Pause for thought: The Uncontainable Story of Jesus
The Uncontainable Story of Jesus
Towards the end of John’s Gospel, we’re told that ‘Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book’ (20:30). In fact, John tells us that if all the works of Jesus were written down, ‘I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written’ (21:25).
It’s as though John is alerting us to the sheer uncontainable energy of Jesus’ presence. Everything Jesus says and does is saturated with meaning and power. There is no wasted moment in Jesus’ life and ministry, no pause in the story. Jesus is constantly on the move, we might say—moving at all times in the direction of his heavenly father, and in the direction of those he came to serve and to save.
The other reason Jesus’s presence sort of spills out beyond the pages of our bibles, is the powerful effect he inevitably has on those he meets. In other words, in order to fully tell the story of Jesus Christ, we would need to trace the impact that he had on those he healed, or comforted, or confronted. We would need to chase the ripples of Jesus’ influence all the way out to their furthest edges. Typically, we’re given only the briefest snapshots of these encounters in the gospels, but just think of all the stories that you could tell of what comes after.
Think, for example, of the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with ointment (Lk 7:36-50). We don’t know much about her. Luke simply tells us that she was a sinner—someone who had done something so shameful that she was despised and publicly ridiculed by the religious leaders. But Jesus declares before those very same leaders that this woman is loved and forgiven by God. In fact, Jesus points to her, rather than them, as a shining example of faith and love. Just imagine the next chapter in this woman’s life. She walked into that room that day crushed beneath the weight of guilt and shame; she left with the assurance that she was known, and loved, and forgiven by her God. Her story becomes inseparable from the story of Jesus Christ.
Or think of Zacchaeus—a different kind of outcast, a man who had become wealthy and despised in the city of Jericho for exploiting and defrauding his own people (Lk 19:1-10). We talk often of Jesus liberating the oppressed, but here we learn that Jesus is also in the business of rescuing oppressors from their own greed, and selfishness, and cruelty.
To the horror of the crowd, Jesus chooses Zacchaeus as his host while he’s in Jericho, and as a result Zacchaeus is utterly transformed. He promises to pay back anyone that he has defrauded four times as much as he stole, and he distributes half of his possessions to the poor. Jesus was only passing through Jericho that day on his way to Jerusalem, but just imagine all the stories of restitution and reconciliation that must have rippled out from Jesus’ brief encounter with Zacchaeus.
Or think of the crippled woman healed by Jesus on the sabbath (Lk 13:10-17).
Once again, we don’t know much about her. Unlike Zacchaeus, we don’t even know her name. All we know initially is that she has been crippled for eighteen years. At the risk of stating the obvious, eighteen years is a long time to suffer from a debilitating illness. By that point, it becomes difficult to imagine life without the pain, without the constant difficulty and vulnerability that such a condition entails. Perhaps even worse, eighteen years is a long time to sustain the empathy of others.
Human beings are, for the most part, pretty good at responding to unexpected crises or tragedies. When someone is diagnosed with a life-altering or terminal illness, or when someone is suddenly bereaved, we respond with great urgency: we send cards or flowers, we make phone calls or house visits. But when suffering endures, when it becomes ‘the new normal,’ we all-too-often lose interest. Our supply of compassion is eventually depleted, and the long-suffering individual is left to their own devices.
I suspect this was the situation the crippled woman found herself in as well. As the religious leader’s response seems to indicate, she was by this point largely unseen and uncared for (Lk 13:14). But Jesus spots her immediately. For everyone else, this woman’s condition had become a matter of indifference, but Jesus responds with urgency and compassion.
Luke tells us, When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” Then he laid his hands upon her and immediately she stood up and began praising God (13:12-13). And so begins a new chapter in this woman’s life, her story forever shaped by the story of Jesus Christ.
The reason Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John recorded these stories, the reason the church continues to tell these stories and to celebrate these stories, is because we believe that Jesus’ story is not finished. The risen and ascended Christ is still at work in the world today. Jesus is still gathering up our stories and uniting them to his.
Jesus still comes to us, like he did to the woman who anointed his feet, offering us forgiveness and freedom from our guilt and shame. He still calls us and empowers us, like Zacchaeus, to live lives of mercy and justice, rather than selfishness and greed. And when, like the crippled woman, we find ourselves isolated and alone in our pain or our grief, Christ sees us. He still responds with urgency and compassion, comforting us, perhaps even healing us, but always assuring us of his loving presence (Mt 28:20).
By the Spirit of Christ at work within us, our stories become part of his story. And if all these stories were written down, ‘I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.’
Revd Dr Jordan Hillebert