Seeing through the Crowds

Seeing through the Crowds

By Pastor Tory Bonners

Tory Bonners is the pastor at Sojourners Mennonite Fellowship and a hospital chaplain. In May 2021, she graduated from her MDiv program at Denver Seminary and this spring, finished the last of her chaplaincy training at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester. 

Scripture: Mark 9:9-12; 18-26

As we just heard this passage, I wonder if the phrase: “As Jesus went on from there…”

stuck out to you too? For me, that phrase brings to mind a picture of Jesus walking the streets and countryside and especially in this passage, I cannot help but picture a Disney shaped crowd marching down old Roman roads…. maybe with less plastic ears though. A crowd in the narrow streets of an old town. And as Jesus walks through, a town so well known to him, one that’s been home, I imagine people began to turn their heads, sneaking down the side alleys in hopes of a glimpse at just what in the world Jesus was going to do next.

And what did Jesus do? Well, he went and talked to the tax collector, Matthew. Jesus

invited Matthew to join the journey. The despised tax collector, one who had no qualms about

partnering with the Roman government to give himself security and peace of mind, overcharging while he was at it as tax collectors did just to line his own pockets.

Those in the crowd had front seats as the Pharisees asked, hold up, what’s this? You’re giving special treatment to HIM? We’ve been in the government’s pocket too, you know, and have power… and we’re definitely more righteous than him. And you just walk past us?

Yet Matthew heard Jesus’ call and followed. Unwelcome in this town, as in most, Matthew finally finds a welcome place. Then, something happens here… we’re told Matthew follows Jesus, and the next thing

we know, Jesus is sharing burgers and beers – or, more historically correct, fish and chardonnay- with groups of sinners and tax collectors at Matthew’s home. This apparently caused a ruckus which some were NOT happy about. Again, we’re definitely more righteous than them. And you just walk past us?

Now, think what you want about the Message version of the Bible, but this next line is perfect in it, it goes: “When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit and lit into Jesus’ followers. “What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riff-raff?”

Ouch. That sounds like churchy talk. I wonder what would have happened if the Pharisees would have asked their questions with curiosity, instead of with condemnation? How would the script be different if at this moment, they actually asked Jesus these questions. Instead of confrontation, remaining curious, and actually speaking to the person you’re frustrated at… hmmm. And, while remembering their conflict management tools, seeing through the crowd, seeing people who they had nothing in common with, remembering that these people too are God’s beloved. That maybe we too have more in common with those we label as …

  • having different opinions on climate change
  • those who want rights taken away from other people
  • those who think differently about our national borders

… those sinners.

You see, often we’re okay with a bigger table as long as the rules don’t change … Jesus invites the messiness. And again, the unexpected happens because Jesus took the time to see through the

crowd. Jesus took the time to pay attention to the synagogue leader who knelt before him. Socially, this was the complete opposite of Matthew. While, yes, this man also held power, he was respected for it. He was a leader in the synagogue after all. A leader who had heard about this Jesus character. Jesus did not advertise his actions, yet people heard the news anyway.

Sidestep here, but knowing that the audience for the book of Matthew was Jewish Christians who had broken from the synagogue, or at times, were excommunicated by the synagogue… that makes this event all the more drastic for Matthew’s hearers. Here was the synagogue leader turning to Jesus! Jesus, the man who didn’t come to claim power, yet was heard about and respected by many – even respected by those who years later, would condemn Jesus’ followers!

Still, Jesus sees this man’s heart for his daughter. Jesus knows – as well as the synagogue leader knows – that their ideas of religion are very different. Yet Jesus sees through the crowd, meeting this man with compassion and curiosity.

Jesus was soon on a mission to save a little girl. I imagine in this Disney-shaped crowd that there was probably a good deal of jostling in the excitement as disciples and onlookers alike jockeyed for a spot near Jesus… just three people closer, come on, guys!

I wonder what it was like to be the woman here, the one in even more desperation. Requirements for ritual cleanliness means that she was likely without a hug from another for the great majority of these past twelve years. Unable to enter her place of worship. Unable to be in relationship… lonely and hurting. I imagine her eyes fixed on Jesus as she presses through the crowd, knowing that just one brush against his robe could bring the healing she so desperately desired. She’s in this crowd too. Yet she’s overlooked. Labeled. Unlike the synagogue leader’s boldness, she could not ask for Jesus to touch her in her condition. As a woman, she wasn’t even supposed to talk with a man she did not know. And now, now just as it has been for so long – it was her duty to avoid transmitting her ritual uncleanliness to others. Yet, by a step of faith, a resolve in her dilemma … she pushes through the crowd with an outstretched arm. If uncleanliness could be transmitted through her clothing, then Jesus’ healing power could too. A scrap of faith, her last hope, brought her through the crowd that day.

And Jesus, Jesus. Stops. To. Notice. Her. Like the others he kept encountering on this journey, Jesus sees through the crowd around him. And instead of meeting this woman with condemnation and a lecture about rituals and practices she should have been adhering to, he turns and responds, “Take heart, daughter.” “Take heart, daughter.”… This is none of what we’d expect from the best religious person, nothing what the crowd would expect from a highly regarded rabbi. Jesus pays attention to the needs of the social outcasts.

I wonder if many of us, if I, would be so focused on the task at hand – getting to this leader’s home – that I would not have even sensed the fingertips on my cloak. I wonder if we would be in the crowd, jostling one another… maybe throwing some elbows … to get a better view of what Jesus was going to do, to be closer to this important moment of healing the leader’s daughter, to be recognized later as “one who was there when…”. I wonder if we, like many in this crowd, may have just walked past this unnamed woman on the street corner, choosing to ignore the discomfort of her existence … until Jesus calls her front and center.

“Take heart, daughter… your faith has healed you…” Her faith? The same religious roots that let her be ostracized from community for so long? Like Jesus did for so many others before, he opens the door in welcome. Your faith in me… and yes, you’ll maybe find physical healing along the way, but also maybe begin to be stitched back together again where your spirit has been broken. Even in the chaos of bustling crowds, Jesus sees you. Shalom, wholeness, is found.

In this moment, we’re brought back to Hagar, despised and outcast … when God shows up, knowing her heart and her brokenness and fear, leading her to proclaim, “You are the God who sees me.”

Not that long ago, I was sitting with a friend whose husband was dying of cancer. We didn’t know it at the time, but he was only going to live for about another month. As we sat in that waiting room, my friend reflected on Hagar as well. She compared the journey she was on to being lost in a fog, not knowing the way through. And with tears in her eyes, turned to me and said, “but I’m thankful that God is the God who sees me”.

The world is full of much chaos, rush, and worry. There are crooks and riff-raff along the way, grieving pastors and rabbis, those facing chronic illness, those who in no way fit into our societal molds, and others we want to face with confrontation and condemnation. As we get pulled in so many different directions, can we too take notice and see through the crowds? Or maybe today, you need to allow God to see you through the fog. Either way, may you know that you know that you know you are loved by God. Walk with Jesus, seeing through the crowds, sharing this belovedness and inviting the messiness. Amen.