For our first example, I selected one of the shortest stories in the Bible, the story of The Bleeding Woman. Being short doesn’t mean it is without challenges.
To Understand One, We Must Read All Three
This short story occurs in all three of the Synoptic Gospels, which presents us with a challenge. Did all three authors intend us to read it the same way? The only honest way to answer that question is to examine all three accounts. Last time, I mentioned the one in the gospel of Luke, but to really understand it, we will have to read all three accounts.
- To Understand One, We Must Read All Three
- The Three Accounts Differ Significantly
- Matthew’s Account (of this episode) is shortest. Why?
- Two Keys to Understanding This Story
- All Three Gospels Agree on This
- For Those Who Want More
The Three Accounts Differ Significantly
Matthew presents the shortest account, a mere 64 words in the NIV. Mark gives us the longest account, a full 201 words. That leaves Luke’s account in the middle with 142 words. While word counts don’t tell us everything, they do alert us to some interesting questions. Luke devotes more than twice as many words as does Matthew to this episode, while Mark uses more than three times as many! Why such a great difference in the three accounts?
Let’s take a look at Matthew first, since his account is shortest.
20 Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. 21 She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.”
22 Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed at that moment.
Matthew’s Account (of this episode) is shortest. Why?
That Matthew devotes a few words to this would seem to indicate that he does not consider a significant event, yet he describes something singular. A woman with a long history of illness receives healing. But she does not actually come to Jesus, that is, she does not address him or ask him for anything. She believes that touching the edge of his garment will be sufficient to heal her. And Jesus tells her that as a result of such faith, she has been healed. One would think that Matthew would take more time to examine this singular event, but he does not. Mark and Luke both recognize the singular nature of this healing, and explore it more thoroughly. But not Matthew. Why?
Two Keys to Understanding This Story
This brings us face-to-face with a central question when reading any story in the Gospels as it was meant to be read. We must ask ourselves, “Meant to be read by whom?” Clearly Matthew does not intend us to read the story in the same way as Mark or Luke. If he did, he would’ve included much more detail. There are two keys to understanding how Matthew intended us to read this story: 1) We must answer the question, what is Matthew’s gospel about? Yes, it is about Jesus, but it differs significantly in many ways from both Mark and Luke (we will leave the Gospel of John out of this for the moment, since he does not include this episode). Matthew wrote his gospel to emphasize certain things about Jesus, to give us a unique perspective on the life of Christ. What was that? 2) How does this story, as Matthew tells it, help develop his unique perspective into Jesus life?
It’s important understand that I am not saying that this episode doesn’t matter to Matthew; he wouldn’t have included it if that were true. I am saying that this story performs a slightly different function in his telling of the gospel. And that telling matters. Matthew matters, because he gives us glimpses of Jesus unavailable anywhere else.
All Three Gospels Agree on This
The two key words which will unlock our understanding of Matthew’s account of the bleeding woman occur at the beginning: “Just then.” In other words, Matthew sees this as an important episode, but part of something more important. And as we look at all three accounts, we will see that they all include this story as part of a larger one. All 3 Synoptic Gospels plaice this episode in the middle of the larger story about the critically ill daughter of a synagogue leader. The man tells Jesus that his daughter is deathly ill, and Jesus immediately sets out to go to the young girl’s bedside. At that moment, “just then,” the bleeding woman approaches him. In all three accounts. All three. So all three gospel writers understood this episode of the bleeding woman in the context of the Jewish leader’s dying daughter.
Why spend all this time on Matthew’s account, short as it is, when I specified Luke’s account? Because we will understand Luke’s account better when we understand how his unique perspective on this episode differs from that of both Matthew and Mark.
For Those Who Want More
Now, don’t misunderstand me. Even Matthew’s brief account, as I indicated, contains remarkable evidence of Jesus’ divine power, grace, and compassion. But we knew that already. That is to say, everyone familiar with this story already knows that. It doesn’t take any real effort to find that in the story. But if you’re hungry for more, much more, it’s available. And I propose to show you how to find it for yourself.