Everybody seems to have one Bible story that they remember more easily than others or like better for some reason. The gospel for the Daily Office today is one of my particular favorites. There is so much going on, and there are so many aspects to be taken apart and examined as if they were under a microscope. To me it is fascinating as well as touching, because a lot of it seems to be incredible and heart-wrenching
The story is about a synagogue leader whose young daughter, aged probably around 13, had died and the thing he thought of to do, instead of standing by her bed and mourning, was to run to Jesus and ask for help. He expressed a great faith that Jesus could do what would seem to be almost impossible: raising the dead. The first important thing about this lesson is that it shows the power of faith, and the depth of one petitioner’s trust in Jesus.
Suddenly, however, a second story appears, kind of like the middle of a sandwich. We’ve gotten the bottom crust and now we get to a different story which is about a woman who had a severe hemorrhage for about 13 years, and who had faith but also a great deal of fear. All she wanted was to touch the hem of his garment and she knew she would be healed. She had tried everything else, but nothing had worked, and so for the last almost 13 years she had remained unclean, undefended, isolated, and probably severely depressed. This was her one chance, and so she took it. Jesus felt the power go out of him when she only had touched a single fringe on his cloak. She didn’t touch his hand or his feet, or any clothes that were closely attached to him. It was just a fringe that floated in the breeze. But Jesus knew what she had done because he turned around and told her to take heart. She was made well, partly due to her great faith.
Then we get to the top layer of the sandwich, where Jesus goes to the leader’s house which was his original destination. He first had to empty the house of all the mourners and musicians who were making a loud noise and creating a lot of confusion. He told them to go away, and that the girl was not dead but asleep. The mourners found that very amusing; this synagogue leader had brought a comedian to a deathbed. After they were all herded out, Jesus went into the little girl’s room, picked up her hand and the girl rose up. The sandwich is nearly complete.
This kind of story within a story is familiarly called the sandwich technique of writing. It can be called a framing narrative. There are other names for the technique, but sandwich seems to be such a good metaphor for how the stories are put together.
Reading it this time made something light up in my head. I think it shows Jesus multitasking. Undoubtedly, he did it all the time. He would be walking and teaching at the same time or cooking and conversing with the disciples as they mended nets. Multitasking wasn’t a word then, but today it is a very common word and action. It is something that everyone experiences now and again, even if not with such great consequences. This is like a slice of our lives today. I had never really considered it as Jesus doing something that we think of as relatively new, or perhaps we just noticed we needed a name for it. I guess it really does help me to understand that Jesus was human and capable of doing a lot of things that we think of as modern.
The sandwich isn’t just bread and meat and/or cheese; it is a collection of things like mayonnaise, pickles, Dijon mustard, onions, horseradish, or lettuce and tomato. Without the assorted flavors of the additions, the sandwich seems kind of dull. It is the same thing with the stories in this particular sandwich narrative. The details come with the accent on Jesus’s robe with fringe, the woman’s length of illness compared to the child’s age at the time of her death, the fact that both were female. Also there is the fact that both were the recipients of gifts from God through Jesus even though they were two separate individuals who probably never met, and the only thing they had in common was that they both were in dire straits. We know the child was, because the synagogue leader had said that his daughter had died. That’s drastic.
If you look at the woman with the hemorrhage, she was in dire straits too because of all the years of having wasted her money on doctors trying to cure her of her malady, as well as her lack of male accompaniment as she went out on the street. She was considered every bit as unclean as a leper, if anyone happened to know of her situation. It is probably pretty sure that they did, since gossip seems to float around regardless of the size of the area. If I go to bed at night, draw the curtains, pull down the shades, close the window, get under the covers and sneeze, the first thing tomorrow morning someone will ask me how my cold is. Same with the woman with the hemorrhage, they might not say anything, but their eyes would be staring, and speculation would be running rampant. It would be tremendously uncomfortable for the poor woman. There are so many bits of spice and color, spoken or unspoken, that give texture and flavor to her story.
I like the story because of all the details that are put in that make it seem real. Not exactly like a TV thriller or even a lot of the biblical movies that have come out, but rather as a slice of life, one that we can look at and put into perspective in our own lives. We to have interruptions in our lives, or something must be dealt with immediately just as these two incidents were.
One thing I learned from this is that if someone of Jesus’s stature could interrupt one urgent mission to take care of another before going back to the first, then I should be able to handle getting a new piece of paper that needs immediate attention when I’m already working on another that demands equal attention. It is choosing, prioritizing, and multitasking. It is putting things into perspective and giving where gifts are sorely needed. I love this in these two stories.
I guess this next week I am going to have to think about where my priorities are and what I am doing at the cost of putting something else aside either for a few minutes for a few hours. Which is more important? How do I decide? Jesus responded to both requests even though one was unspoken while the other was a direct request. Sometimes it only takes a touch on the fringe to draw attention to the fact that someone needs help. Am I going to be sensitive enough to God’s will to feel that and work with it?
Image: Club Sandwich from Wikimedia Commons, credited to Matt@PEK, Taipei, Taiwan
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for two Education for Ministry groups, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and semi-retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She is also owned by three cats.