LEAD LONG ... LEAD STRONG
The Art of the Interruption
By Scott Hagan
Bartimaeus could tell by the vibrations of the soil there were more sandals than normal. Listening carefully to the Morris Code of the marketplace, he heard the sounds of muffled murmurings growing steadily. This would be it for him. It was time for the lame to get loud. He was sick of his role as a piece of social street wreckage. He secured someone nearby to tip him off at precisely the right moment. The tip came. After inhaling, Bartimaeus bellowed, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47).
Several heads turned at once. Who would be that obnoxious? This was like having the ugly behaving cousin crash the dinner party. Before they could restrain him, a second audio assault hit. No one could remember someone yelling that loud in public.
Jesus was the new paradigm. Bartimaeus was the old parasite. Many still viewed Jesus through the idea of earthly majesty, not Kingdom servanthood. As such, being subjected to this ill-mannered display of street life was not fitting for royalty. They assumed Jesus was equally as insulted as they were by this rude outburst from the man who had obviously forgotten about his caste-system decorum.
The religiously driven handlers standing nearby jumped into action to provide security. They had ordered children to get off His lap. They had commanded the worshipping woman to stop embarrassing herself. So telling this blind man to pipe down was why these guys existed in the first place.
But instead of rebuking, Jesus felt something shoot through His spleen. Gut-wrenching compassion moved Jesus to stop. The worthless and intrusive roadside beggar was now the center of God’s universe. Without the capacity to be interrupted, grace has no platform.
The religion-first crowd always gets worked up when they see the church giving away free stuff to irresponsible people. They forget that Jesus gave away all of His gifts for free in the greatest giveaway in the history of the universe. Certainly a man must work if he wants to eat, but many in the church are looking for more than work ethic before they send the family invitation. They want to see perfection over an extended period of time before they deem someone is sincere enough.
Don’t ever be fooled by the crowd. Religion is barren. It has no family because it can produce no family. Religion is about preservation, not procreation. Religion always believes people are replaceable; but a true family, whether physical or spiritual in nature, understands that each member is truly irreplaceable. Religion demands a contribution for continued membership. Either you are all in or all out. No family deals with one another in that manner when operating in love.
The American church has a real tension when something interrupts it. While churches are busy trying to be glamorous department store window presentations, the world needs us to be messy laboratories where love and transformation are working themselves out. Mercy is how we conceive new family members — it demonstrates the goodness of God that leads people to repentance and restoration. Mercy is the greatest antireligious act you can commit.
Religion is not a relationship. The Pharisees were not a family. Religion loves sitting first class. Religion loves teaching but despises having to be an example. Religion loves seeing others lift the load. Religion loves fine clothing to define success. Religion loves having people call its name in public. Religion loves to pray if there is money involved. Religion loves to travel, results notwithstanding. Fancy buildings intoxicate religion. Most of all, religion has mastered the art of trivial pursuits.
Everything about religious fervor is exclusionary. Mercy, however, conceives lasting relationship and family, and is everything opposite of religion. Religion perpetuates more separation and fuels the terror of relational deprivation. The kingdom of God is not tolerant of those who seek to codify their compromise through false teaching, but it does allow people to fully enter with all the chaos and mess their current situation has created. Yes, you can eat before you shower. People and churches who demonstrate true family love, not on the basis of prequalification or limited in its supply, are like cattle prods driving deep against the thick layers of unresponsive religious self that lay all around us.
Building a family is tough. Being a family is tougher. It is inconvenient and at times completely irrational in its love and continued ambition for the individual. True followers of Christ hold the patent and mastery of all things relational and all things family, demonstrating that theology without the distribution of mercy cannot hold our relationships in tact. They will fray in the storm.
Promises, not performances, provide the base of a family. The Holy Spirit is our endless supply. The mercy that is required for keeping our relationships healthy is like harbor wind. There is plenty to lift every sail. The Pharisees saw light, love, grace, and mercy as limited commodities originating from the human heart rather than unlimited qualities coming down from above. Budgeting is what religion does best, but what families do best is lavish.
Bartimaeus was sick of the deprivation. He simply didn’t care any longer to live beneath the yoke of his current conditions. He came to believe the risk of religion ostracizing him was worth the risk of finding connection in the Kingdom.
At the end of the day, loud won.