THEY LAUGHED AT JESUS, TOO
Point Pleasant Presbyterian Church
June 28, 2015; 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Psalm 30; Mark 5:21-43
“When [Jesus] had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make
a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’
And they laughed at him.”
Ever have one of those days when the day just gets away from you? It starts out OK. You wake up with the full day stretching out before you: a blank slate, on which you can draw anything you want. You run through your schedule in your mind, you make your plans — and you’re barely out of the starting-gate before things start to go south.
Interruptions. Delays. Distractions. Miscalculations. “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men,” says the poet Burns, “Gang aft agley.” (Yes, they do go astray.)
If it’s is any consolation, it happened to Jesus too. Here he is, in Mark Chapter 5, a man with a mission. The president of a synagogue — Jairus by name, a very important man — has sought Jesus out, begging him to come heal his daughter, who’s gravely ill.
What an opportunity! A high-profile healing. Jesus’ press agent — if he’d had a press agent — would have moved heaven and earth to get him that gig. But no need: Jairus found him! Think of it: make a good impression on a mover and shaker like that, and your fame will spread from one end of the land to the other.
Jesus and a few of his disciples are striding through the streets of the town, on the way to Jairus’ house — as fast as they can move, without breaking into a run. They turn a corner, and suddenly a crowd of people are all around. He’s a spiritual celebrity, Jesus is. They all want to press in and get a piece of him.
The disciples are running interference, the best they know how. “Please. Stand aside. The master’s on an urgent errand. A young child’s life is at stake.”
One walks alongside to his left, another to his right. Jairus is just ahead, leading the way. Two or three disciples are up ahead of him, a flying wedge. They’re just starting to make progress, breaking out of the traffic jam, when Jesus abruptly stops.
“Who touched me?”
What a ridiculous question. All these hands reaching out, all these jostling bodies, and he wants to know who touched him!
“I felt power go out of me. Someone touched me: really touched me. Someone sick and sad and afraid.”
She of the pale complexion, the dark circles under her eyes, the halting gait. “It was I,” said she. “I only touched the hem of your robe.”
Then and there, Jesus stops to talk with her. It’s as though there’s no one else in the world but the two of them — Jairus and his sick daughter notwithstanding.
Jesus listens patiently as she pours out her story. At the end of it he says, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace.”
A messenger pushes through the crowd from the other side, a servant of Jairus, tears streaming down his cheeks. “It’s over, my Lord. No need to trouble the master any further.”
But Jesus presses on. “Do not fear,” he says. “Only believe.” The crowd parts, to let them out. Down one street, around a corner, then down another. And then they hear it. The keening. The wailing of a mother living her worst nightmare. Her little girl, no longer breathing.
What do you do, in such a situation? What do you say, during the visiting hours in the funeral home, as the line of mourners moves slowly forward, and you find yourself face to face with the grieving mother?
Do attempt some words of consolation? Some comforting platitude? Or do you just reach out your arms and squeeze her to you, your tears — and hers — the only language that makes any sense?
“She’s not dead,” says Jesus. “She’s only sleeping.”
The shocked silence lasts but an instant. Then the laughter begins. Not the laughter of joy and exhilaration. The laughter of ridicule.
Laughter because everyone knows dead is dead. There’s no such thing as a round-trip ticket to the great beyond. What a fool this Nazarene rabbi has turned out to be!
But when he goes into the house, takes her by the hand and says, “Little girl, get up,” she does!
The gospel-writers all have this idea that, along with Jesus, there comes a new reality known as the Kingdom of God. The very first sermon Mark has Jesus preach, back in Chapter 1, is simplicity itself: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
Whenever the Kingdom of God brushes up against the kingdoms of this world, there appears what the spiritually wise call a “thin place.” At that thin place, tears of sorrow are — unexpectedly — transformed into tears of joy. The laughter of ridicule becomes the laughter of celebration.
But we’re not there yet. The Kingdom of God has not yet arrived and set up housekeeping. Jesus himself, in that initial proclamation of his, never claims the Kingdom has arrived. He says it has drawn near. There’s a fine difference between those two statements, but an important one.
If Jesus is right that the Kingdom has drawn near, that means, if we as disciples are doing this Christianity thing right, we’re always going to be a little out of step with the culture around us. The Roman Catholic novelist Flannery O’Connor points out something very similar as she writes, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.”
I’ll bet you’ve had the experience of feeling odd on occasion, on account of your faith. Maybe you’ve been at some kind of social gathering when the subject of church came up, and when you let it be known you’re one of those church people, you caught a look of pure disdain from someone else. Or maybe you were in a conversation with some people at work or school, and the subject of cheating came up — whether cheating on a school exam or cheating on your taxes. “Come on, everybody does it” was the general consensus. You just stayed silent, not wanting to seem like an oddball.
Experiences like that hammer home the truth that, if you and I are going to follow Jesus, it’s sure to cost us something. In the words of English novelist Dorothy Sayers:
“I believe it to be a great mistake to present Christianity as something charming and popular with no offense in it…. We cannot blink at the fact that gentle Jesus meek and mild was so stiff in his opinions and so inflammatory in his language that he was thrown out of church, stoned, hunted from place to place, and finally gibbeted as a firebrand and a public danger. Whatever his peace was, it was not the peace of an amiable indifference.”
Another Christian novelist, Frederick Buechner, has a slightly different take on it. He says:
“If the world is sane, then Jesus is mad as a hatter and the Last Supper is the Mad Tea Party. The world says, Mind your own business, and Jesus says, There is no such thing as your own business. The world says, Follow the wisest course and be a success, and Jesus says, Follow me and be crucified. The world says, Drive carefully — the life you save may be your own — and Jesus says, Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. The world says, Law and order, and Jesus says, Love. The world says, Get and Jesus says, Give. In terms of the world’s sanity, Jesus is crazy as a coot, and anybody who thinks he can follow him without being a little crazy too is laboring less under a cross than under a delusion.” (Listening to Your Life.)
Jesus himself says as much in the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. [Matt. 5:11-12]
“Persecuted” is a hard word. The words from today’s scripture — “And they laughed at him” — sound pretty mild, by comparison!
We’ve just baptized three children: Layla, Charlie and Anders. Now, when most of us think of the sacrament of baptism — especially with regard to babies or young children — we very often think of it as a sacrament of fitting in. When children are baptized — as were their parents and grandparents before them, in most instances — they are formally welcomed into the family: not only their families of origin, but the family of the church.
This, baptism certainly is. Withe respect to the family and with respect to the church, it’s a celebration of belonging. In fact, from the day of their baptism, even the youngest of children are members of the church. Now, I know that, when teenagers come to Confirmation Class and make their public profession of faith, lots of us say they’re “joining the church” — but that’s not accurate. If they’ve been baptized, they’re already members of the church. They’re just confirming the promises their parents made at their baptism, and taking on adult membership responsibilities.
There’s a marvelous and beautiful sort of welcome associated with baptism: welcome into the family, welcome into the church. But let us never lose track of the fact that baptism also marks Christians as different from the rest of humanity. This sacrament makes us different in that it marks us as disciples of Jesus Christ.
If we belong to him, that means the world may sometimes have cause to laugh at us — as it once laughed at him. Such an experience is never easy; but when it happens — as it surely will, someday — just remember, there’s far greater laughter in heaven than there ever is on this earth.
Copyright © 2015, by Carlos E. Wilton. All rights reserved.