therefore in a way similar to those of old who took harlots for wives, even so God too espoused to himself the nature that had played the harlot. This the prophets from the beginning declare to have taken place with respect to the synagogue. But that spouse was ungrateful toward him who had been a husband to her, whereas the church, when once delivered from the evils received from our fathers, continued to embrace the Bridegroom.1
First, he [God] betrothed her [Israel] in Abraham (or rather, in Egypt) so that he may have an everlasting spouse. Second, on Mount Sinai in the betrothal, he gave her the equity and judgment of the law and the compassion added to the law, so that whenever she should sin she would be given up into captivity; whenever she should show penitence, she would be brought back to [her] homeland, and she would gain compassion.… By his crucifixion and resurrection from the dead, he [Jesus] betroths [her] not in the equity of the law but rather in faith and the grace of the gospel.2
Why did she not approach him openly? Was she ashamed on account of her continuing menstrual period? Did she consider herself unclean? If the menstruous woman had been declared ritually unclean, she surely would have had these reservations. For in terms of Mosaic law her flow of blood was regarded as uncleanness. For this reason she remained hidden. She concealed herself. In this respect she had not yet understood his ministry; otherwise she would not have thought it necessary to remain concealed.3
What then is his intention in bringing her forward? First, Jesus puts an end to her fear. He does not want her to remain trapped in dread. He gives no cause for her conscience to be harmed, as if she had stolen the gift. Second, he corrects her assumption that she has no right to be seen. Third, he makes her faith an exhibit to all. He encourages the others to emulate her faith. Fourth, his subduing the fountains of her hemorrhage was another sign of his knowledge of all things. And finally, do you remember the ruler of the synagogue? He was at the point of despair, of utter ruin. Jesus is indirectly admonishing him by what he says to the woman.4
The daughter of the synagogue ruler signifies the Jewish people, whereas the woman signifies the church of the Gentiles. The Lord Christ, born of the Jews in the flesh, was presented to those Jews in the flesh. But he sent others to the Gentiles; he did not go himself. His bodily and visible community ties were in Judea. Therefore the apostle says, “For I say that Christ has been a minister of the circumcision in order to show God’s fidelity in confirming the promises made to our fathers.” It was said to Abraham, “By your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves,” “that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.” Therefore Christ was sent to the Jews. He went to restore life to the daughter of the synagogue ruler. The woman appears on the scene, and she is healed. She is healed first in faith, being practically ignored by the Savior, for he said, “Who touched me?” Here we have an ignoring attitude by God and faith in the mystery by her. It means something when someone who cannot ignore, ignores. And what does it mean? It points to the healed church of the Gentiles, the bodily presence of which is not seen by Christ, whose voice is heard in the psalm: “People whom I had not known served me. As soon as they heard of me they obeyed me.” The world heard and it believed. The Jewish people saw and at first they crucified. But later they too came to him. Also the Jews will believe—but at the end of the world.5
Christ reaches the house and sees the girl who appears to be dead. In order to move faithless hearts to faith, he says that the ruler’s daughter is sleeping and is not dead. Ostensibly it is not easier to rise from death than to rise from sleep. So he says, “The girl is asleep, not dead.” With God, indeed, death is sleep, for God can bring a dead person back to life sooner than a sleeping person can be wakened from sleep by humans; and God can sooner restore life-giving warmth to limbs frozen in death than humans can infuse vigor in bodies immersed in sleep. Hear the words of the apostle: “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye the dead shall rise.” Because the blessed apostle was unable to refer to the speed of the resurrection in words, he opted for examples. How could he touch upon rapidity when divine power anticipates rapidity itself? And how does time enter the picture when something eternal is given outside of time? Even as time applies to temporality, so does eternity exclude time.6
- HOMILIES ON THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW 3.5.20. Ferreiro, A. (2003). Introduction to the Twelve Prophets. In A. Ferreiro (Ed.), The Twelve Prophets (p. 11). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON HOSEA 1.2. Ferreiro, A. (2003). Introduction to the Twelve Prophets. In A. Ferreiro (Ed.), The Twelve Prophets (p. 12). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 31.1. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 183). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 31.2. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 184). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- SERMONS 63B. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 184). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- SERMONS 34.5. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (pp. 184–185). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.