Interruptions can be really irritating. … I always tried, when I worked for Stockport Council to maintain an open door policy for the people who worked for me. However, it did not stop me feeling aggrieved every time my concentration was interrupted!
A prominent Catholic teacher called Henri Nouwen said in the prime of his career that he became frustrated by the many interruptions to his work. He was teaching and had a heavy agenda each day and didn’t like to be disturbed. Then one day it dawned on him that his interruptions were his work. The unplanned things were his ministry. It was in those interruptions that he had his most important encounters.
There is a saying: “Life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans!” … Often, when we are interrupted, it turns out that the interruption is of greater consequence than what we were doing at first!
Our Gospel reading says something about the way that Jesus treated people. Jesus left the crowd to minister to a single person. He was never too busy to respond to the needs of an individual … Bartimeaus, the blind man by the road side, the epileptic youth and his distraught father after the Transfiguration, Zaccheus the troubled tax collector, the widow of Nain weeping over her dead son, Nicodemus at the dead of night, the woman at the well in the heat of the day …. Yet even Jesus could not minister to everyone.
When we look at the needs of the world, we can feel overwhelmed. We want to help, but we hardly know where to begin or where to stop. … We can give in to despair, wringing our hands, feeling that anything we do would be of little or no significance. Or we can help by responding to needs that present themselves to us, often small or individual needs, with the resources at our disposal.
We can’t do everything but even if we just do something, we make a difference. There is a story of someone who watched a man walking along a beach where for some reason thousands of starfish had become stranded above the usual tide line – they covered the beach. The man was picking up individual starfish and throwing them back into the ocean one by one. This person asked the man why he bothered – you can’t possibly save them all….. the reply was “But I can save these ones from dying in some shell hunter’s collection.” It clearly wasn’t possible for him to retrieve them all, but he was giving a precious few another chance to live. We see this same thing in Jesus; unable to respond personally to everyone in the crowd, he helped some – and made a difference.
So, Jesus’ time with the crowd is interrupted by Jairus, and Jesus responds, and as he hurries to Jairus’ house he is interrupted again. This time it is a stealthy interruption. Jesus feels the flick of someone’s fingers on the fringe of his outer garment. He stops and asks: “Who touched my clothes?” The disciples laugh: “You see the crowd pushing in on you and you ask who touched you?” perhaps too they thought, “You’ve got urgent work to do for one of the leaders of the town. Let’s get on with it.” But Jesus is not deterred. He looks around to see who has touched him, and a woman comes forward, falls at his feet, and tells him the whole truth.
She has a chronic debilitating disease. She’s suffered from haemorrhages for twelve years. She has spent all she has on doctors but is no better. She’s heard about Jesus, and she has determined just to touch the tassel of his robe in hope of a cure. (It was a superstition in Jesus’ day that if you touched the garment of a holy person, you might be cured. Much like today we might touch the cross on the chain around our necks, or some may have a rabbit’s foot.) And now she has experienced healing.
No one, nobody else, anyway, would speak to her openly. She is ceremonially unclean because of her blood flow. But Jesus speaks to her, he notices her, he is kind to her! He calls her, “Daughter,” and says, “Your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be healed of your disease.” In other words, it isn’t the touching of his robe, but her faith that works her healing.
This is quite amazing. A poor, diseased, outcast woman, clutching her tattered garments tightly around her, pushing through the throng, frantically reaching out her hand for help and, suddenly, all the love and power of God in Christ focuses for a brief moment in her. She goes from being a nobody to being the centre of God’s attention.
And this is how God is with each of us. We celebrate this love this morning. As we receive the elements at Communion God’s love is focussed on each of us and we receive it once again into ourselves.
Sixteen centuries ago, St. Augustine affirmed that God loves each of us as if we were the only person on earth, yet God loves everyone as much as God loves each one of us. There’s no one on earth today that God loves any more than he loves you, nor is there anyone God loves any less than he loves you. That realization should give us assurance about our own well being; and, should motivate greater concern for others.
If this is how God is with us, then this is his call to us. When we encounter need, we should respond in love, in whatever way love dictates.
The woman’s faith should also grab our attention. She never gave up hope. She had heard about Jesus of Nazareth and the wonderful things he was doing, the difference he was making in people’s lives. She sought him out and acted on her belief. She was wrong about just needing to touch the robe, but she was right about reaching out to Christ in total commitment. The healing she experienced is God’s gift to all who seek him in sincerity and in truth – and we too can receive this gift when we reach out to him.
Loving God, in your majesty you number the stars in the heavens; and in your mercy, you heal the broken hearts of our world. In Jesus you entered our human world as a helpless infant. You know what it is like to be human and you are ever present with us in all that we go through. Open us up to the hurt of individuals all around us. Use us in a world full of loneliness and misery. Help us to bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil your long love through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.