Can’t Take the Pressure

Friday, July 19, 2013 — Week of Proper 10, Year One

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

Psalms 31 (morning) // 35 (evening)

1 Samuel 21:1-15

Acts 13:13-25

Mark 3:7-19a

A few years ago, I read an article on the phenomenon of “crowd crush.” A crowd crush occurs when a large number of people move toward something they want, but then face a blockage such as a narrow entryway or a closed door. Without realizing their impact, people at the back of the crowd keep trying to move forward, until “fraternal smooshing” turns into “suffocating pressure” (“Crush Point,” by John Seabrook).

In this morning’s gospel reading, Jesus seems fully aware of the pressure that a crowd can exert. People are streaming toward Jesus from many places: “from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and the region around Tyre and Sidon.” They flood toward him because he has cured so many. They won’t be satisfied with seeing or hearing him, either. They want to get their hands on him: “all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him.”

Anticipating the intense force of this multitude, Jesus instructs his disciples to get a boat ready. The crowd will probably push Jesus over the edge and into the sea. Acting as a pressure valve, the boat will give Jesus a place to stand and teach . . . or a way to escape. In either case, Jesus needs this boat “because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him.”

What kind of pressure does our own approach to Jesus place on him? This gospel passage asks us to reconsider the dynamics of our relationship. Part of me really wants to see Jesus find a way to touch and heal every last one of these people. However, this reading suggests that Jesus does not always give a satisfying response to our desperation and desire.

Instead, Jesus chooses twelve disciples to model a relationship with him that is more than one-way traffic speeding toward the Savior. The landscape of the gospel story suddenly moves from Jesus being pushed over the water’s edge, to Jesus calling the twelve up a mountain. Jesus outlines the three facets of their relationship with him: “to be with him,” “to be sent out,” and “to have authority.” These are the new parameters of a truly satisfying relationship with Jesus. The disciples will share Jesus’ presence, purpose, and power. They will also give him some space.

This new organizational system doesn’t always work perfectly. Sometimes, the twelve apostles act like gatekeepers trying to protect Jesus. They try to silence others and block their access to Jesus, such as the blind man crying out on the side of the road, the woman with the flow of blood who tries to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment, or the parents who want Jesus to lay his hands on their children. But Jesus finds a way to teach his disciples that his ministry is for all people.

When we think of our own relationship with Jesus, we can try thinking in terms of space: space to enjoy Jesus’ presence and to be sent out with purpose and power. Instead of constraining Jesus by our own desires or confining his ministry to what he can do for us, we can take some of the pressure off. Yes, Jesus wants us to be with him. Yet, from time to time, he might also want us to go away! (To do his work, of course.)

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves

as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director

of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by

St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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