Weekly Devotion

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet  and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.”  So he went with him.  Mark 5:21-24.

This Sunday’s story starts off simply enough; an important synagogue leader name Jairus asks Jesus to heal his dying daughter.  Jesus immediately sets off to do as he’s asked.  The crisis happens as Jesus is traveling to Jairus’ house; he meets a woman who has been ill and suffering for twelve years.

Two requests for healings in a single reading appears to present a horrific choice: should Jesus hurry to the dying daughter of a rich man, or pause to heal an outcast woman?  The urgency of both requests before him presents a real dilemma, one we might be tempted to resolve in a variety of either/or ways.  Either he keeps his commitment to Jairus, or he pauses to help the woman before him who is so obviously suffering. He either helps an important person who can help him further his ministry, or gives help to someone who has no other resource at all.

We often call this way of looking at reality as zero-sum thinking.  It is based on game theory in which one person’s gain is another’s loss.  We see these apparent zero-sum equations in our ministry all the time. When our church council meets over the budget, there is the inevitable pull between benevolence outside the congregation and the increasing costs of keeping the lights on and the doors open. The needs “inside” and the needs “outside” always seem in competition.

Each of us feel these tensions as well.  We may be sandwiched between the needs of aging parents and the needs of small children.  We often feel stretched to meet our vocational obligations and while having enough time to spend time with our loved ones.

Much of lives seem to be spent trying to resolve the tension between zero-sum conflicts by choosing one over the other.  Yet all of this operates with the assumption that there is only a finite amount of resources in the world, whether that be time, money, or simply the capacity to care about one more thing.

Of course, much of Jesus ministry is spent in revealing the fallacy of such a point of view. After all, he’s the one who can feed 5,000 with a few loaves and fish.  In Mark’s gospel, Jesus’ power is enough to provide new life for both the rich man’s daughter and the poor woman.

How often do we automatically assume the zero-sum fallacy?  How does such an attitude inevitably place us in competition with our neighbor?  Why do we assume that God’s power is not enough to bring life out of the seemingly impossible choices we make?

To the suffering woman, Jesus says, “Your faith has made you well, go in peace.”  To the father Jairus, his message is “Do not fear, only believe.”  To us, Jesus says, “Come to the feast, there is more than enough for everyone.”

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