Do you ever have days that feel constantly interrupted? You woke up with a specific set of tasks to accomplish, yet each time you begin working on one, something else needs your attention. Your neighbor stops by, or your sink stops up, or your car starts making a crazy sound, or you get an urgent email from work, and all of a sudden your plans of a productive day have vanished.
Jesus has numerous days that follow that same pattern. He plans on accomplishing one task, and then others confront him in the meantime. In biblical studies we call this an intercalation. It’s when the writer is telling us one story, and then all of a sudden he inserts another story smack dab in the middle of the first. This takes place in Mark 5:21-43, a story in which Jesus heals two people. It’s a rather large chunk of text, and the stories of the two healings weave together in an intercalation.
We start with the story of Jairus, who approaches Jesus and asks him to heal his 12 year old daughter, who is about to die (v. 21-24). This becomes Jesus’ top item on his to-do list, and immediately goes with Jairus to heal the daughter.
But then, as Jesus is walking with Jairus to heal the daughter, a woman who has been bleeding for 12 years approaches Jesus and grasps the hem of his robe in an attempt to be healed as well (v. 24-34). Jesus drops everything when he feels his “power go out of him” (v. 30). He turns his attention now to healing the bleeding woman.
As Jesus converses with the bleeding woman, some of Jairus’ messengers inform him that the 12 year old daughter died, and Jesus overhears their discussion (v. 35). Jesus’ attention then shifts back to the healing of Jairus’ daughter, which had originally been his top concern. Jesus continues on to Jairus’ house and states that the daughter is only sleeping, and resurrects her (v. 35-43). At last, mission accomplished.
This is a busy story; there are a lot of moving pieces. And this is the same for all stories of intercalations — they convey how busy and unexpected life can be. Ultimately, Jesus always comes back to his original task and completes what he had intended to accomplish. However, rather than viewing the interruptions as pesky and irritating, they actually serve to expand the breadth and meaning of Jesus’ message.
We’re busy people, aren’t we? When I wake up in the morning I have a list of things that I intend to accomplish throughout the day. And without fail, I always manage to get interrupted. I don’t mean distracted. That’s different — if I see a video of a puppy on a friends’ Facebook wall and decide to spend the next 15 minutes googling dog breeds, that’s my own weakness for puppies. I mean real interruptions. The A/C Compressor in my vehicle shutting down and leaving my car in a heaping, smoky mess for two days; getting an urgent email from work that takes two hours to resolve; even getting a phone call from a dear friend who just needs someone to listen. Real interruptions that matter in the larger picture.
When Jesus encounters these intercalations he remains calm, takes care of the matters at hand, and continues on with his mission. More than that, though, Jesus is able to demonstrate far larger points by focusing on the intercalations. In the Mark 5 text we see one woman who was bleeding for 12 years and we have a daughter who is 12 years old. Jesus first heals the woman of her 12 year bleeding, and then heals the daughter who everyone else believed was dead. Not only does Jesus show his ability to heal, but he also makes the broader point that these women are supposed to point us to the 12 tribes of Israel. By working with the intercalation the reader can grasp the larger point that Jesus not only heals individuals, but also that Jesus came to restore the 12 tribes of Israel.
If only we could treat our interruptions in the same way. Rather than fighting them off, or feeling irritated and bothered by them, we can take a step back to see how they ultimately impact and shape our days. And at the end of the day, perhaps we will find that we have accomplished far more than we originally intended, that we solved bigger problems, built greater relationships, and created more goodness and love in the world than we ever imagined we could.