Beyond Problem Solving
July 2, 2006
A woman had heard that one of her favorite TV personalities was making a rare personal appearance at her neighborhood mall and she was determined to see him. But when she arrived at the mall, she realized that several hundred other people had a similar idea. There was no place to park. For twenty minutes she drove her car around the mall looking for a place without success. Finally, in desperation, she raised her eyes to heaven and said: “Lord, help me. If you provide a parking space for me, I promise I will put $300 in the collection next Sunday. When she turned into the next row, there, miraculously, was an empty space. She raised her eyes to heaven again and said: “Never mind, I found one.”
When we are desperate, we turn to the Lord. But it is clear that for most of us we would rather handle things ourselves. When we have no other options, when we have painted ourselves into a corner, when we are at our wits end, we cry out to the Lord to help us. But when things are running smoothly, when our finances and our relationships are healthy and productive, we congratulate ourselves on how our earnest efforts and wise decisions have led to our success.
Now, do not misunderstand me. There is nothing wrong with turning to the Lord when we are desperate. People in crisis continually approached Jesus throughout his public ministry. In today’s gospel both Jairus, the synagogue leader, and the woman with the hemorrhage come to Jesus because they had no place else to turn. Jesus acts quickly and decisively to assist them. We should never feel embarrassed or apologetic about coming to the Lord in a time of need. We should never hesitate to cry out to the Lord when we find our self in a crisis. In faith we believe that God will hear us and will act. But what a waste it is to wait until we are in crisis. What a waste it is to wait until we are desperate before we turn to the Lord. It is a waste because it is not what God wants. It is a waste because it is not what we need.
Now without a doubt God is our savior, our helper, and our healer. But God wants to be more to us than that. God has revealed God’s self as father, as mother, as lover, as friend. Why God loves us so, is a mystery, but that God loves us so, is the gospel. So we diminish our relationship with God when we approach God simply as a problem solver. We ignore what God wants when we approach God only as the “Mr. Fix-it” for our lives. It is a waste for us to approach God only as the healer of our ills. God wants more! God wants to share life with us. God wants our love. Approaching God only as a savior is not what God wants.
Neither is it what we need. How much richer our lives would be if we turned to God not only when we were desperate but every day of our lives. How much wealth and joy would we have in our lives if we turned to God not only when things were in crisis but when things were running smoothly and blessings were over flowing. If we could begin each day remembering God’s love, if we could be conscious of God’s presence as we face each event and each person, how much deeper, more thankful, more joyful our lives would be. That kind of living is exactly what we need. Therefore it is a waste when we only turn to God in crisis.
So if you are in dire need, if you are at your wit’s end, if you cannot find a parking place, then by all means call out to God for help. To believe that God will hear and help you is central to the gospel. But do not wait until you are in crisis before you turn to God. Take God with you to every moment of every day. God is loving you now. Claim that love today. That is what God wants. That is what we need.
Adjusting the Plan
July 1, 2012
Mark 5: 21-43
Today’s Gospel includes more than a powerful miracle by Jesus. It offers a pattern for living. But if we wish to appreciate the pattern, we must place ourselves into the character of Jairus, the synagogue official. Imagine his panic and his fear when he realized that his little girl, 12 years old, was about to die. We can presume that Jairus did everything he could to cure the girl, but nothing was working. When the Gospel begins, the child is at the point of death.
But Jairus is a responsible person. When he hears that Jesus is in the neighborhood, he forms a plan. He leaves the deathbed of his daughter and his house full of people and goes out to put his plan into action. He finds Jesus and pleads with him to come and lay his hands on his daughter, hoping and trusting that if Jesus would do that, the little girl would live. We see Jairus implementing his plan as today’s Gospel begins. It is working! Jesus agrees to go and the two of them set out for Jairus’ house together. Then the tragic news arrives. It’s too late, The child has died. Jairus’ plan will no longer work. As the people who bring the news say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” There is nothing left to do.
It is at this point that Jesus says a curious thing. He turns to Jairus with a directive, “Do not be afraid. Just have faith.” It is likely that Jesus’ words disturb Jairus. In anger he might respond, “I did have faith. I put my faith in the plan that you would heal my daughter. But now it is too late. She is dead. I had faith in a plan that did not work.” It would take Jairus some time to realize that Jesus had another plan that would work. Jairus’ plan fell apart. Jesus’ plan would succeed. Jairus was planning that his daughter be healed. Jesus was planning a resurrection.
The pattern that comes forth from today’s Gospel has two aspects. First of all it emphasizes that responsible people have to devise plans. Through our efforts we are expected to plot ways through which goodness will be brought to ourselves and to those we love. But a second aspect reminds us that God also has plans that might be different from our own. If we need a job, we cannot sit around and simply pray. We have to act, to send out resumes, to go for interviews. At times we become hopeful over an interview that seems to go very well. But when we find out that the job has gone to someone else, Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith. I have another plan.”
We might be looking for someone to love, someone with whom to share our life. We must to go out and meet people. We must be open to arrange dates. Sometimes we become excited when we meet someone and say, “This person could be the one.” But when we find out that this person is not the one, Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith. I have another plan.”
We may have lost someone who we loved. The hole of the grief is so large that we can hardly breathe. But we have to choose to enter life again. Sometimes it seems we are making progress, and then there are other days when it is as bad as ever. On those days Jesus says, “Do not be afraid. Just have faith. It will happen, but it will happen according to my plan, not yours.”
As responsible people we must make plans to address the issues in our lives. It is important to take the steps to build our dreams. But as people of faith, we know that God also has plans that are not always easy to see. The most consoling part of today’s Gospel is that when Jairus’ plan falls apart, when he is told that his daughter is dead, Jesus is already walking with him on the road to the place where his plan will work. We need to believe that Jesus is walking with us. So that when our best plans for life collapse, we can turn to him and say, “Well, my plan didn’t work. I think it is time to show me yours.”
Re-Thinking What Is Necessary
June 28, 2015
The woman in today’s gospel wants to be cured by Jesus. She wants him to do what the doctors could not do—make her whole. Although her desire was noble and worthy, she chose a rather peculiar way to attain it. Instead of coming up to Jesus and asking for his help, she crept up behind him through the crowd and touched his cloak. She said to herself, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be cured.” What a wacky idea. Did this woman think that Jesus was some kind of a magical stone that she simply had to rub to attain what she needed? The way she sought her healing was bizarre. God’s healing does not come because we touch something. Now the good news is that Jesus does heal her, even though her way of approaching the healing was misguided. To make sure that she knows this, Jesus says to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you.” That is: it was your faith, not your touch, that made you whole.
Now this story of the woman with the hemorrhage is an important story for us, because often in our relationship with Jesus we set conditions that are as wrong-headed as this woman’s was. We imagine that some occurrence, some circumstance, is necessary for us to be happy. Like the woman, we say, “If only this would happen, I would be fine.” If only I could get this job, if only this girl would agree to go out with me on a date, if only the problems in my marriage could be resolved, I would be made whole. If I could get into this college, if my nephew stopped abusing drugs, if the test for cancer comes back negative, then all would be as it should be.
Of course, many times the conditions that we set are attained. We get the job, the girl says, “Yes,” or our marriage is saved. When these things happen, we should be thankful. But when we are unable to attain the things we imagine as necessary, we must remember the woman in today’s gospel. She was healed, not because she did what she thought she had to do, but because God loved her. Likewise, we must remember that God is bigger than the things we think are necessary for our happiness. Even if we are not accepted by the college we desire, even if our nephew is unable to stop using drugs, even if the tests come back positive, God is still able to lead us to life. God has ways of saving us independent of the conditions that we feel are necessary.
The woman in today’s gospel touched Jesus’ cloak and she was healed—not because she touched the cloak, but because God loved her. When we are unable to touch the things that we feel are necessary, when life seems to brush past our fingertips, it is important to believe that God’s love is still there.