Welcome to the Society of Saint John the Evangelist

A Mission Interrupted – Br. David Vryhof

Play

You might have noticed that the gospel story read this morning contains two healing miracles, not one.  What makes them particularly interesting is that they are interwoven – in fact, one story interrupts the other.

We find Jesus surrounded by “a large crowd” just after his return from a healing mission that had taken him across the Sea of Galilee.  A man approaches him – not just any man, but a leader of the synagogue, a person of considerable social status and importance.  He is desperate with worry and grief and, abandoning all dignity, he falls to the ground at Jesus’ feet and “begs him repeatedly,” the gospel writer tells us, to come and lay his hands on his sick daughter, who is at the point of death.  There is a mixture of desperation and hope in his eyes.  He is convinced that Jesus has the authority to make her well, if only he will come, and quickly.  So Jesus went with him.

On the way a curious thing happens.  Jesus suddenly stops and looks around.  “Who touched me?” he asks.  This strikes even his own disciples as an odd question, given that throngs of people are surrounding him and jostling against him.  But he is “aware that power had gone forth from him” and he wants to know to whom it has gone.  There is a pause, until a woman slowly comes forward and admits that it was she who reached out to touch his robes.  Her situation is similarly desperate.  The gospel writer Mark underscores the seriousness of her case by telling us that not only had she been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years, she had “endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and she was no better, but rather grew worse”!  Unlike Jairus, the man whose daughter was gravely ill, she has no high social standing.  Her disease has impoverished her and isolated her; anyone coming into contact with her would have been rendered ritually impure.  For twelve years she had been in pain physically and ostracized socially! It is no wonder that she took the risk she did in reaching out to touch the man of God.

The interruption must have been a test for Jairus.  Realizing that time was of the essence he must have been eager to move on with Jesus to reach the girl before she expired.  But Jesus isn’t finished.  He wastes precious time to be with this woman, to hear her story, to express compassion for the suffering she has endured, and to recognize and commend her faith.  And now he says to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well.”

He needn’t have stopped at all.  Having realized that power had gone out of him, he could have assumed that a healing had taken place, but knowing the urgency of the mission he was on, could have continued without having to know the details.  But he pauses… and listens…, and his careful and compassionate attention brings about a deeper healing, a healing that goes beyond physical wholeness…, a healing of the soul.  “Go in peace,” he tells her, “and be healed of your disease.”

The interruption has heightened the suspense.  Will Jesus get to the sick girl in time?  But now the word comes that he is too late.  Messengers from the leader’s house arrive to say, “Your daughter is dead.”  “Why trouble the teacher any further?” they ask.  Hope is lost.  Life has passed.  Nothing can be done.  Perhaps we might expect Jesus to put a hand on the man’s shoulder and say, “I’m sorry.”  But instead, he challenges him to have faith.  “Do not fear,” he says, “only believe.”

Can you remember a setback, a disappointment or a loss that made you feel that all was lost, that nothing more could be done, that there was no longer any reasonable cause for hope?

With Jesus there is always reason to hope.  There is nothing – not even death itself – that can conquer or defeat us.  “Do not fear, only believe.”

“The child is not dead but sleeping.”  The mourners laugh at him; they know with certainty that she is dead. What possible reason is there for hope now?

He enters the room and takes her by the hand and says to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up.”  And she did.  And then those tender words that reflect the real care and concern Jesus has for her, “Give her something to eat.”

There is no setback so severe, no disappointment so disabling, no loss so devastating, that God cannot bring healing and life from it.  “Do not fear, only believe.”

The story shows us the kind of faith that is expected of us – a faith that is not easily abandoned or set aside,  a faith that persists even when all seems lost or hopeless, a faith that will not let go of its deep conviction that with God all things are possible, a faith that stands firm in the face of evil and hardship and disappointments of every kind and boldly proclaims, “There is nothing in heaven or earth that can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39).

But this is not only a story about faith; it is also a story about compassion.

It is compassion that causes Jesus to stop and inquire about the one who has touched him.  It is compassion that gives her the time to tell her story.  It is compassion that cares about her enough to pay attention, even when urgent business is at hand.  It is compassion that sees her, that hears her, that accepts and loves and affirms her, and sends her away in peace.

This story has something to say to a generation that sees interruptions as obstacles rather than opportunities.  For most of us, interruptions are seen as negative events; we do our best to avoid them.  They are obstacles that get in the way of our being highly productive and efficient.  And yet we may be sure that they also present us with opportunities — opportunities to give our attention others, to listen carefully to what is on their hearts, to concern ourselves with their troubles, to identify with their pain, to recognize and honor them by taking time to listen, to be for them a channel of God’s compassion and peace.

Henri Nouwen, the great spiritual writer of the 20th century, once wrote, “…my whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered that my interruptions were my work” (Reaching Out, p.36).

I love the story that Robert Coles, the well-known psychologist and teacher from Harvard University, tells of his first encounter with Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker movement and tireless champion for the cause of the poor.  Having decided to write about her life and having received her consent, Mr. Coles travelled to New York City to meet the great lady and to learn her story.  He tells how he entered the front hall of the Catholic Worker House on the lower east side of Manhattan and found Dorothy Day there, standing across the room, speaking patiently to a woman who was obviously mightily intoxicated.  He says he watched for several minutes as Dorothy Day posed simple questions which launched tirades of irrational speech from the disheveled, inebriated woman.  Dorothy would patiently hear her out and then state her question again, only to watch the nonsensical scene repeat itself.  After several minutes of this, she excused herself from the woman and made her way over to where Robert Coles was standing.  She walked up to him and said simply, “Are you waiting to speak with one of us?”

“Are you waiting to speak with one of us?”  The question speaks volumes about how Dorothy Day saw herself and how she saw the people she served.  She could have viewed conversation with this woman as a waste of time, an unnecessary and fruitless interruption in the course of a day in which she undoubtedly had many other things to do.  But she didn’t.  Like Jesus, she realized that interruptions are not always obstacles; sometimes they are opportunities.  And if we fail to recognize them, we will miss the experiences of grace they are hidden in them.

Faith, hope and love.

“Do not fear, only believe,” Jesus says to us.

With God there is always reason to hope.

And “be compassionate, just as your Father in heaven is compassionate.”

These are the things that matter.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Support SSJE


Please support the Brothers work.

Click here to Donate

14 Comments

  1. David Cranmer on May 20, 2017 at 00:13

    What a wonderful thought — to view interruptions as opportunities!

    • Laurie on October 14, 2017 at 10:41

      My thanks to Brother David. This is such a relevant, encouraging sermon. I am so thankful to have the internet and to be able to read it this morning. We are currently in the midst of the fires in Santa Rosa, CA and, my goodness, what an interruption and potential obstacle it is! It is so true that it holds many opportunities for me and for everyone to experience and to share God’s mercy in the world. I will hold these thoughts in my mind and prayers today as I attempt to enter my apartment if the evacuation orders are over, and in the coming days:

      Faith, hope and love.

      “Do not fear, only believe,” Jesus says to us.

      With God there is always reason to hope.

      And “be compassionate, just as your Father in heaven is compassionate.”

      These are the things that matter.

      Faithfully,
      Laurie

  2. Rhode on May 19, 2017 at 08:22

    Thank you for this message which arrived on my birthday morning. I am thankful for 63 years – many of them filled with interuptions of faith. This mornings reading allowed me to reflect on my mom who only had 63 years. Perhaps she too felt as young as I do now when cancer interrupted her life and faith. I felt so helpless as I watched her struggle with both. Her parting gift to me was her bible marked up, verses underlined and dates and remarks in the margins that read like a diary and filling in gaps for me and my brother. Her bible revealed a splendid woman whose many faith interruptions always led her back to the solace of Gods’ love. I am very thankful today.

  3. Faith Turner on August 11, 2016 at 16:38

    What a concept when we think of how things happen that delay our journey we are so focused on. I love the idea that this is part of my work too. Whatever reason, we are often put in this position. Whatever reason is God who is seeing something that needs to be fixed right now. I need to see this as a mission from God. Right now is as important as what we are going to do by plan. So often these events have been a miracle waiting to happen right now. So it was with Jesus and is with us right now!

  4. Ruth West on June 14, 2016 at 01:27

    Br. David, I needed this message. I have a mentally ill friend who calls me often, sometimes at the most inconvenient times.
    You have given me a new response to these calls. I must not see these calls as interruptions, but opportunities. Thanks for giving me a new perspective.

  5. Lou Cavaliere on June 13, 2016 at 10:28

    David
    In the wake of all that happened in Orlando FL this weekend. I really needed to hear this about faith and compassion. The hemmiraging woman is one of my favorite stories

  6. Marta E on June 13, 2016 at 06:33

    Psalm 80 this morning speaks of relief for the prisoners. On a first reading, I thought first of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s reading this as it would have comforted him in prison. But, I also think this means all of us, imprisoned by our “plans”, etc. But on this morning after the tragedy in Orlando, many of those who were prisoners/hostages were killed. Moses’ dialogue with Jethro asks his father-in-law to go with them, as they proceed through the desert with the tabernacle, moving when the cloud lifts, stopping when it settles. It’s so hard to know what to do and what is the right time. . . . .

  7. MIchael on June 12, 2016 at 14:01

    I often allow my goals to blind me of the beauty right in front of me

  8. Roderic Brawn on June 12, 2016 at 06:26

    When I hear these sermons, I understand what to repent means. It means to repent (repoint) the way we are going. It means we constantly need to consider in which direction we are going and why. Earlier today, (It is not praise myself that I write this.) I read the meditation and scriptures set out in Forward Day by Day. Now I know I will fail to perfectly follow The Way, but the story of David and Uriah speaks to us as well: asking, “What do we place first in our lives?” Now we need to ask how can we re-direct our efforts, ‘repent’?

  9. Marta E on October 18, 2015 at 23:07

    Your writings and those of your brothers continue to remind me of the daily miracles that occur, only when we open our eyes enough to see and hear the mysterious workings of God through our neighbors. It is a great service you give the world. Thank you.

  10. Muriel Akam on October 18, 2015 at 10:49

    Thank you. This resonates with me as so often I’ve gone about my life with various goals in mind only to find them interrupted , feel annoyed and have often found at a later date, on reflection, these interruptions meaningful, joyful and in some ways my ‘calling’.

  11. N on October 18, 2015 at 07:07

    Thank you for that marvellous quotation from Henri Nouwen.

  12. Ruth West on December 29, 2012 at 01:00

    This sermon was a new message for me. I’ve read this scripture many times but not thinking of Jesus’ healing of the woman as an interruption of his journey to the dying child. You have made such significant points.
    Thank you for giving me new light in this gospel message. May God bless
    you! REW

  13. Maureen Doyle on December 28, 2012 at 10:45

    It is this healing compassion that we have taken from our medical system, with its strict time limits and changing doctors as insurance.
    And we try to remove it from our lives too. This virtue with no monetary worth, the virtue that belongs to the 47% often.
    Yet, taken from a word for the love a mother feels for the child in her womb, perhaps our most basic and necessary virtue.

Leave a Comment