MOMENTS WITH THE MINISTER: What to do with interruptions

By Lander Bethel
Special to the Herald Democrat

Interruptions come at the most inconvenient times. I can be concentrating on trying to get something together, in the middle of a thought I don’t want to let disappear into the mist, when an interruption comes. Someone needs something. There’s a reminder about a meeting. My wife wants to check in. Our dog really wants to go outside or picks this time to want to play. It’s a little past time to start getting something ready for dinner. There’s a message that someone is in the hospital and needs a visit. Maybe that thought will come back, maybe it won’t.

Jenny Williams, writing in Duke Divinity School’s Faith and Leadership, notes this:

Henri Nouwen wrote of a now-famous conversation which helped him think about interruptions as something other than a bother. He writes, “While visiting the University of Notre Dame, where I had been a teacher for a few years, I met an older experienced professor who had spent most of his life there. And while we strolled over the beautiful campus, he said with a certain melancholy in his voice, "You know . . . my whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered that my interruptions were my work."

As Mark tells his story of Jesus in his gospel, he seems to love interruptions. Many of the most significant events in Jesus’ ministry come as interruptions in his journey. In chapter 5, Jesus is interrupted as he is about to speak to a crowd gathered around him by a man named Jairus, an official of the synagogue. The man’s daughter is sick, maybe even dying. Jairus asks if Jesus would come to his house to save his little girl, who is only about 12 years old.

Mark doesn’t even tell us whether Jesus said anything to Jairus. He simply tells us Jesus went with Jairus. The opportunity to teach or speak to the crowd is surpassed by the immediacy of the need of this man’s daughter. The crowd followed him. Maybe some were trying to hear what Jesus might say to Jairus. Maybe they hoped for a morsel of the conversation to hold onto for themselves. Maybe they wanted to be close enough to see what Jesus might do when they arrived at the house.

In the midst of the crowd was a woman who hoped for some healing. She had been hemorrhaging for 12 years, as long as this little girl had been alive. We don’t know whether she had something like endometriosis or a complication from a previous birth. We do know that she tried everything she knew to do, spent everything she had to try to get over this, and had nothing left. Her last hope was to get close enough to touch Jesus’ clothes. Maybe some healing would come from getting this close. No one would have to know. She wouldn’t be embarrassed. She wouldn’t stop him on his way. Just a touch. Just holding on to his prayer shawl as he went on his way, maybe that would be enough.

But he stopped and asked who touched him. The disciples must have laughed as they pointed out how many people were around him. It was an interruption. He knew something had happened, and so did she. For her to see him stop and ask who touched him may have felt humiliating. She fell down before him and told him what happened.

The first thing Jesus said to her was, “Daughter.” He calls her daughter, claiming her as a part of the family of God, a part of the community of faith connected to her ancestors Abraham and Sarah. She is restored to health and community. And he said, “your faith has made you well,” recognizing the faith she carried within herself.

This interruption has apparently cost critical time for Jairus’ daughter. Friends have come to tell him it is too late, not to bother, his daughter is dead. Interruptions can bring a turn of events that can be hard to recover from.

Jesus is most often credited with bringing the little girl back to life in this passage, which may very well be the case. If so, it shows us that not even death has a grip on us when it is confronted with the reign of God.

It is interesting to note that Jesus says she is not dead, but sleeping. It may be a euphemism for death, similar to what we use. But after going in to the room where she is, along with her parents, Jesus tells her in Aramaic, “Little girl, get up.” And when she does get up, Jesus tells them to get her something to eat. It’s the very thing a knowledgeable person would do if someone has slipped into a diabetic coma, with blood sugar levels falling to dangerously low levels.

Mark gives us the chance to compare and contrast these two stories of interruptions. They show us the power of restoration for a woman suffering for 12 long years. And they show us a little girl who may have been suffering with a difficult to manage disease for 12 long years. They both know new life given to them by one unfazed by interruptions. Instead, Jesus sees them as his work to help make people whole.

What do we do with our interruptions? Can we understand them as the work we are to do? Maybe those breaks in our concentration or those disruptions in our schedules can become our chance to knit something together that would otherwise continue to be broken, unhealed, or kept on the outside. When we embrace these interruptions, we may be able to participate in one of the world’s deepest longings: to be a part of healing, helping someone become whole, participating in the very restoration that God wants for us.

Lander Bethel

Lander Bethel is the minister of Grand Avenue Presbyterian Church in Sherman and First Presbyterian Church in Denison. He earned a doctoral degree in ministry from McCormick Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Genna, live in Sherman. They have three sons. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.