I’m sitting this morning in a busy Starbucks — one of the places I frequent in the mornings before classes. At the big table, a group of teenagers does more talking about love interests than working on homework. Two middle-aged couples sit outside, talking and laughing in the gorgeous fall morning. Three professionals drinking lattes are clearly hammering out the details of a business deal at another outside table. And a few earbud-laden individuals are scattered throughout the coffee shop. But the vast majority of the people flowing in and out are picking up orders they placed online. They walk in briskly, talking or texting, most sporting earbuds. They grab their coffee from a “Get your mobile orders here” area, some along with a paper bag full of breakfast they clearly plan to eat in the car on the way to … something. Maybe they notice those who are behind them as they race in the door, and prevent it from slamming in their faces. Maybe they call out a quick “Thank you” for their order … to nobody in particular. And occasionally the barista even responds. But I’d estimate that a solid 90% of these transactions occur without one person uttering a single, solitary word to another human being. Even when they have to wait — GASP! — for their online order to appear, they stand alone waiting for their name to be called, buds in ears, face in phone. Alone. Waiting. In some cases, visibly (or even audibly) impatient.
My grandfather on my mom’s side has been dead for many years now, but I have many wonderful memories of him. One time when I was a boy, maybe 13 or so years old. I was standing with him on his back porch. From our vantage point, we could just see through the trees the hundreds of cars racing by on the nearby expressway — built near his house decades after the house itself was constructed. My grandfather (in his 80’s at the time) stared in silence for a while at the cars racing by, and then said softly to nobody in particular, “Where is everyone going in such a hurry?” I don’t think I’ll ever forget that.
He had a point … and that was 30 years ago. It seems to me that Chicago’s terrifyingly-high-speed expressways, crowded drive-thrus, online ordering and microwaved breakfasts hastily gobbled out of little paper bags while navigating the afore-mentioned terrifying expressways all beg the same question my grandfather asked, “Where is everyone going in such a hurry?”
Jesus didn’t live like that.
I know, I know; life was different in those days. There weren’t any drive-thrus or smartphones back then, but the tendencies of the human heart haven’t changed. Online ordering is just the latest phenomenon with the power to impact our lives for good or ill. And I contend that it’s the latest factor in the ongoing trend to disconnect us from one another and dehumanize us. It seems to me that people love to confidently declare technology to be neutral, and I suppose I can’t argue the point philosophically. But I also can’t help but feel a deep sense of loss watching all these people race in and out of here, carefully avoiding all human interaction.
What’s wrong with ordering my coffee online and racing in while on a call to pick it up? Well, nothing in and of itself, I guess. But if this is representative of a life packed with activity … always moving … always racing to something … with blinders firmly affixed … focused on making the next light or getting around the car in front of me which is only going 10 mph over the speed limit … with no time to turn aside when the Holy Spirit whispers something in my ear … assuming I’d be able to hear Him anyway through the noise in my earbuds … etc …
Not of failing to get it all done.
Not of being late to the office.
But of missing out on the Kingdom of God.
Jesus proclaimed that “the kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15). God’s Kingdom brings with it a new kind of citizenship … a new kind of life … a life of worship, obedience, and walking with God as His child … a life of what I call “turning aside.” Jesus modeled this kind of life for His followers and He calls us to it still today. And I’m quite sure He expects that kind of life to characterize His followers despite the development of Starbucks, expressways, mobile ordering, and the rest.
What does it mean to turn aside?
At it’s heart, the life of turning aside is a life of love and margin. It means we care enough about God and our neighbors, and have built space enough into our lives, to be able to see what’s happening around us and respond to it. In the early stages of its development, this life reacts to what it observes in the other lives around it … even when that reaction isn’t on today’s agenda. Then, as we become more like Jesus, the lives around us increasingly become today’s agenda.
In other words, the one who knows and loves Jesus isn’t going anywhere important enough to prevent her from diverting a little time from the day’s agenda to love her neighbor. And as she becomes more like Jesus, loving her neighbor increasingly becomes her day’s agenda.
What did this look like for Jesus?
If there was ever a person important enough, and doing work important enough, to walk by the needs of others to “stay on task,” it was Jesus. Particularly in the Gospel of Mark, we see Jesus portrayed as a man of action … always on the move. But we never see Jesus too busy to turn aside. And if we watch Him long enough, we clearly see that the people around Him are the mission.
Jesus enjoyed a very full and active career as an itinerate preacher (Mark 1:39). His days were so full and the demands others placed on Him were so great that He had to get up “very early in the morning, while it was still dark” and “withdraw to a desolate place” in order to pray (1:35) — which, by the way, is the most important and profound form of “turning aside” in the Christian life.
Jesus traveled all over Palestine. He always had somewhere to be. But He was never too busy teaching people about the Kingdom of God (Mark 4:26-32, 12:1-12; c.f. Matthew 13, and many more) to pray over children (Mark 10:13-16) or heal a lifelong cripple (2:1-12), to cast out demons (5:1-17) or rebuke hypocritical religious leaders who were oppressing the sheep they were called to Shepherd (12:37-40).
Let’s zoom in on a couple specific examples…
Lepers and Prostitutes
In Jesus’ day, lepers “unclean.” They weren’t even allowed near “normal” folk. So, when we see Jesus healing lepers (Mark 1:40-42), we know that Jesus sought out, or at least actively condoned, the encounter. The same is true for prostitutes (14:3-9), for gentiles (7:14ff), and for women (7:24-30). Good Jewish boys like Jesus were expected not to associate with any of these people. Nonetheless, Jesus clearly spent a lot of time on the wrong side of the tracks. Successful, influential rabbis don’t accidentally end up hanging out in leper colonies, ghettos and red-light districts. That requires a hefty portion of intentionally turning aside.
Little Girls and Sick Women
In another instance, a man named Jairus, one of the rulers of the synagogue, asks Jesus to heal his daughter, who is deathly ill (Mark 5:21ff). Jesus walks away from a day of teaching in the synagogue, and follows the man home to heal his sick little girl. But on the way, He gets interrupted again — this time by an woman with a bleeding disorder. The woman touches the hem of Jesus’ robe, and is healed. But Jesus isn’t satisfied with just healing her. Rather than continuing on his way down the crowded street like a man on a mission, Jesus stops His whole entourage to love on and speak into the life of this woman. Then he continues on to Jairus’ house, and raises his daughter from the dead.
First, Jairus interrupts Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue, and Jesus leaves with him. He could have been too busy “doing church.” He could have said, “I’m sorry; I’ll pray for you.” He could even have phoned in healing from a distance (c.f. Mark 7:24-30; Luke 7:1-10), but He didn’t. He deviated from His agenda, and went to the man’s house to help him and his family.
Second, He interrupted His journey to talk to a sick woman. And although she is the bottom of the cultural food chain (an unclean woman), He takes time for her and makes all the men, including Jairus (an important religious leader), wait for that. Again, it’s not a speed healing (or one ordered online), it’s one that involves relationship … Jesus takes the time to speak with her about her faith.
So, Jesus was willing to interrupt His plans — undoubtedly good plans — to turn aside and care for others who came into His life needing help. He built space enough into His life (margin) to notice people around Him and act on what He saw (love). Is that because He wasn’t busy? No. It was because He perceived Himself to be a servant and His life to be available to the Spirit of God. He gave the Spirit the authority to interrupt His plans and perspective, then He listened and obeyed.
As an aside, both the woman (who was bleeding) and the girl (who was dead) Jesus cared for were ceremonially unclean. It’s hard for us, in our culture, to understand the significance of that, but interacting with them would have been as shocking as letting a prostitute wash His feet. Jesus, a well-renown Jewish Rabbi, is actually touching (GASP!) lepers, bleeding women, and dead little girls. Talk about flagrantly disregarding cultural expectations! If “turning aside” is adopting a “love God, love your neighbor” agenda instead of a “get ahead in this world” agenda, then this too is a great example.
As Well as All the Rest of Us
Because I can’t help myself, I also have to mention that the incarnation itself — leading to the cross — is the ultimate act of turning aside…
Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
In every conceivable way, Jesus’ life is the ultimate model for us of humility and service.
What does “turning aside” look like for us?
None of us is busier or more important that Jesus was. And the bottom line is that God has called us to a life of turning aside (see Matthew 25:31ff).
I get that we have meetings to get to at work, but that doesn’t make it okay to race past the homeless guy while on the phone every single day for years. Consider moving tomorrow’s meeting by 30 minutes, buying the guy a Big Mac (2 for $5 these days), and listening to his story for a few min while he eats it.
I get that we’ve got a lot going on at home and with homework and kids’ sports schedule (etc), but that doesn’t make it okay to not know our neighbors’ names (let alone a few details about their lives). Consider going for a walk before dinner tonight and stopping to talk to someone for just one minute — something more than a “hi” and a wave. This weekend, make cookies and take them to the neighbors on either side you, and apologize that it’s taken you 8 years (or whatever) to welcome yourself to the neighborhood. See where it goes!
Throw a block party. Get coffee with someone. Invite a coworker to lunch. Really listen to your child’s day. Schedule one less meeting/day next week, so you can make extra trips to the water cooler. Learn names. Ask about their kids. Visit a person from church you know is sick. Take someone a meal.
Or here’s a crazy idea… Ask someone who they think Jesus is or what they’ve done with God in their lives. Maybe you could start with the barista at Starbucks (whether or not you ordered your latte online).
The sky’s the limit. But to do any of it, we need margin and love — the space and willingness to notice and act. God would give us both, but only if we put down some of the things already in our hands. This will cost you something, but it will be worth it.
Make it a point tomorrow to notice the people you’re racing by. Ask God to give you a sense of the value of their immortal souls. Then ask Him for the grace and strength to begin to make different choices — to buy love for these people at the cost of other things in your life which are less important. This is the life of turning aside … the life that values others over our agendas … the life in which the Kingdom of God has come and God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven …
The life that looks a lot like Jesus.
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. -Jesus (Mark 8:34-35)