You know the drill. It’s 6pm – you’re busy starting dinner or perhaps you’ve just sat down to dinner and the phone rings. Should I answer it or let it go through to the answering machine? What if it’s an emergency? So you get up – there’s a pause – a couple clicks – and a voice comes on asking whether you’ve heard of the government solar rebate system. Interruptions are annoying and frustrating.
In our bible reading today it seems that Jesus’ ministry was one long invitation for interruption. He steps off the boat and immediately a crowd gathered around him. Just once can’t Jesus just go somewhere for himself without the crowds following him? And to make matters worse, within the crowd gathering around him now comes a man named Jairus, a synagogue leader, who begs Jesus to come with him to his house because his daughter is unwell. And then as he goes to Jairus’s place to heal his daughter there is another interruption – a woman who has been unwell for 12 years comes up and discreetly touches Jesus to heal herself. So we have an interruption, within and interruption within an interruption. Whereas this might make us cranky and short-tempered, it doesn’t do that to Jesus. And what we begin to understand from the way Jesus responds is that interruptions are part of Christian ministry.
I know sometimes as a Pastor you feel great when you look at the calendar ahead and see that there are no evenings out. When the phone rings you can have this feeling of – I hope it’s not a baptism request or a funeral request or a wedding request. It is very easy to see Ministry requests as interruptions. But we need to turn that around and see interruptions as Ministry opportunities. We all have those ministry opportunities that are easy to write off as interruptions to our otherwise comfortable lives. It may be an interruption that gives us one of the greatest ministry opportunities to show the love that Christ has for others. We’ve experienced the crying baby that interrupts our worship. But let us take an example from Jesus who didn’t turn around to look with scorn on the woman who touched him. He turned around to affirm that despite what others might be thinking about her – to him, and to God, she was a daughter of Abraham – one of the highest accolades he could give. After so many people had cast her down, Jesus lifts her up, looks into her eyes and says the words which make her healing complete. With the eyes of love on her, he said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” “Daughter.” Not an outcast. Not a woman alone in a society because of her bleeding. A bleeding that would have defined her as ritually unclean and disqualified her from offering prayer and sacrifice at the temple. She was a beloved child of God. Through Jesus we see the very heart of God. Others may have judged her harshly, but God never forgot her, always loved her, and wanted to welcome her home. “Your faith has made you well.” “Go in peace,” Sickness had defined her. But Jesus set her free to be a daughter of God.
Perhaps we have an opportunity to have our worship interrupted and sit with the mum or dad and be with them and assure them it’s okay. Worship is important and we can feel inconvenienced when our worship is interrupted but Jesus is more concerned about the needs of our brothers and sisters rather than ensuring worship is not interrupted. Listen again to what he says in Matthew 5: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. How easy it would have been to finish offering the gift and then go and be reconciled. It might have taken just a couple minutes. But Jesus says there is no time to waste – go now – I can wait. Or what about the times when you’re walking along, minding your own business when someone stops you and asks for some help – can you spare some change. Or we see them ahead and think this is a good time to cross the road like the priest and Levite who crossed the road ignoring the plight of their brother in the parable of the Good Samaritan. It’s easy to pretend not to make eye contact; it’s even easier to reach into your pocket and do a relay baton change manoeuvre where you give them the change and don’t even break stride. But look what Jesus does. He stops. He didn’t need to. He felt the power go out from him. He would have known that whoever touched him had been healed – physically. But Jesus knew there was more to life than physical healing – much more. Jesus does this so often with his healing. He doesn’t just cure physical sickness but restores people to their community. She wanted and needed the bleeding to stop, but what she needed more—and Jesus knew it—was to be accepted once again. To have God look into her eyes and call her “daughter.” So often people are judged by society. They are named in various ways as outcasts and treated as less than human. We can easily give material handouts to the needy – but so can anyone in society. We don’t have a monopoly on welfare just because we are Christian. But we have something much more valuable that money can’t buy, as St Peter says – For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life. The ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. It was the precious blood of Christ. That’s what we have to offer. What the world sees as interruptions we need to see as ministry opportunities to share the love of Christ. What the world sees as annoyance we need to see as ministry opportunities to extend the unconditional love of God in a world that defines who or what can be loved and who or what must be shunned.
Jesus turned no one away – not lepers, not people living questionable lives, not the sinful and unclean. As Jesus said – it is not the well who need a doctor but the unwell. And let us see interruptions not as random events but events carefully and specifically orchestrated by God. We have an opportunity to give to those feeling shunned and outcast the opportunity to reach out their hand, like the unnamed woman in our gospel, to reach out and touch Jesus and feel his power go out from him. The power of redemption. The power of forgiveness as they receive the body and blood of Christ and hear that God loved them so much that he sent his one and only Son so they may not perish but receive eternal life. She goes from an unnamed woman to Daughter of Abraham because of Jesus’ care and compassion. It is so easy to miss those who are crying out for help. The disciples missed it when Jesus asked “who touched me”. To the disciples the woman blended in with everyone else – His disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’ Jesus knew because he saw, not with his eyes, but with his heart. The disciples couldn’t see her because to them she was just another person. How many have we walked past – how many opportunities have we missed? And they are not just those out in the public but they are also among us here. Are there brothers and sisters of Christ among us who we have missed seeing their hurt. Have we looked and been critical because they have lapsed and don’t contribute rather than looking with our hearts and asking how can we help. Let us not see things as an inconvenience like Jairus’s household who saw no need to bother Jesus because his daughter had died – “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further? Nothing is trouble to Jesus. Nothing is inconvenient to Jesus. Nothing is an interruption to Jesus.
Everything is an opportunity to share the love and grace of God, so let us ask God to give us the heart as well as eyes of Jesus so we can see the hurting sons and daughters of Abraham among us.