A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Monday, May 21, 2012

Divine Intrusions: A Lectionary Reflection on Mark 5:21-43

Sometimes the most important things that happen to us in life are the intrusions. We are on our way somewhere, with a clear agenda, a direct purpose in mind, and we get distracted. Something else comes up that demands our attention, and that "something else" turns out to be more important than the journey we were on.

Most of the time we do not welcome intrusions into our lives. They get us out of our routine, they get in the way of what we want to do, and they make life more complicated. It’s very irritating when our "to do" list doesn’t get done because something or someone intrudes into our schedule.

In Mark 5:21-43, Jesus is on important business. A leader of the synagogue, an important, impressive man, persuades Jesus to make a house visit on his gravely ill daughter. While they are on the way there is an intrusion. A woman appears. She intrudes from the margins of society. Unlike the leader of the synagogue we do not know this woman's name. We know very little of her circumstances. All we know is that she is ill and has been ill for years.

Mark tells us that for twelve years "she suffered much under many physicians." In frantic pursuit of her health, she spent her days in waiting rooms, in emergency rooms. She filled out endless insurance forms and waited. She had been poked at, tested, discussed, humiliated, and still she was suffering.

Now she has nothing. Medicine has done all that it could for her, and to what end? She is poor. She has spent all of her money in pursuit of well being. She has no hope—no hope it would appear except for Jesus. She pushes through the crowd in order to touch Jesus. She is healed. Jesus speaks with her.

It is very tempting to spend our time commenting and reflecting on what Jesus did for this woman, and the amazing faith she displayed, believing that all she had to do was touch Jesus and she would be alright. What Jesus has done for this woman is nothing short of wonderful. Not only has she been healed, but with her illness gone she is once again restored to fellowship with her friends and family, and once again, after twelve years, she can go to the Temple to worship; for her illness had made her ritually unclean, and for twelve years she was unable to worship God with the other Jewish women, and she was unable to be with her family; for coming in contact with them would have made them ritually unclean. Here a great miracle has been done.

But I want to get at this story from a little bit of a different angle. There is no doubt that what has happened to this woman is wonderful. We would all agree. But can we even begin to wonder what Jairus, the young girl's father, is thinking at this moment? His daughter is gravely ill. Jairus tells Jesus that she is at the point of death. Can there be any doubt that Jairus feels a great sense of urgency in getting to the house, so that Jesus can heal her before it is too late? Now in the midst of the rather frantic rush to get there, with the crowd pressing in, slowing them down, here comes this woman who brings things to an absolute halt. For Jairus this was no great moment, this was an intrusion. His daughter is near death, and here is Jesus stopping to find out who touched him (a crazy question from the perspective of the disciples in the midst of a crowd pressing in upon them), and then he stops to speak to some unknown woman.

Can we imagine what Jairus was thinking at that moment? We do not know how long Jesus and the woman talked. Mark may simply be giving us the edited version. But no matter how long they talked, Jairus probably wanted to scream at the top of his lungs, "My daughter is dying! Let's get moving!" This was an unwanted intrusion for Jairus. And perhaps that intrusion lasted just long enough to seal the fate of his daughter. "While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, 'Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?'"Can we imagine the pain of Jairus at that moment, as he is informed of his little girl's death and also knowing that if this intrusion had not happened, his little girl might still be alive? We hate intrusions with good reason, don't we?

But what if this were not simply an intrusion? What if this wonderful healing of this daughter of Abraham were also divine intrusion on behalf of Jairus? Jairus clearly believes that Jesus can restore his daughter's health, but he never considers that Jesus can actually restore her life. Jesus may be good, but he's not that good. Could the intrusion of this woman not only be for her sake, but for Jairus’ as well? Jairus knew Jesus was special, but when they finally get to the house and Jesus puts life back into that little girl' cold, lifeless body, Jairus knows he's got more than he bargained for. Mark tells us in verse 42 that everyone "was overcome with amazement." I’ll bet they were.

The Bible is full of divine intrusions into the lives of God’s people. God intrudes into the life of Abraham in the comfort of retirement to call him to a faraway and unknown land. Moses receives the law on the mountain. The law proves to be an intrusion into the lives of the people of Israel, who would rather live life their own way, instead of in obedience to God's law.  God intrudes into the life of the boy Samuel one night speaking to him in the Temple. God intrudes into the life of Amos, a content shepherd and farmer, and is told he will announce the word of the Lord as a prophet. God intrudes into the life of a young, unmarried peasant woman in Galilee and is told she will give birth to the Savior of the world. God intrudes into the life of a young, zealous Pharisee, named Saul, on the Damascus Road and his told his is about to become part of the people he is persecuting.

We may not like intrusions. We may think they are rude, but God loves intruding himself into our midst. God refuses to let us get comfortable with the way things are. God refuses to let our routine take control of our lives. As Jairus had to learn that Jesus was more than he expected, we too have to learn that following Jesus is much more than we expect or even want. It is certainly the case that much of our life as disciples is routine, and much of the church's ministry is routine, and that's OK. But we must know that while that is acceptable, God wants more. And in order to get more God will intrude into our presence to make sure we remember that.

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