By: Katie Aikins
I’m grateful to Eduard Loring, the man who introduced me to Michael Leunig’s poetry. “Nothing loves at speed,” says Eduard, quoting Leunig, in Cry of the Poor. I don’t know if I was ever before made aware of the speed at which Jesus went about doing his work. Jesus didn’t drive a car. To our knowledge, he only occasionally rode a donkey! How important is it to notice that Jesus was a relatively slow-moving guy? Could this observation teach us something about the nature of love—that love cannot be practiced at speed?
Nothing loves at speed. So it seems that in order to love, step number one is to slow down. If you’re busy and don’t have time to slow down, then you have a problem. Stop being busy. I’m serious! You have to make this choice. Because I guarantee it, our culture, your friends, parents, neighbors, church, Republicans and Democrats are all going to reinforce in you this notion that being busy is a virtue. But does being busy help us love better?
There is a story told of Jesus when he was busy (Mark 5). He was busy getting to the house of Jairus, to heal a little 12 year-old girl. I can just hear the parents of the little girl yelling, “Hurry, Jesus, otherwise she might not live!” The crowds press in on Jesus as he moves briskly through the streets. All of a sudden Jesus stops. He stops because he feels power going out from his body (v. 30). Jesus, who was not moving nearly as fast as an ambulance or a camel, felt something in his body that caused him to stop. The disciples cannot understand it. There are crowds all around Jesus, after all. As it turns out, a woman had touched his clothes, desperately seeking healing for her incurable and devastating illness. She was among the people in society who were largely invisible. Because of her poverty and illness, she is unclean, labeled as a lazy, non-contributer to society. Perhaps she and others like her were hated in part because they were the opposite of busy, because they could not work and therefore didn’t pay into the tax system. They were the leaches of society, the nobodies. The woman comes up from behind Jesus and grasps at his clothes, causing him to stop. Was she not intruding on Jesus’ urgent mission? His mission was up to this point completely legitimate. And yet, as it turns out, his mission has now changed to order to include her.
And in fact, not only does his mission change to include her, she becomes at that particular point in time, his central focus. Her healing, her dignity, her humanness were that important. I wonder if later on Jesus returned to the woman and thanked her for slowing him down and for helping him to notice her. I would imagine that even Jesus got caught up in the urgency of so many demands placed on his time and his gifts. The woman helped Jesus to slow down. It was her gift to him. In slowing Jesus down, this woman enabled him again to practice love. Nothing loves at speed.
Jesus asks us to stop being busy because it is precisely our busy-ness that is keeping us from opening our doors to the poor who are knocking. Being busy is sinful when it blocks our vision to what is most important. Being busy is sinful when it hinders our ability to empathize with another human being. We must slow down because loving work is slow work. Empathy is a corollary of love, and empathy cannot be practiced at speed either. Being busy, just like possessions, can become an identity-forming mechanism that we cling to for dear life. We are afraid of what might fill the void if we were to give up what seems so precious to our sense of who we are and what we are worth.
God became embodied, incarnate, to show us the way to life. And God becomes embodied in our midst today through the lives of the suffering. As followers of Jesus, we are urgently asked to slow down, enough, so that we might “feel the power go out of our bodies,” so that we might feel the life, blood, dignity of the woman in need. Do we have time? Time for human beings? For empathy? For the real work of love? If you are too busy, something is wrong. Chris Hedges says that it is only through the “impractical, through that which can empower our imagination, that we will be rescued as a species.” I think all of us need to walk a while with the slow-moving Jesus, who stopped many times, only to be diverted onto an impractical path, in order to love another human being.