Saturday, May 4, 2013

A Lucan Sandwich

Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him. Just then there came a man named Jairus, a leader of the synagogue. He fell at Jesus’ feet and begged him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter, about twelve years old, who was dying.

As he went, the crowds pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her haemorrhage stopped. Then Jesus asked, ‘Who touched me?’ When all denied it, Peter said, ‘Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you.’ But Jesus said, ‘Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.’ When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.’

While he was still speaking, someone came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the teacher any longer.’ When Jesus heard this, he replied, ‘Do not fear. Only believe, and she will be saved.’ When he came to the house, he did not allow anyone to enter with him, except Peter, John, and James, and the child’s father and mother. They were all weeping and wailing for her; but he said, ‘Do not weep; for she is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. But he took her by the hand and called out, ‘Child, get up!’ Her spirit returned, and she got up at once. Then he directed them to give her something to eat. Her parents were astounded; but he ordered them to tell no one what had happened. -- Luke 8:40-56

There are lots of stories in the Bible, all kinds of them. Love stories, stories of war, murder, rape, healing, miraculous happenings, callings, how things and places got their names -- all of them bound up in one volume. This one is at the top of my list of favorites, perhaps because it is very much a story about women, perhaps because it has a happy ending, perhaps just because it's a really good story told in an unusual way. It's a story within a story, or, as one teacher of New Testament said once, "It's a sandwich."  Scholars call it an intercalation or interpolation, an insertion of one story into another, but I remember it better as a sandwich.

The story is one of contrasts as well as similarities. Both are stories about females, one probably who would have been post-menopausal except for the hemorrhaging she'd suffered for the past twelve years, the other a young girl of approximately twelve years of age who probably had yet to experience her first menarche. One was alone, so alone that she had to journey out in public unaccompanied, the other remained at home but whose father went out to seek help for her. Both represented people at the very bottom of the social scale despite their current or former financial status; women and children were without voice or merit except for the work they could perform or the status they could bring to the family by a very advantageous marriage. Both represented people who carried a ritual impurity that could be passed to any unsuspecting person who bumped into them on the street or touched them in some way. And then there is the fact that Jesus walked into both lives, once deliberately, once by chance, and did for each of them what no one else could do.

I can see the story through both sets of eyes: the old and perhaps disillusioned vision of the older woman who had been let down so many times by so many expensive quacks and treatments, and the feverish, fearful young eyes who only wanted her daddy to come and help her, take away her pain and make things all better the way fathers are supposed to do for their children. For each it was their last chance, their last hope. For both Jesus did more than heal their bodies, he restored them to community with their families and neighbors, removing the stigmas that illness and death placed upon the victims. He accepted ritual impurity for himself as a cost of curing others of theirs. One he did without thinking when the woman touched the tassels on his cloak, the other quite deliberately by touching the young girl's dead body. That's the kind of Jesus I want to believe in, one that takes big risks and does what is necessary to help others.

Come to think of it, that's what the cross was about, wasn't it?

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Friday, May 3, 2013.

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