July 1 – Waiting and Interruptions
Scripture Used: Mark 5: 21-43
Jesus and his disciples are crossing the Sea of Galilee. They had just been on the Gentile side of the sea, where Jesus had been teaching and performing miracles – most recently healing a Gerasene man of a legion of demons. One would imagine he would be tired.
The Bible doesn’t say he was tired, but I get the feeling he was. They had been travelling for days with no mention of Jesus resting. In the other gospels, Jesus rests a lot. He appreciates sabbath. But in Mark’s telling, especially here, everywhere Jesus goes, a crowd seems to find out, and after miracles, sermons, and demon-eviction, he’s got to be ready to rest. He could do without having to go right into another day of work.
They must have had a plan if they were returning to the Jewish side of the sea, but waiting on the other side was Jairus. Their plans were about to be interrupted. Rest would have to wait.
Jairus begs repeatedly, it says, and Jesus probably could do with getting space from the crowd also waiting for him at the seashore. Which didn’t matter – they came too. Pressing in on him. If he wasn’t tired before, being pushed and jostled from all directions would quickly take its toll.
We know the kind of tired you feel when you are in a crowd. It’s the same kind of tired from a hard day’s work. It’s like you feel every little thing that touches you. Your skin pulses with each drop of sweat. That “will I ever get to sit down” feeling that makes you think of nothing else but a shower, a cold drink, and a seat.
And that is when she appears. Or actually, she doesn’t seem to appear to anyone at all. This one woman – desperate from twelve years of illness, of blood flow that she cannot stop – she sees her opportunity.
Yes, blood. You have to say blood. You can’t simply call this an illness, because it is a special kind of illness. It is an illness that makes her impure. To be impure is to be an outcast. To lose blood is its own punishment: she is tired from it. She is tired of being sick and tired. And, we find out, she’s lost all her money trying to get well. Add to that the detail of her suffering from this condition for twelve years. In biblical terms, when you see the number twelve, it represents completeness.
She is completely unclean, completely in pain, completely broke, completely at the end of her rope. And now, she has the opportunity to change that.
Jesus, his disciples, the pressing crowds, and Jairus are about to have their plans interrupted. The dying girl would have to wait.
As Jesus and Jairus and the disciples make their way through the city path with a huddle around them, they only think of the girl. They are on a mission. What else can be of importance to save a life? And not only a life – the life of a daughter? She has possibility. She is the child of importance in the community. And he, the important man, begged the teacher. That means something.
So we have two plans: a woman at the end of her rope longing for healing; a father desperate to save his daughter. Between them is a healer trudging along. This opportunity is precious.
This is a story in a story. In scholarship, it is known as intercalation, from the Latin prefix “inter” which means between, and “calare” to claim. Between claims. Between claims of Jesus’ power to heal. Two plans that will experience an interruption.
Life is full of plans and interruptions to those plans. There is the famous saying, “If you want to make God laugh, tell God your plans.” Which means we sometimes feel we are and should be the masters of our lives and our schedules – unwilling to allow the world around us to affect our expectations and goals. Especially when it comes to living out the call we acknowledge in becoming Christian, which is when we tell God, “whatever you have planned for me is what I choose.”
One of the great masters of wisdom in this regard was St. Francis of Assisi. He was well known to be open to life’s interruptions because they could lead to something God intended. G.K. Chesterton once wrote of Francis, “He could not see the forest because of the trees. He didn’t want to.” That’s because not all interruptions are bad – sometimes they are opportunities for us to bear witness to God’s grace and glory.
And here, with Jesus, on his way to see a child dying of illness, just touched by a woman suffering from a completely debilitating condition that caused her to bleed constantly, that is what happens. The suffering woman, hoping none in the crowd will out her as impure, touches his cloak. She’s healed. A silent miracle.
He turns, he asks his disciples who touched him. He felt something. But they don’t understand. They are still on the other plan. The dying girl is their focus. They tell the master not to worry about it. Why bother? There are so many people it would be impossible to find out who touched him.
But Jesus knows it is important to stop. To claim the miracle as being of God. To find out what has happened. And the woman feels it. She worries about it. She steps forward – fearing the same power that healed her could do much worse. He had interrupted her plans, too. She wanted to be unnoticed, and she wasn’t.
But coming forward pays off. Not only is she healed, but the teacher, the miracle worker, the respected one, eradicates herher status as outcast. He publicly praises her faith. She goes from less than nobody to part of God’s story. After twelve years – a complete life – of struggle, he and she respond to interruptions of their plans, and it becomes a sacred part of the gospel.
But, as we know, just because something wonderful has happened in one place, it does not mean time has stood still. Sometimes, it marches on with a certain ruthlessness. And that must be how Jairus feels when the others come to say the daughter is dead. He had been waiting for Jesus to make the journey with him. There is no mention of him rushing them on. He does not interject when Jesus stops to notice the woman. He is following the plan: being patient, waiting, and waiting, for healing. Waiting must have felt like forever. And the girl dies.
When Jesus tells Jairus, “do not be afraid,” he is saying not to forget what has just occurred because of what happens next. Even if the little girl had died, the healing of this other person is no less good.
That can be hard to hear. When we are in distress, when we have a plan to follow and no room for error, we sometimes make the mistake of making everything about us. We give ourselves a pass to stop believing in God’s work in the world so we can have something to blame. We fear that sometimes, life just happens whether we want it to or not, and we have no control over it. And for that to occur as someone else benefits feels so very unfair. We can give Jairus sympathy as he likely felt a mixture of all of that. We could give him a pass if he felt angry when the messengers told him to let Jesus leave for it was too late.
But that wasn’t Jesus’ plan to leave. Jairus stays with him, too. Maybe as an act of faith that Jesus’ plan was not over yet.
When Jesus enters the house, he tells those there that the girl is not dead. They laugh. It reminds us of Genesis 17 when God tells Abraham and Sarah they will have a child in their 90s. They laught too – the same hopeless laugh of possibilities that are long gone. They are without faith and are sent away.
In a tender moment, as the girl lays dead, as her father is probably a wreck, Jesus calmly and tenderly speaks to her “Talitha cum,” or “get up, little girl.” The translators of the Bible kept the original Aramaic – the language Jesus spoke – rather than translating it to Greek. It makes the passage feel more personal, more real. Like Jesus is speaking to us too. In this moment where we share in the grief, the anxiety, the highs and the lows, when we feel a little betrayed and crushed to learn of her death, there is a universal lesson for all of us: “get up, stop grieving what is passed, be open to what can happen next. God is not done here.”
That’s part of waiting and interruptions. Sometimes, the times when we are at our wit’s end, whether suffering ourselves or trying to stop some tragedy, we forget that Jesus is with us. Not watching over us from on high but actually in this space and time. It’s just a matter of believing. Believing that touching his robe is enough. Believing him when he says “do not fear.” In each of these moments, he notices us, even when it seems his plans are on something or someone else. He still notices us and speaks to us.
It is normal and very human to have plans, to get tripped up in interruptions. So the true test of our character and our faith is not whether or not we have interruptions. It is about how we respond to them.
Every time your plans are interrupted – a person in your way at the store, a conversation you want to escape, a child having a meltdown – you have an opportunity to listen to what is going on there with compassion or with impatience. It could be as simple as this person is just in the middle of their plans and not noticing yours, or it could be a holy moment that Jesus is asking you “Who touched my robe?”
It may be that, while you are on your way to something else, there is need to pause and acknowledge something. Or it could be that he is saying you can wait just a little bit as he moves through the lives of others before he comes to you.
If we can develop the compassion and patience in ourselves to see the world through the eyes of Jesus, we would better handle moments of waiting and times when our plans are interrupted. The world needs people who can join in the movements of God and are present in each of them. Live each day as if God planned it for you. And your path will allow not seeing the forest for the trees.