The story of the gospel is one of tension that makes no sense outside of the resurrection. We are now several weeks out from Easter Sunday. How many of us still live as if our lives depended on its veracity?
A few weeks ago my house was robbed. This is not one of those anecdotal or near-Apocryphal stories that pastors often use that may or may not have happened. My front door really was kicked in, and several of my most valuable possessions ceased to be just that.
When I came home and saw my front door swaying gently, all I could feel was a pit in my stomach. This was an interruption, and even my body manifested it.
In the weeks since, my wife and I have been rebuilding. Literally, we’ve been rebuilding our door. Figuratively, we’ve been assessing how to maintain faithful living to Christ without feeling exposed and vulnerable to future break-ins.
Remember the woman from Mark 5? The one who interrupts Jesus’ journey to Jairus’ house? She is healed, but her healing comes at a price. As Jesus is talking with the woman, servants from Jairus’ house approach the crowd to tell their master that his daughter is dead. The devastation of those words most have been only compounded in Jesus’ simple reply, “do not fear, only believe.” What are we to believe in? Death is death.
Nevertheless, a small contingent of Jesus, Peter, James and John are rallied to venture up to Jairus’ house, where the scene is one of commotion. In ancient Palestine it was not uncommon for the wealthy to hire mourners upon the death of a loved one, and Mark tells us that there were many people wailing and weeping. Jesus tells these people that the girl is only sleeping, and once again you see the disciples eyeing each other suspiciously. The laughter that comes in response to Jesus could not have been a surprise. These are people who make a living by mourning. I’m sure that their laughter was tinged slightly with nervousness. If the girl is alive, they don’t get paid. Where Jesus goes, tension is sure to follow.
Once rid of the crowd, Jesus approaches the dead girl and takes her by the hand. For the second time, the disciples must have been incredulous. This is another unclean act, and Jesus should know better than to touch a dead body. Instead of blessing the corpse or checking her pulse, Jesus commands words of life, and the girl literally jumps out of bed.
It’s a miraculous story, but one question that keeps coming up for me is why would Jesus let the girl die?
Jesus meets Jairus in a moment of desperation and demands that he discard his preconceived notions of righteousness, holiness, and entitlement. This meant Jairus seeing his wealth and public prestige fall away uselessly as the last hope to save his daughter stopped to converse and heal a fetid beggar. It’s an incredibly intimate encounter, but it makes little sense for Jairus to proclaim faith in Jesus outside of Jesus’ larger work on the cross. This is not merely a rebuke of death; it’s a reordering of priorities.
Only in Jesus do we find the resolution to the tension of the world, the offer of grace; but it comes at a price. This is not a cheap grace, and the call of service to Christ is a call the world bristles at. The offer of salvation is free, but to accept it requires a willingness to be transformed.
This is hard. After our house was broken into, most of my thoughts were reminiscing about stuff that was lost. It’s just stuff, but to think differently requires a total re-organizing of priorities. If I am serious about being a Christian, it matters deeply how I respond to being robbed.
Followers of Christ are called to inhabit moments of tension. This is not an encouragement to be confrontational. Inhabiting moments of tension is different than creating them. It’s not about arguing a position but rather being present in the places and lives of those the world ignores. Places of poverty, sickness and despair are places the world wants nothing to do with – these are the places the church is called to be. The world wants nothing to do with the woman who bleeds. The world strives to sterilize pain and death. The gospel is for those the world has discarded, and it’s the church’s mission to live that gospel with and to those people.
Easter Sunday was now several weeks ago. How many of us still live our lives as if they depended on the veracity of the resurrection? How are we living this veracity?
How we live in the ordinary time will form us and guide us to respond with grace when the world confronts us. It matters how we treat others, from our friends to those who would take advantage of us. It matters how I respond to my daughter when I’m tired and she’s whiny. It matters how we respond to our spouses, our coworkers and our friends. Our habits form us, and unless we are molded by the narrative of the gospel, moments of confrontation will only serve to reinforce our inward bent. It matters how we respond to confrontation, because if we follow Jesus, the world very well might label us as a diseased, poor wretch with nothing meaningful to contribute.
Clearly our world still lives in tension. My front door will attest to that. As Christians we proclaim a message of reconciliation between God and creation, but sin abounds. The kingdom of God is the church, and it spreads as we allow God to work through us in moments of tension, sadness, pain and suffering to be agents of reconciliation, healing, comfort and peace. Isaiah 65 speaks of the creation of a new heaven and a new earth. Certainly that new heaven and earth are glimpsed in the action of Jesus in Mark 5.
Moments of tension occur when the vision of that new heaven and new earth crash up against the priorities and hierarchies of the world. It’s the job of the church to establish habits of responsive living that are grounded in the hope that the resurrection means something more than just Easter Sunday.
The good news is that the gospel does not end in tension. Like a dissonant chord that craves resolution, the crescendoing action of Jesus’ work as healer and teacher is a welcome resolution to the sickness and death of the world. But this strange melody that Jesus brings would hardly make sense apart from the cosmic resolution that comes on Easter morning. Without the cross, Jesus is a healer whose methods seem strange and awkward. With the cross, Jesus becomes the divine resolution to the tension of a fallen and broken world.
Andy Scott works and lives in Durham, NC, with his wife, Annie and daughter, Miriam. He dislikes summing up his life in two sentences, as it seems to do more harm than good.