Jesus Raises the Dead – Matthew 9:18-26

In Matthew 9:18-26 Jesus raises a young girl from the dead and heals a woman with a flow of blood. These miracle stories immediately follow Jesus’s response to the Pharisees and Disciples of John who question his practice of eating with “sinners” like the tax collector Matthew. In fact, these two miracles illustrate Jesus’s teaching that it is not the time for mourning, but celebrating.

Raising Jairus's Daughter (Ilya Repin; 1871)

As expected, Matthew greatly reduces Mark 5:21-43. Luke 8:40-56 is also shorter than Mark, but many of the details dropped in Matthew remain. The child is dying in Mark 5:23, but in Matthew 9:18 she has just died. Matthew drops the name of the man and simplifies his title. With respect to the woman, Matthew reduces the description by omitting what she had spent on doctors. She does not touch Jesus, he speaks to her when he sees her. This allows Matthew to omit the troubling line about Jesus feeling his power go out if him and the question “who touched me?” Since the daughter is already dead, no one tells the man his daughter just died, and mourners are reduced. He does not take Peter, James and John into the room with him, nor does he speak to the girl (the Aramaic words are dropped) and he does not give strict orders not to talk about the miracle or tell her parents to give her something to eat. Mark reports the girl is twelve years old; Luke includes this detail but moves it to the request for healing.

John Nolland thinks this is the first of three miracles illustrating the three metaphors in the previous section (Matthew, 394). Jesus does not mourn at funerals; he raises the dead (taking the two women in 9:18-26 as both dead women). The next two (healing the blind and casting out a demon) are less clearly connected to the patch and new wine metaphors.

Going back to 9:6, Jesus healed the paralyzed man so that the teachers of the Law would know he has authority to forgive sin. This is followed by calling Matthew as a disciple and sharing a meal in Matthew’s home. That meal generates two more reactions, first from the Pharisees and then from the disciples of John. To the Pharisees Jesus says, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” and to the disciples of John he response with three metaphors (a bridegroom, patched clothing, and new wine in old wineskins).

In Matthew 9:18-19, A man asks Jesus to raise his daughter. The man is identified as a ruler (ἄρχων), in Mark 5:23 he is a synagogue ruler (ἀρχισυνάγωγος in Mark, ἄρχων τῆς συναγωγῆς in Luke). In Mark and Luke his name is given as Jarius.

A synagogue ruler is the person in charge of the daily operation of a synagogue. He is not a priest or a rabbi. In Matthew, Jesus has not left Capernaum (8:5 he enters Capernaum and in 8:14 he went to Peter’s house and he is in “the house” in 9:1 where he forgives the paralytic’s sin), so the man is in charge of the synagogue in Capernaum. Undoubtedly this leader knew Jesus and perhaps witnessed his healing of the man with the withered hand (Mark 3:1-6). He would certainly have known Jesus’s reputation as a healer and exercised.

In this case it is remarkable because the man is the leader of the synagogue, usually the religious establishment is somehow against Jesus. It is possible however the ruler of the synagogue in Capernaum was not part of the religious aristocracy or a Pharisee. Think of him as a custodian of a small country church. It is unlikely denominational leaders will know hm at all. This may explain Matthew’s reduction of his title from synagogue leader to just a leader, with no reference to the synagogue. Although an archon could be a lord or prince, it can refer to anyone who has some administrative authority.

The man knelt before Jesus and says his daughter has just died. He expresses faith that if Jesus is able to lay his hand upon her, she will live. Kneeling (προσκυνέω) is often associated with worship. In Matthew the verb appears 13 times, three times in the story of the wise men, who worship Jesus as a child; twice in the temptation story. In 14:33 the disciples worship Jesus after he walks on water and calms the sea. The word appears twice in Matthew 28:9, 17 for people who realize Jesus has been raised from the dead and they worship him.  In every other case Matthew uses the word to describe someone who coming to Jesus with a special request (healing, in 9:2, 9:18; a servant in a parable, 18:26; James and John’s mother, 20:20).

The man expresses remarkable faith. In Matthew, the people who express faith in Jesus are usually outsiders (lepers, centurions, unclean women). This is another hint the man is not from a high social status.

By the time Jesus arrives at the ruler’s home, the professional mourners have already arrived: flute players and the crowd making a commotion (Matthew 9:23-26). The verb θορυβέω refers to making a fuss, shouting or other chaotic activity. The place is in an uproar!

As the leader of the synagogue, he would have been expected to hire several professional mourners to wail and sing appropriate laments. Matthew mentions flute players (αὐλητής), this refers to reed-flutes typically used for mourning the dead.

Jeremiah 48:36 describes the mournful sound of flutes played for the dead. Josephus mentions professional mourners with flutes or pipes: “a great many hired mourners, with their pipes, who should begin the melancholy ditties for them” (JW 3.437). Rabbi Judah said, “Even the poorest man in Israel should not hire fewer than two flutes and one professional wailing woman” (m.Ketuboth 4:4).

The mourners mock Jesus when he tells them she is not dead, but only sleeping (v. 24). These mourners know their business, and the girl is clearly dead. When Jesus declares that she is not dead but rather only sleeping these mourners laugh at Jesus!  Jesus is telling them their behavior is not appropriate because she is not dead (like a mourner at a wedding in 9:15).

The resurrection is simple: Jesus takes the girl’s hand and she got up (v. 25). Mark includes the Aramaic phrase Talitha cumi, meaning “little girl, rise up.” Since the Pharisees suspect Jesus is casting out demons by the power of the Devil (Matt 9:34), the Aramaic could have been dropped so that Jesus does not appear to be using a “magic word.”

As with other miracles in Matthew 8-9, it is impossible to keep this quiet. News spread throughout the region that Jesus had raised a girl form the dead.

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