“He set out from there and went to the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Then crowds converged on him again, and as was his custom he taught them again.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever been interrupted? Of course you have. Life is, in some ways, a long string of interruptions from what we’d rather be doing. Some of the interruptions we invite into our lives, but others just happen. Learning to successfully manage interruptions is a critical skill to develop if we want to get along well in life. If we are going to learn how to manage interruptions better than we already do, one of the first things we need to learn is how to discern what kind of interruption we are facing. Is it an interruption over which we have some measure of control, or one that is completely out of our hands? Those are the two main options for what kind of interpolation our schedule is going to have to manage. But there is a third kind and a third way of looking at things here. We catch a glimpse of this here in Jesus’ life. Let’s look closely to see what it is and what it means for us.
After Jesus and the gang had recharged and gotten a little break in Capernaum, Jesus turned his attention toward Jerusalem. His path was now set on a course for the cross and He would not waver from it. That being said, the path He took to get there was neither straight nor continuous. There were numerous interruptions along the way. Most of these came in the form we see here: people.
Jesus’ fame was at an all-time high. Now, that was still a pretty regional fame. As far as folks from other regions were concerned, He was just another miracle-working, Jewish rabbi. Those were almost a dime-a-dozen. Sure, the stories about Him that made it around were a little more impressive than the average rabbi, but that didn’t mean they were all true. For those who were close enough to see for themselves, though, they went. They went in droves.
It’s hard to get much of merit checked off your schedule when crowds are showing up everywhere you go expecting you to enlighten or otherwise entertain them. Word about Jesus may not have spread very far beyond the regions of Galilee and Judea, but when the folks in Judea heard He was coming, they were tuned in enough to the rumors – along with having heard of His appearances over the past couple of years – that they wanted to see for themselves who He was. Word was spreading that this might actually be the guy. That was always a rumor guaranteed to attract a crowd in those days.
Now, if you’re Jesus, you have a couple of choices in how to move forward with your plans when the crowds show up. Actually, if you’re Jesus, you have several choices, but two are primary. You can either send them away, or you can teach them. For Jesus, the choice was clear: He taught them. He always taught them. Whatever else it was He wanted to do, when the crowds showed up, He taught them.
That’s what the language Mark uses here conveys. Look at how this breaks down. The crowds weren’t just there, they were converging on Him. People were coming from every direction to see this man who might be Messiah. But they weren’t just converging on Him, they were converging on Him again. They always did this. Wherever He went, the crowds followed. Some were attracted by the prospect of a show. Some were hoping for a free meal (after all, He’d done that twice now). Some brought sick friends or family members they hoped to have healed. Some wanted sincerely to learn from Him. They came for all kinds of reasons, but they came. Always. But then look at Jesus’ response. It wasn’t just that He stopped to teach them. Mark’s language is stronger than that. Look at how he emphasizes Jesus’ response: as was His custom He taught them again. Just as often as the crowds showed up, Jesus taught them. Every. Single. Time.
Remember when Jesus fed the 5,000? What was the context for that? He was trying to get away with the disciples. They needed a break. But the crowds followed, and so what did Jesus do? He taught them. He put His needs and even the needs of the disciples to the side so that He could minister to the crowds.
What was this? Why did Jesus keep responding this way to the interruption they provided? Why not work a little harder to send them away every now and then so He could get the work He was really trying to do done? The answer here lies in how Jesus thought about the interruption that was the crowds. This was obviously not an interruption over which He had any control. There wasn’t anything in particular He could do to avoid this interruption. Sure, He could have tried to hide His movements and whereabouts a bit better, but all it took was one person to leak word of where He was headed or staying and the crowds converged. Since it was an uncontrolled interruption, what He did have some control over was how much time He gave to it. But even that doesn’t explain His reaction to it.
This is where that third way comes into play. Instead of thinking about these interruptions as something He could control or not, Jesus looked at these interruptions as divine appointments. There were invitations from His Father to join in the work He was doing and be a part of the advancement of His kingdom into the world. Whatever else He may have had going on, if this was the Father’s business, then Jesus wanted to be about that. What this shift in thinking meant is that all of a sudden this potentially frustrating distraction from what He would have rather been doing, became the most important thing for Him to be doing. They became the thing that most needed, not simply demanded, His attention. And He gave that attention willingly because it meant the kingdom was going to be advanced in ways it would not have otherwise been.
Here, then, is the connection point for us: We never know when opportunities to advance the kingdom by speaking truth to listening ears are going to come. Sometimes they will happen in a way and at a time that is really convenient to our plans, but often they won’t. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that they usually do not. Here, though, is where we have to be honest about ourselves in a way that may not be very comfortable. Thinking about these interruptions to join in the kingdom-advancing work God has going on around us, we need to answer a question: Are we operating our lives on the basis of God’s plans and schedule for our lives, or ours?
Of course, if you are a follower of Jesus, your knee-jerk response is going to be that you are living on the basis of God’s schedule. We talk a good game in that direction. But can we be honest enough to say that while that may be true in a macro sense of where our lives are headed generally, in the micro sense of what we do or don’t do on a daily basis, our schedule tends to get the nod? If you’re like me, when you open your calendar app, you are faced with a whole litany of entries. These are times and places where you either want to be for some good (to you at least) reason, or else where other people are expecting you to be. They are depending on your being in those places at those times. You’ve arranged your life around meeting the demands of those dates. Getting sidetracked from that for some reason is going to vary in significance from frustrating to devastating. We set that slate of activities because we most want to be in those places at those times. And you can try to use the line that you don’t really want to be in all of those places at those times. You’d rather be somewhere else much of the time. But the truth is, you aren’t doing anything you don’t most want to do. If you most wanted to do something else, you’d be doing it. You may argue otherwise, but you’re just fooling yourself. In other words, you’re doing the things you want to be doing almost all of the time. That’s why interruptions are considered so frustrating and inconvenient.
What if they didn’t have to be like that. What if we started moving in the direction of adopting Jesus’ attitude toward these interruptions? When we commit to living our lives according to God’s plans, that means ours must come secondary…at best. That’s not easy to do. Letting go of what we most want to be doing in a given moment is hard. Especially when it is to go and do something we’d actually rather not be doing. Now, yes, sometimes interruptions are just a part of life. In a world broken by sin generally, plans are occasionally going to get broken, especially good ones. But some of the interruptions we face on a daily basis aren’t just random distractions. They are invitations into the life God is leading us to live to His glory and our joy and the advancement of His kingdom. Thus, when things get turned on their head in our lives in a given moment, we are wise to develop the discipline of pausing to ask the question: Lord, is this from you?
When we do that, we need to be ready to receive an answer. In particular, we need to be ready to receive an answer we don’t like. After all, we chose the path we are currently on because that’s what we most want to be doing. But if we will learn to hold a bit more loosely to our plans, and live with a bit more readiness to embrace what God is up to in the world around us, we just may come to experience a whole new perspective on life than we’ve ever had before. It won’t always be easy or convenient – much the opposite, in fact – but it will always be good; better, actually, than anything else we’ve ever experienced. So, the next time an unexpected distraction pops up on your radar, instead of rejecting it quickly, take a moment to embrace it and see if God isn’t inviting you to join Him in some new adventure. You just may be glad you did.