Grace-filled Interruptions

Some of our favorite stories of Jesus’ ministry occur in response to interruptions.

Jesus is teaching all day and the disciples come to him and say, “Send the people away to get something to eat.” Jesus feeds the crowd of over 5, 000 with five loaves and two fish (Mark 6).

On another day when Jesus is teaching, parents push their children to be close to Jesus. The disciples try sending the children away, but Jesus places them front and center and says, “Let the children come to me. The kingdom of heaven belongs to them” (Mark 10.)

In Mark 5, Jesus is on his way to heal a little girl. While walking the crowded streets, a woman reaches out to touch the edge of his clothes. Jesus stops and asks the crowd, “Who touched me?”

These stories are not about how these people interrupt the important teaching and healing of Jesus. They are stories of how Jesus interrupts the way we think things are supposed to be. In each story, Jesus stops what he is doing and devotes himself to the situation at hand. His grace-filled response is why we remember these stories still today.

Jesus interrupts our ideas of where food comes from and how we have to receive it. Jesus interrupts our ideas of who is important and should be allowed in the center of activity. Jesus interrupts our ideas about who is worthy of notice and needs healing.

In his book Reaching Out, Henri Nouwen tells about visiting a former colleague at the University of Notre Dame. As they walked across the campus, the older professor commented, “my whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered that my interruptions were my work” (Doubleday: 1986, p. 56).

I am not saying every demand on our time is of equal worth. We are bombarded with robocalls and infomercials that can drain precious time from family, friends, or work. But there are times in our lives when the real difference has been the grace we experienced in the unexpected encounter, the event that seemed to ruin our daily schedule, or the meal from unexpected resources in the most unlikely place.

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Coffee, Grace and New Directions

Today is the last day of school for our son Matthew before a week-long break. He had a project due this morning. I sat with him yesterday, watched him finish his regular homework and complete the map project for Social Studies. I saw him put his homework neatly in his folder and close his book bag. We were done. Just get to school, turn everything in and get through the day. Then we could start enjoying the Fall Break. At least that’s what I thought at 4 pm yesterday.

At 8:30 PM Matthew announced that he needed to finish his project instead of going to bed and reading. Skeptically, Kristen and I agreed to let him work on his project for a few more minutes. After hearing lots of noise in the kitchen and some sounds of panic, Kristen found Matthew with a piece of paper that was totally soaked with lines outlining what was his map fading into the words that once bordered the map.

Matthew had decided that he wanted to antique his map by pouring coffee on it. He had not counted on the fact that the markers he used might dissolve and run all over the paper in the process. He was devastated and heartbroken. All of his work was a soggy, blurred mess.

Kristen got out the hairdryer and saved the paper. Matthew agreed to get up about forty-five minutes earlier this morning to redraw his map. We all went to bed anxious.

Matthew got out of bed about 5:50 this morning and set to work on redoing his project. It turned out pretty good, and thanks to the coffee and hairdryer, it does have some of the antique effect he hoped to achieve.

I have no idea what his teacher will actually think about this map, or how well it still fits within the given assignment. But I was relieved when I saw him fold the new map and put it in his homework folder this morning. Just a few hours earlier, as I looked at a blurred, indiscriminate piece of paper with no lines on a map and illegible words, I could not imagine how he was actually going to turn in an assignment by this morning.

After I dropped Matthew off at school this morning, I started to meditate on the way God graciously works in each of our lives. At times when we think everything is ruined and cannot imagine a way forward, God miraculously provides new ways. These new paths do not always erase the effects of what has happened to us, just as Matthew’s new map still smells of coffee and is crinkled. But God’s grace helps us move forward from what at times may feel like places of disaster with no way out.

I am reminded of the story at the end of Genesis when Joseph’s brothers come to him to plead forgiveness for having sold him into slavery years before. Joseph responds, “You planned something bad for me, but God produced something good from it,” (Genesis 50:20). Joseph does not say God caused him to be sold into slavery, but he understood that God could still work to achieve good in spite of what his own brothers had intended for harm.