Today, Mark gives us a story about holy interruption. Or maybe I should pluralise that: Today, Mark gives us a story about holy interruptions. I count no fewer than six interruptions. Maybe there are more. With each interruption, I am going to suggest a possible lesson. Not the only lesson, but a possible one.
Interruption Number One. Jesus crosses the sea to the other side and there he encounters a crowd. Jesus before a crowd; if you have spent any amount of time reading the Bible then you know this story well enough to be able to predict what will come next. This is the moment when Jesus will begin to tell parables, to cast out demons, to feed the hungry, to heal. But Jesus is interrupted. Interrupted by Jairus, by a leader of the synagogue, a man of status and power. Jairus falls at Jesus’ feet and begs.
Please. My little girl is at the point of death. Come lay your hands on her so that she may be made well.
And so Jesus goes.
A possible lesson. It Richard Rohr who says: Jesus always goes towards the pain. Healing is his priority. Being with the suffering is always his priority. Jesus is not a harried bank teller or an overscheduled professional, too busy to get you into his day planner. When you and I say to Jesus, Come with me, I am hurting, or Come with me, the one I love is hurting, Jesus’ answer is always Yes.
As Jesus walks towards Jairus’ house, the crowd follows and grows and presses in him. Zoom in the camera on a woman. For twelve years – a number heavy in symbolism, think of the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve apostles – the woman has endured much under many physicians. Like many people in America today, she has been bankrupted by healthcare costs. She has spent all that she has on doctors’ bills, but has gotten no better, only worse.
She touches Jesus’ garment.
And Jesus stops.
Interruption Number Two.
Who touched me? he says. It is an absurd question. Jesus is in the middle of a crowd, this is a scene like trying to get out of a stadium after a football match, he is pressed into by people on his every side. But Jesus notices the power go out of him.
A possible lesson. If we take it seriously, this moment in the story has a pretty shocking takeaway. We are used to the formulation Jesus saves, Jesus heals, Jesus forgives. We are used to a formulation in which the name “Jesus” is followed by a verb, in which has agency, in which he chooses to do good works. In this story, there is a startling absence of choice on Jesus’ part. The woman is healed even though Jesus didn’t choose it. He didn’t even notice her before she touched his cloak. But she is healed nonetheless.
I have heard theologians say – and there is a double negative coming up here, so listen closely – that God cannot not forgive. God, who is love, always forgives. Forgiveness is who God is.
Maybe Jesus cannot not heal.
Let’s stay in this moment for Interruption Number Three, maybe the most obvious interruption of them all. The woman touches Jesus’ cloak, or as Sam Cooke once sang, she touches the hem of his garment. And instantly the hemorrhage stops, the flow of blood is stopped.
A possible lesson. I’m least sure about this one, but let’s try it out together. Could the hemorrhage, the blood be a symbol of violence? Just like you and me, the woman is a member of a collective, a crowd, a culture, a tribe, a country. And there are times when the tribe to which we belong engages in cruelty and violence, when we are implicated in that cruelty and violence even if we do not participate directly. The confession that we are saying together in the season of Pentecost, right now, goes like this:
We repent of the evil that enslaves us,
the evil we have done,
and the evil done on our behalf.
Sometimes morality, sometimes faith, means stepping out of our tribe. Sometimes it means risking setting aside the privilege and safety and anonymity that comes of remaining in the crowd. Sometimes morality and faith requires us to risk reaching out to Jesus. Sometimes that is the only thing that will stop the bloodshed.
Interruption Number Four. The woman is healed, the woman steps out of the crowd, and full of fear and trembling, she falls before Jesus.
And Jesus does not say to her, Glad that I could help. Nor does he say, It was nothing. Nor does he say, Don’t thank me, thank my Dad. Jesus says:
Daughter, your faith has made you well.
A Possible Lesson. Somehow, faith itself has the capacity to make the woman well, faith itself is healing. Now, I want to be careful here. I don’t mean that if you believe hard enough or well enough you will stop having cancer and start being rich. That is destructive nonsense. It is destructive nonsense which here in America we know by the name of the Prosperity Gospel. It is a heresy that makes God into a used-car salesman, selling health and wealth and a ticket into heaven in return for the payment of our belief. What I mean is something more mysterious, harder to quantify than that. What I mean is that there is healing in faith itself.
The theologian James Alison says that we often misunderstand faith. That we make it about frantically following rules, about creating borders, about calling out people who are doing the wrong things, who are believing the wrong things, about feeling terribly guilty. But faith, Allison says, is actually about relaxing. Faith is about being with God, being with someone whom we trust, with someone who knows us absolutely and, as Mr. Rogers used to say, likes us just the way that we are.
That sounds like healing to me. Your faith has made you well.
Interruption Number Five. Jesus stops and he talks to the woman. I have children, I cannot even imagine how anxious Jairus is getting right now. Picture Jairus as Jesus stops his progress and turns to talk to this person who has fallen down before him. Picture Jairus dancing from one foot to another, his fists unclenching and unclenching, picture him whispering under his breath, “Come on! Jesus, come on!”
A Possible Lesson. There is a scandal here. A man of power and wealth is made to wait for an impoverished woman. A woman, what’s more, whose hemorrhage, whose flow of blood makes her ritually unclean. What is being interrupted here – by Jesus, by the woman to whom he gives his full attention – is not just Jesus’ journey to Jairus’ house. What is being interrupted is patriarchy, it is economic privilege, it is a societal system that values some human beings more than others. In this instant, Jesus and the woman embody what Jesus will say elsewhere: The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.
Interruption Number Six. Some people come from Jairus’ house and, in what makes a case for being the cruelest two sentences ever spoken in scripture, they say, Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?
But Jesus says to Jairus, Be not afraid. Believe.
And he goes to Jairus’ home where Jairus’ little girl lies on the bed, surrounded by mourners. Jesus asks why they are weeping, says that she is not dead but sleeping.
And they laugh at him.
Jesus puts them all outside. (I love the brevity of that sentence. What words or actions do you suppose Jesus uses to put the laughing mourners outside?) And he says to the girl:
And she does.
A Possible Lesson. When we are with Jesus, even death is interrupted. This is the lesson of his life. It is the lesson of the cross, it is the lesson of then empty tomb.
A short story interrupted no fewer than six times. Each interruption takes us further into possibility, into faith, into compassion, into love. Each interruption takes us into resurrection. May Jesus interrupt your life and mine in the same way.