by Hugh Farquhar
The Gospel Reading from the Lectionary next Sunday is Mark 5:21-43.
I own a book of cartoons that poke fun at ministers. One of my favourites shows a minister at work in his study at home. His four-year-old son is knocking repeatedly on the door to show his Daddy a picture he has drawn especially for him. The minister yells from his study desk, “Not now! I’m writing a sermon on patience!”
He was being interrupted. He regarded the interruption as a nuisance. He responded to it with frustration bordering on anger.
Sometimes we respond to interruptions that way. We settle ourselves down to concentrate on something we want or need to do. We have carved out some time. We’re just nicely underway when the phone rings, there’s a knock at the door, or something comes up that must take precedence over what we’re doing. Interruptions can be a nuisance.
But sometimes interruptions can provide moments of grace that we would not want to have missed. Sometimes they are fundamentally more important than what we were doing in the first place. Sometimes interruptions can bless our lives or provide an opportunity for us to be a blessing to others. We are wise if we learn to discern when an interruption really needs to be by-passed and when it is offering us some significant opportunity.
Chapter 5 of Mark’s Gospel is about interruptions in a day in Jesus’ life.
In this chapter, Jesus and his disciples have just crossed the Sea of Galilee. As Jesus disembarks and stands on the western shore of the Sea, he is greeted by a large crowd, eager to hear his words. A perfect setting for a day of teaching. But there will be no teaching that day. He is interrupted by a plea for help. Jairus’ daughter is gravely ill. Jesus, sensitive to a father’s anxiety, leaves any plan to teach the crowd and goes with him.
As they make their way to Jairus’ house, another interruption occurs. Suddenly, a woman long afflicted from a debilitating illness touches his garment. There is an exchange between them that becomes a moment of grace for both. Jesus is impressed by the woman’s faith. She experiences healing at his hand.
Then Jesus heads for Jairus’ house where he heals the young girl, and from this original interruption, we have a treasured story of compassion and new life.
It didn’t seem to matter what was on Jesus’ to-do list that day. He was quick to recognize that these interruptions needed to take priority and he had the flexibility to respond to them. As we read the Gospels, we see how often Jesus turned interruptions into opportunities to help, to heal and to deepen human relationships, until the interruptions became the means of his revelation of the love of God.
Moments of grace and opportunities to serve often approach us by way of interruptions. When I reflect on these many years of ministry, I realize that the times when I have felt most useful and fulfilled have been times when I have responded to what might be called interruptions. I would be working in my study, and my attention would be diverted from whatever I was doing by an interruption. Yet this is what ministry is about. Interruptions are the stuff of professional ministry, but they are also the stuff of being a spouse, a parent, a friend, or a neighbour.
An aspect of modern life that sometimes keeps us from attending to interruptions appropriately is that it moves so fast. If we have tunnel vision as we go through our day, intent on getting everything on our agenda done, we run the risk of deflecting interruptions that may offer us graced moments and rich experiences.
Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest, and author who left teaching at Harvard to become a chaplain at the L’Arche community in Toronto, once remarked to an old friend: “You know, my whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted until I discovered that my interruptions were my work.”
Note: I started posting these reflections over a year ago and have contributed one every week with a few exceptions when the Lectionary Readings just didn’t speak to me. I contributed them at the suggestion of a few people who were interested in the Bible and wished that there were some interpretive materials on Facebook. Subsequently, I was invited to contribute them to “The Prayer Bench |” as well. Thanks to all of you who liked and commented on my attempts to translate the written Word into the living Word. I will be observing a summer hiatus.