Obama and Jesus, Interrupted

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Both Jesus and Obama are high-profile figures that can grant significant requests. As such, there is a large demand for their time, attention, and concern. Large crowds frequently followed Jesus, and there were many who demanded his time, interrupted him, and pleaded with him for what they needed.  Jesus actually seems to love interrupters!  (He frequently loved interrupting injustice himself.)

Yes, there are cases where Jesus is rude to people in power and privilege. But Jesus’ ministry was to the weak, lowly, and marginalized. He had a gentle, kind, and patient approach with people who desperately needed him. He never had an inflated sense of his own importance. He never thought he was too busy or too important to be bothered. There are a number of cases where Jesus was interrupted from other things that were very important.  He took the time to tend to the needs of women especially.

I was startled to see how President Obama reacted to Jennicet Gutiérrez, a trans woman of color, who cried out for justice for LGBTQ immigrants. The crowd around her (which I assume is mostly rich, white, cis LGBs) tried to shush her and silence her. Unfortunately, Obama followed the lead of the privileged crowd and silenced her as well.

Jesus, I’m sure, would have taken a much more revolutionary approach. In fact, he shared, as a model of courage, the example of an annoying, persistent woman who achieved justice from a judge because she repeatedly bothered and inconvenienced him (Luke 18:1-8)!

Yes, Jesus was surrounded by crowds, he worked long hours tending to people, and yet he never ultimately silenced anyone who came to him in need. Some people went to dramatic, socially inappropriate means to get Jesus’ attention, and guess what — he served them anyway. It’s a model of grace to be a servant to the least powerful whether or not they jump through all the proper hoops. Many times people were desperate for access to Jesus, and either the crowds or the disciples sought to prevent them. But Jesus turned the tables and gave the ones in need his time and care.

There was a case where random people brought little children to Jesus to be touched and blessed, and the disciples turned them away (Matthew 19:13-15, Mark 10:13-16, Luke 18:15-17). The text doesn’t record how rude the people’s request was. We don’t know the social conventions of the time, but certainly the disciples in the narrative do. All we can do now is take a cue from the internal drama of the narrative. The fact that the disciples turned them away means that they found the time or manner of the request to be somehow not appropriate to merit time with Jesus. Jesus rebuked the disciples, “Let the little children come to me and do not try to stop them” (Matthew 19:14). Jesus blessed the children anyway, even though he might have been on his way somewhere (Matthew 19:15).

In John 8:2–11, which was likely not a part of the original text of John’s Gospel but is part of our tradition now, Jesus was busy teaching in the temple courts when he was interrupted by those who brought to him a woman caught in adultery. Jesus didn’t say, “I’m in the middle of something important.” He stopped what he was doing to save the life of a woman in need.

In Luke 19:1-10, a short guy named Zacchaeus wanted desperately to see Jesus, but he could not due the the crowds. So he climbed a tree to watch Jesus as he walked by. As he walked by, Jesus stopped and gave him his attention, and immediately invited himself to Zacchaeus’s house. Zacchaeus got more than he even asked for!

As he was leaving Jericho (or entering, according to Luke) I’m sure he was on his way somewhere important, but he stopped to heal the blind man Bartimaeus (Matthew 20:29-34, Mark 10:46-52, Luke 18:35-43). He was a beggar, and he rudely called out from the roadside. The crowds tried to silence him and shush him, but he called out even more! Rather than ignoring him, Jesus stopped everything and called for Bartimaeus to be brought to him. Jesus asked what his request was, and upon request, Jesus healed his sight.

In the case of the woman with a hemorrhage (Matthew 9:18-26, Mark 5:21-43, Luke 8:40-56), all three Gospels record that she was healed in the middle of tending to the needs of Jairus (who ALSO randomly came up to Jesus when he was speaking to a crowd). People were pressing around Jesus on the way to Jairus’s house to heal Jairus’s daughter, and a woman with a 12-year flow of blood came up behind him to touch his clothing. She did it, as Jesus had no Secret Service agents to handle him, and her flow of blood stopped. Jesus turned and didn’t rebuke her, but blessed her for her courage, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your disease” (Mark 5:34).

Obama responded to Jennicet Gutiérrez, telling her “You’re in my house!” Well, so what! There are cases where people bothered Jesus when he was at a private residence, and Jesus served them anyway. I can think of four examples right now.

In John 2:1-11, Jesus was “off-duty” simply enjoying himself as a guest at a wedding in Cana. He wasn’t there for ministry. When his mother insistently came to him to fix the wine malfunction, Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you saying this to me? My time has not yet come” (John 2:4). Even though it wasn’t the right time or place, Jesus sensitively addressed his mother’s request anyway and turned water into wine.

Jesus really seems to have a thing for addressing the needs of women who interrupt! In addition to the woman with the hemorrhage and his mother at Cana, there’s also the Syro-phoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30) or the Canaanite woman (Matt 15:21-28) who has the additional status of being a Gentile, and thus not deserving of Jesus’ time. Or so we thought! Mark 7:24 records that Jesus went into a private house with his disciples and didn’t want anyone to know, because they didn’t want to be bothered. The disciples needed some well-earned rest, which Jesus promised them back in Mark 6:31. After a lot of hard work, they were resting in a private house, and this “foreign” woman came begging for Jesus to heal his daughter. The disciples told Jesus to send her away because she was annoying (Matthew 15:23). Somehow she got into the house and fell at Jesus’ feet and made a request that was not the appropriate time, place, or manner. Though Jesus made her wait, he never said “no” to her, but gave her a chance to express her persistent faith. Jesus said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and to throw it to the dogs.” Then she answered, “Yes, Lord, and even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs” (Mark 7:27–28). Jesus was very impressed with her persistence and courage, and granted her request on the spot because of her comment. He praised her faith greatly (Matthew 15:28).

A third example of an interruption in a private residence that was not only socially disruptive but also architecturally disruptive is the case of the man in Capernaum who was paralyzed (Matthew 9:1-8, Mark 2:1-12, Luke 5:17-26). Jesus was at his home in Capernaum, and many people were gathered, and there was no more room, even at the door (Mark 2:2). He was in the middle of preaching the word to them, when all of a sudden four men who were carrying another man who was paralyzed were so desperate for access to Jesus that they tore open a hole in the roof of the house and lowered the man down the hole!! Talk about rude!! Jesus certainly didn’t pull an Obama on them. He not only healed the man physically but also forgave his sins. It turns out that when people interrupt Jesus with requests, he does even MORE than they ask!

Fourthly, the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet (Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, Luke 7:36-50, John 12:1-8) also barged into a private dinner at the house of Simon the Leper in Bethany.  She wasn’t even invited, but she came in while Jesus was reclining at the table. In the middle of the meal she invaded Jesus’ personal space by anointing his head (Mark and Matthew) or feet (John and Luke) with expensive perfume. People criticized her, but Jesus said, “Leave her alone.”  He commended her faith.

Not only is Jesus interrupted when he’s in a private house, but he’s also interrupted when he’s asleep (Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4:35-41, Luke 8:22-25). He was sound asleep in a boat when a storm came. The disciples woke him up and “disrespectfully” said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are dying?” (Mark 4:38). In response, he doesn’t ignore them, but rather he stops the storm and saves lives. Getting someone with power to save lives is more important than being timely or “respectful.”
There are many cases where Jesus is interrupted and he gently takes time out from what he’s doing to serve and help. In Mark 1:35-39 and Luke 4:42-44, he went to a solitary place to pray. Clearly he wanted to be alone, but the disciples interrupted him and told him he was needed by the people. So, he went and preached to MORE towns!

In Luke 12:13-21, one of the crowd interrupts his teaching with the request that Jesus settle an inheritance dispute. Jesus stops what he’s doing to address the issue with a parable.

There are many cases where Jesus is “rudely” interrupted by people with a desperate cause who refuse to stay silent. These are the people whom Jesus acknowledges and serves. May we all do the same.

The plight of trans people in detention centers is abominable. How can we be pro-LGBT when our trans women are being detained in men’s facilities and being abused and deprived of dignity? Also, it’s very dangerous to deport certain LGBTQ people back to those countries where they will be in danger of being killed for being LGBT. Trans people of color especially face this. It’s not very pro-LGBT to send them back to their death. This is not that different ethically than when the US sent Jewish immigrants back to their death in Nazi Germany. The stakes are so high that one not only may but must disrupt the system as usual.

I’m sure that if the gentle Christ was interrupted by a trans woman of color, he would not have silenced her.  He would not have thought that whatever he was celebrating in the moment was more important than listening to someone’s sincere plea for salvation and deliverance.

I pray that we in Christ’s Church respond to the cries of LGBTQ people the same way Jesus did.

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