Ordinary 13 (Proper 8), Year B
Lamentations 3:22-33 † Psalm 30 † 2 Corinthians 8:7-15 † Mark 5:21-43
There is a difference, I think, between interruption and distraction. Distraction is what happens more frequently these days when I walk into a room and forget why I’m there, and then proceed to wander around asking myself and anyone around me what I might have been doing. If they weren’t so kind, you could probably get some stories from Pat and Carolynn in the office.
I do wonder, though, if there is a reason besides my obvious physical and mental decline that I am so distracted. Certainly, we’ve been hearing for some time now from the media about our president and the suspicion that many of his more distressing and offensive tweets are intended and timed, at least in part, as distraction from more fundamental and substantial policy changes. I suspect that is true, as is the codependence of a media on reader eye-balls that causes them to report incessantly on the very thing they are so suspicious of.
Distraction, and despair, is also what I’ve experienced over these past few weeks as I’ve found myself heartbroken and feeling powerless by the ongoing saga of our zero-tolerance immigration policy, by the plight of little girls and boys in places we are not permitted to see. I suspect you may share that sense with me.
Distraction is different from interruption. Interruption is what happens in this story within a story in Mark. Interruption is what happens when a dignified synagogue leader in need goes through all the right protocols and takes all the right steps to ask for help for his sick daughter only to be intercepted by the inappropriate touch of a desperate woman who seems to have abandoned her manners, but not before her society abandoned her.
Interruption is what Jesus allows when he stops everything to bring attention to this power that has transferred from him, to bring attention to this woman’s plight and to her restoration to new life. And he does so, without being distracted, without forgetting the story that started him in motion.
There’s a lesson here for us, I suspect, as we seek to be the church in this challenging season. Amidst all the distractions, we have work to do to stick to the center of our mission as followers of Jesus. To put it another way, the challenge may be for us to hold onto the hope that is ours in the midst of all the distractions that conspire against it.
And, according to this story, that seems to have something to do with our distinguishing between distraction and interruption, because it seems that the interruptions may be precisely where our greatest hope lies.
Here’s what I mean.
We have this story within a story, but what if they are the same story? What if this is a story not of two families, but of one?
The coincidences are too numerous to not consider the possibility.
It is the father, Jairus, who seeks Jesus out for his dying child. He is a man of means. He has everything he could want, except for his daughter’s health. Or is there more that he has lost? Where is the mother? Is she home with the child? Perhaps. But there is no mention of her—at least not yet.
And then this woman reaches out from the crowds. And Jesus interrupts everything for her sake. He could have turned on her; he could have shamed her for making him unclean. But as the ancients said of Jesus, when he entered the Jordan River to be baptized, even the waters were made clean. And why wouldn’t they believe that, because it has just happened here. Rather than being sullied himself, it is the woman who is restored to health. Twelve years of suffering. Twelve years of searching for a cure. Twelve years of desperation. Twelve years of being forgotten.
And that’s another thing worth noting. It seems she was once a woman of means—until she spent it all seeking a cure. The very fact that she had money of her own to spend on doctors to try to solve this says a lot in a time when women themselves were property and not owners. And yet, even that hadn’t been enough. Her ancient story is not as far removed from our own experience as we might think.
Even with the Affordable Care Act, 31 million people remain uninsured, and among them people of color disproportionately—and that even though the US spends more per capita on health care than any other country—more than $10,000 a year. And still almost half of adults with health insurance struggle to pay their deductibles. In fact, medical debt is the number one cause of personal bankruptcy filings, with about 40 percent of Americans taking on debt because of medical issues. [i]
It seems this woman is not alone in her despair, nor has our society changed that much.
What became of her husband? Had he stuck with her for a while? Had he finally given up hope? Did he divorce her quietly? Did he do what he could to pull his life back together, to restore his dignity? To give himself to his newborn daughter?
And then, on the way to trying to save what Jairus could not save before, Jesus stops everything and brings this woman out of the shadows. He didn’t have to do that. He could have just let the power pass, the healing happen. But he interrupts everything. He makes a scene. Twelve years of searching. Twelve years of suffering. Twelve years of isolation and despair. And Jairus, this father of a little girl who is, it turns out, twelve years old.
Could it be?
All we are told is that the story continues. Jesus says, “Do not fear. Only believe.” The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. God’s mercies never come to an end. Do not underestimate what God can do. The child is healed, and suddenly we have the first mention of the mother, now with the father by the child’s side.
“Little girl, get up.” Here is your family.
As we anticipate this week another birthday for this remarkable country of ours, I find myself giving thanks for the interruption of highly inappropriate women and men who make a ruckus and force us to look at what needs fixing. I find myself grateful for those who campaign with the poor and amplify their voice, who get arrested for peaceful protests that sometimes interrupt our daily routines, who kneel before a game or who stop traffic every now and then and even cause some inconvenience, if it means our attention is drawn to something bigger, to need, and to possibility.
And as we anticipate another birthday this Wednesday for this country of ours, I find myself giving thanks for those who imagine and innovate a better world into being. I am grateful for the dreamers who set up shop in corridors of poverty, so communities the big chains forget can get fresh vegetables or maybe a micro loan to enact their vision and dream their dream.
And as we anticipate another birthday for this country of ours, I find myself grateful for the welcome interruption of those who refuse to believe that we could ever be more generous than God. I am grateful for the visionary lives of people like Father Wasson, who, when he was robbed by a couple of street kids, didn’t see thugs, but children that belonged to him, children that became his adopted children and started a thing called NPH that is now home to thousands of kids just like those first two. I’m thankful for people who understand that generosity draws out our own generosity and our own goodness.
You see, in the Culture of God new life grows like a weed. So we should not be surprised that not just one, but two daughters are healed. Even the most debased is named beloved and restored to dignity. It comes when Jesus allows an interruption to stop everything and invite a new look, a fresh pair of eyes at what is going on around you. It comes when the church pays attention, when we look and listen and challenge any and all laws that tear apart what belongs together, when we rebuke any flag that flies for separation and division, when we protest any structure that tears apart families and preys on the widow and the migrant and the child, when we honor every life with time and attentiveness and humility and loving kindness, when we persist in believing in the steadfast love of the Lord.
Of course, we don’t know how it all turned out for Jairus and his wife and her child. We are left at the junction of decision because ultimately the story isn’t about Jairus and his family, the story is about us. It is about what we will put up with rather than protest or innovate that takes away our life. It is about our own loss and about our own families and about everything we have willed ourselves to forget.
The novelist Flannery O’Conner said, "Our age not only does not have a very sharp eye for the almost imperceptible intrusions of grace, it no longer has much feeling for the nature of the violences which precede and follow them.” I wonder if the greatest and most dangerous distraction of all in these days is that of despair. When right before our eyes is an interruption calling to us, to see the astonishing healing power of God—not in institutions, not in the halls of power, but in our capacity for generosity and goodness and faith.
[i] The Souls of Poor Folk: Auditing America 50 Years After the Poor People’s Campaign Challenged Racism, Poverty, the War Economy/Militarism and Our National Morality, Retrieved on June 29, 2018 from https://www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/audit/, 10.
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