Psalm 130 2 Samuel 1:1, 7-27
2 Corinthians 8:7-15 Mark 5:21-43
John is 97 years old. He knows that the end is near. But as he lies in bed, he sniffs the air. “Yes,” he thought to himself, “I do smell my favorite chocolate-chip cookies being baked by my wife. I must have one last cookie before I die.” He struggles out of bed. Walks very slowly down the stairs. It takes a long time. He is very weak, every step is painful. Gasping for breath, he wheezes and coughs as he enters the kitchen. He walks toward the table and sees a moist chocolate chip cookie. Just as he reaches for it, his wife whacks his hand with a spatula. John stares in amazement, “Why did you do that?” His wife replies, “Those are for the funeral.”
How often are we told to plan our days that we may be more productive? Sometimes, well-planned days have to be transformed. Sometimes, we are called to change our plans when a special need arises. Sometimes, interruptions, detours and unexpected demands take the place of our plans.
Jesus knew about responding to immediate needs. We just heard the story of two people in great distress. They interrupt and rearrange Jesus’ day. We see and experience his willingness to redirect his attention because of these heartfelt pleas. He seems to take the interruptions and the reordering of his day in stride. We hear no flash of anger, or snappishness in his response. He doesn’t think about what has to be postponed. He doesn’t wring his hands because he is behind schedule. He addresses the needs before him.
Jairus, who has power and prestige, falls at Jesus’ feet. He doesn’t throw names about to impress Jesus, he desperately pleas for help for his daughter. He puts aside his role as synagogue leader, and demonstrates an act of faith. He begs Jesus to come and lay hands on his daughter. His plea and his prayer are that the divine power he so desperately needs for his daughter will be present in this man Jesus.
As Jesus makes his way to Jairus’ house, a woman makes her way through the crowd and touches one of the four tassels that Jesus, a devout Jew, wears on his outer garment. She has been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years and sees Jesus as her last hope. She has heard of his healing power. Maybe she shares the ancient view that the healer’s own person is so powerful that his clothing or even his shadow can bear that power. She was considered to be unclean and knew that if she physically touched Jesus, he would be made unclean too. Still the woman reached out in faith.
A deep desire for healing pushes both people into Jesus’ presence. Their actions define faith as an action word. It is not just believing, but acting on that belief to reach out. Jairus wants Jesus to save his daughter and the woman wants a second chance by reclaiming her own life. An unclean woman could not be near people because any contact would make them unclean. So he has lost her family and friends and has been left to her own devices – for twelve years.
We don’t really know what Jesus’ plan for the day was. We know that he was on his way to Capernaum, after crossing the Sea of Galilee. His response to Jairus doesn’t seem like a detour but the proper path. People in need block his path, stop him in his tracks, and interrupt his day. In obedience to God’s will, Jesus stops to hear their requests and meet their needs. It’s not always the planned day that reaps the benefits of being useful. Sometimes, what makes our days most effective is our ability to see the hand of God in the unscheduled needs of the people. Ministry often presents us with one crisis after another. Over time, those who are tied to a schedule lose their ability to be flexible in their dealings with others. We are blessed more than we know by the interruptions in our lives.
The psalmist tells us that we are to “wait for the Lord…in his word is our hope….with him there is plenteous redemption and he shall redeem us from all our sins.” Waiting is hard for all of us…but can you imagine waiting for twelve years. Can you imagine waiting for someone to help your precious child who is near death? Their faith had carried them forward toward healing and wholeness.
I heard a story about a woman in need coming up to a church. She saw a line of cars parked at the church at noon on a week day and thought there might be some help available. She rushed inside, thinking they were giving out food for those experiencing hunger. She was told that she had come to the church on the wrong day. The food giveaway was scheduled for next week.
The woman was embarrassed for interrupting the Bible study. But she replied that her family needed food that day, not next week. They apologized and said that she would simply have to wait until the twice-monthly food giveaway came around again. With a look of disappointment, the woman backed out the church door and walked away empty-handed.
Then another interruption occurred – a transformative interruption. Several people got up from their Bible study and followed the woman out the door. They did their best to meet her needs from their own resources. A couple of women even offered to give her a ride to the grocery store and then back home with the food they had helped buy for her and her family. Somehow, in the interrupted Bible study, they were able to hear in the distressed woman’s voice more than a plea for food. They heard God’s invitation to partner in the work of making the world that God loves whole again. They responded in love with action.
Interruptions bless us – if only we can take time to discern the presence of God. When we sense God’s presence, those interruptions often detour into invitations to work with God – for God in the healing of the world. No one should fault a church for scheduling a food give-away on a certain day. After all, it does not have a limitless supply of food to pass out. But the people who interrupted their own Bible study, followed the woman out the door, and tried to meet her needs are to be celebrated. Interruptions have a way of forcing us to see - and hopefully to participate in – God’s transformative actions in the world. Those folks realized that faith is an action word.
Our challenge is to be open to such interruptions and the different ways they come before us. The inflexible calendar is not the thing that should guide us through our days. We should be guided by those unscheduled happenings that seem to be untimely interruptions. In them, we are most likely to see God’s hand and join in with God in the great work of redeeming, healing and restoring broken and isolated humanity.
Recently, I read in Becca Stevens’ book about red mangroves in the Everglades. Red mangroves have a massive root system that reaches two feet above the water’s surface. The root system acts like a huge filter to prevent the salt from going up into the tree. By the time the water reaches the trunk, it is purified and only a little salt remains. The mangrove diverts all the salt to certain leaves called sacrificial leaves that take in the salt, turn yellow, and return to the water. In the water, the smallest animals eat the leaves, so that makes the mangrove a central part of the whole Everglades ecosystem. This red mangrove, with its yellow sacrificial leaves, is a symbol of how everything on the journey can be used for healing. The plant is a tender symbol for the way we offer our gifts to each other for the collective healing of the community of faith. The plant has to be available, willing to give of itself for the greater good. I think that is Paul’s message to the church in Corinth.
The two stories raise interesting and important questions. Who or what claims our time and attention, and how do we determine the worthiness of those people and things. Jesus’ example makes it clear that those who are most deserving of our attention may be the least visible ones. The female child, despite the importance of her father, and the ill woman are not highly regarded by society. They are invisible and voiceless. Jesus acts here as he so often does, moving beyond social and religious barriers to carry out his ministry. Both people are powerless, but Jesus, in his compassion, sees their needs and deems them as worthy of his attention as anyone else.
What does it mean to be healed? The hemorrhaging woman is healed when she reaches out and touches Jesus’ robe, and the dead child is restored to life when Jesus takes her hand. Both stories have happy endings. But that is not always the reality of life. Sometimes our most earnest pleas don’t always result in the answers we want. And sometimes we wait.
These Sundays of the season after Pentecost called “ordinary time”, or “Green Sundays.” These are our “ordinary” days in which we live the Christian faith in our daily lives. In our faith journey, we are called upon to respond and act to help others in their faith journey. Nora Gallagher says, “In Ordinary Time we are in our lives living out the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.” Living out the gift of the Holy Spirit….that is what the woman and Jairus found….the gift of the Holy Spirit creating in them new hope, new life for them to share with others. That is what we are called to do in the ordinariness of our lives. Amen.