Growing up, my Oma (“grandmother” in German) had a Matryoshka doll, also known as a Russian nesting doll. Essentially, it’s a set of hand-painted wooden dolls of decreasing size, which nest within each other. They had no lights, noise, or the pomp of modern toys, yet my sister and I were fascinated by them.
I’m currently taking a class on the Gospel of Luke, and last week, we looked at chapter 8. In 8.40-53, Luke, the author, uses something called an intercalation. In literature, an intercalation happens when one story is inserted into another. Essentially, an
Intercalation = a story nested within a story.
A type of literary Matryoshka doll.
What’s the point of this intercalation? Suspense. Anticipation. Luke is selling the drama.
However, in addition to dramatic effect, Luke uses these tandem stories to amplify the point he’s trying to make. He puts them together because he wants his audience (and us) to not only read them together, but also interpret them together.
In this case, Luke is making a point about faith. These stories represent the type of faith Jesus is looking for in his followers—a saving faith.*
In the text, Jairus, a synagogue leader, is first on the scene (8.40-42 and again in 8.49-56). His only daughter is dying and he begs Jesus to come to his house. Jairus’ story, however, is put on hold as we encounter a hemorrhaging woman (8.43-48). This woman has been bleeding for twelve years, and desperate for healing, secretly pushes her way through the crowd to touch Jesus. She’s immediately healed, but as she quietly slinks away, Jesus calls her out in front of the crowd pronouncing, “Daughter, your faith has made you well” (v. 48). Her faith has saved her.
We rejoice with the woman! But wait! What about Jairus’ daughter? What’s happened to her? The situation was dire before, but as Luke returns to the story, we find out it’s worse—she’s dead. Delayed by the bleeding woman, Jesus doesn’t make it in time. While we sense Jairus’ despair, Jesus is undeterred. He’s in the miracle business. He’s the Messiah. He’s God incarnate and possesses the power to restore life. Thus, he exhorts Jairus, “Only believe, and she will be saved” (v. 50). With a command, Jesus raises the girl to life. Jairus’ faith has saved his daughter.
When I look at these interconnected stories, I can’t help but think that life is full of intercalations. In many ways, life is like a Matryoshka doll.
Our lives our composed of stories that interrupt, overlap, and nest within the bigger narrative of our existence. We’re often perplexed when one story seemingly drops off, and another enters in, especially when we’d prefer God to bring closure to the first before interjecting the second. While these interruptions don’t always make sense to us, in some way, they’re connected. Like the text, God intentionally joins the stories of our lives in such a way that they can, and should be, understood in light of each other. We often don’t fully comprehend the lessons, meaning, or significance of one story line, until another one comes along to reinforce it.
And, it’s precisely during these interruptions, or intercalations, when faith is most needed. When God puts us on hold and leaves us guessing, or when we approach unexpected intersections, do we respond with a persevering faith? When God heightens the drama of our lives, will we seek him out, trusting in his character? Despite delays, do we believe in God’s ability to restore and heal? Like Jairus and the bleeding woman, do we possess a saving faith?
* Green, Joel B. The Gospel of Luke (NICNT), p. 343. Eerdmans, 1997.