The other day I was startled by this verse: “And they laughed at him” (Matthew 9:24b). One helpful tool for studying the Bible well is to be on the lookout for emotional language. Like noticing when Jesus wept (John 11:35) or when Paul pleads rather than simply asking (Rom. 12:1). It’s fun to hear laughter in the Bible, but this instance is curious for two reasons.
First of all, the people laughing here were in the midst of mourning for a dead girl. For the most part, laughing at a funeral is a no no. Unless you’re laughing at an endearing photo of the deceased or a great story from his past, you don’t usually hear laughter at a time like this. In this case, a ruler’s daughter had just died, and there were musicians playing and a crowd “making a commotion.” They were mourning the tragic loss of life. Yet a simple sentence broke through their wails and had them laughing in open mockery. For a moment.
The second reason this laughter is odd is that they were laughing at Jesus. Apparently, Jesus was funny. But what this crowd found laughable was actually a confirmation of Jesus’ true identity.
In this scenario, a ruler came to Jesus, telling him that his daughter had just died, and asking Jesus to come and lay his hand on her so that she would live again. That in itself is remarkable. It’s one thing to hope that the travelling miracle-worker may be able to curb your daughter’s failing health, but quite another to believe that he held power over death. What this ruler saw in Jesus was completely missed by the crowd of mourners.
Also interesting is the fact that this father, who had just lost his daughter, was not among the mourners, but was actively seeking a remedy to bring his daughter back to life. And the remedy he sought was Jesus.
So when Jesus stepped into this house full of mourners, he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And really, can we blame them for laughing? They hadn’t seen, as the ruler did while he escorted Jesus to his home, a woman with 12 years of internal bleeding be healed simply by touching the hem of Jesus’ robe. To these mourners, the idea that death was no more permanent than a nap was absurd. Hilarious.
But when Jesus sent the mourners out of the house—what an inappropriate gathering they had become—he took the ruler’s daughter by the hand, and she got up. No incantation. No potions. No show. When touched by the hand that had formed her in her mother’s womb, the life that had temporarily left her came rushing back.
“The report of this went through all that district.” But there are still those who laugh. Even amongst those of us who claim to be his followers. His claims are absurd, his calling impossible, his promises far-fetched. Yet this simple story in Matthew’s Gospel gives us perspective. Who is the crazy one: the crowd of “realists” who laugh at the implication that death can be reversed, or the father who sees even death as subservient to the King of all?