MaryAnn McKibben Dana
Idylwood Presbyterian Church
May 25, 2014
When Jesus had crossed again in the boat* to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him; and he was by the lake. 22Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23and begged him repeatedly,
‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.’ 24So he went with him.
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years. 26She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’
29Immediately her haemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ 31And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?” ’ 32He looked all round to see who had done it. 33But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’
35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?’
36But overhearing* what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ 37He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39When he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ 40And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum’, which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ 42And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
Technology enables us to multitask like never before. Teens do homework while texting and listening to an iPad. Parents cook dinner while watching the news and helping kids with homework. And pastors check voice mail while driving from a presbytery meeting to a hospital visit.
All of this multitasking takes its toll, in increased stress, fatigue, and even headaches and other physical symptoms—not to mention a decreased proficiency in the tasks themselves. Studies have shown that switching rapidly between activities increases mistakes. Talking on a cell phone while driving is said to impair reaction time as much as driving drunk.
As financial guru and writer Suze Orman told Time Magazine some years ago, “The people who multitask, I think, do everything to mediocrity at best.” In the words of a popular website about productivity, “Multitasking is the art of distracting yourself from two things you’d rather not be doing by doing them simultaneously.”
That’s a stinging indictment for those of us from whom multitasking is a common part of life.
Yet we know that multitasking just doesn’t feel right spiritually. More than a few books on spirituality tut-tut the practice, clucking their collective tongues in disapproval… to the point where we view multitasking as a necessary evil, but an evil nonetheless. Juggling too many balls at once can leave our spirits feeling scattered. It’s harder to find quiet, harder to pray. We suspect that it’s better to do one thing at a time, to give it our full attention, and to see it through to completion before moving on to the next thing. To turn off the phone and drive. To silence the radio and read. That feels like “what Jesus would do.” Isn’t it?
In today’s passage from Mark’s gospel, Jesus is a man on a mission. While people press in on all sides with a variety of needs and demands, he remains focused on his task—to make it to Jairus’s house so that he can lay hands on the sick girl and make her well. People clamor for his attention, all with their own needs—
“Jesus, please heal my son!”
“We’re hungry, Jesus, we have nothing to eat!”
“My mother is blind, can you help her see?”
Still he keeps walking to Jairus’s house, singularly focused. Nothing will deter him or detain him.
Nothing, that is, except the hemorrhaging woman, who has suffered for twelve long years, who touches the hem of Jesus’ garment in a last-ditch effort to be relieved of her suffering. The woman is behind Jesus, which means the power flows in one direction as he is headed in the other. It’s a potent image for any of us who have felt our lives and ministries pulled in two (or more) directions: with children tugging at our sleeve as we try to walk out the door, or a boss or administrator following us to the parking lot with “just one more thing before you go.”
Jesus has a job to do at Jairus’s house, there’s no time to waste; and the disciples seem to sense this because their response is brusque, like they are trying to rush him on: Who touched you? Are you kidding? Who didn’t touch you? C’mon, let’s go, a girl’s life is at stake.
Nevertheless, Jesus stops what he is doing, turns and addresses her, and sends her on her way a healed and whole person. Her flow of blood has already ceased, but in calling her “daughter,” he restores her to relationship with her fellow human beings. He takes the time to do this, even though it delays his arrival at Jairus’s house—a delay that has dire consequences for the little girl… at least temporarily.
To call Jesus’ encounter with the hemorrhaging woman an example of multitasking is a stretch. And yet it’s interesting that while he is still speaking to the woman, he hears the conversation with Jairus. The image of Jesus is one who is singularly focused on those he’s ministering to… and yet he is able to hear a side conversation at the same time? Sure sounds like multitasking to me!
Whatever we want to call it, on the way from point A to point B, Jesus makes a detour. What Jesus models here is attentiveness—a willingness to tend to the interruptions of life, to acknowledge that our lives do not conform to our careful plans and schedules. It’s one thing to simply accept the interruptions as inevitable, which many of us do grudgingly at best. Jesus takes it a step further, and provides a novel twist on the concept of flow.
Athletes and musicians can attest to the joy of being so completely immersed in one’s craft that the activity seems effortless, all-encompassing, and beautiful to behold. The term “flow” was coined by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (chick sent me high), who describes it as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake… every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
Jesus seems to be a prime example of a life in flow. Jesus’ power seems to work of its own volition; it’s as if Jesus cannot help but heal the woman. In this story he is so tuned in to his body, his spirit, and the world around him that he knows “immediately” that he has been touched, that something has happened. He is able to shift gears gracefully, almost instinctively. The story is not linear: first Jairus, then the woman. Rather it is a story-within-a-story, beginning and ending with Jairus’s daughter with the hemorrhaging woman as an important interlude. And yet Jesus addresses both the detour and the destination masterfully.
This is multitasking in the best sense of the word—not a half-hearted, half-attentioned bouncing between tasks, but a sharp sense of awareness and flexibility with the world around him.
Jesus exemplifies spiritual parkour. …Parkour is a sport and an art in which people move through mainly urban areas, running, jumping over staircases, running up the side of a wall, and so forth. The idea is to assess the obstacles in your path and find a way to work with them, not avoid them.
Parkour is a great example of flow, of being both present enough to see the path, but loose enough to be able to move fluidly through it. (Google it if you’d like to see some examples!)
I have a lot of days in which I hit the ground running in the morning and don’t stop all day, and I make a small disaster of things along the way. Then there are other days that are just as busy, but there is a grace and elegance to the events of the day—a grace that does not come from me.
That’s a gift of the Spirit. That’s flow. That’s what allowed Jesus—on his way to save a little girl’s life—to stop and say, Whoa, wait a minute. Something important just happened that I need to tend to right now.
It takes skill and disciplined practice to reach the level of flow. But most of us have witnessed it, or if we’re especially blessed, experienced it first hand: the doctor who connects with a hospital full of patients, family and staff with sensitivity and attentiveness to the details of each unique situation; the teacher who manages a classroom with dozens of moving parts, yet still responds to the child who’s fallen and skinned her knee; the homeless shelter volunteer who can monitor the cornbread baking in the oven and the soup on the stove while chatting with the guests as they gather for the meal.
Multitasking may be here to stay—it is a fact of life for many of us—and I’m going to go out on a limb and say that multitasking is more than a necessary evil. It can be spiritually faithful. It’s all in how we do it. We can do it with desperation and half attention, or we can do it, in the words of Csíkszentmihályi, with a combination of “playfulness and discipline.”
Jesus demonstrates this playfulness, I believe, when he asks his disciples, “Who touched me?” Don’t you think he knew who touched him? It’s a way of poking at the serious and linear-thinking disciples, who answer, “Uh, everyone, now let’s move on.”
But he also exhibits discipline. It is hard work to get to the level of spiritual parkour. It takes a lifetime of practice. And part of the discipline is to take times in which you are not multi-tasking, when you are in fact not tasking at all.
We can acknowledge the busyness and complexity of our lives and our ministries, while being awake to what is in front of us—both the expected and the unexpected. When Jesus encountered the hemorrhaging woman, he does not give her half his attention while mentally calculating how long this interruption would delay his arrival at Jairus’s house. He was present enough to feel the woman’s tug on his garment and to respond, not just in a perfunctory way, but with an encounter that would change her life forever.
Thanks be to God.
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©2014 MaryAnn McKibben Dana. These sermon manuscripts are provided here for personal use, and are not to be redistributed or otherwise reproduced without permission of the author.