Have you ever met someone famous? Been in the same room with them? Passed them on the streets of a big city? Talked to them up close? Stores are filled with magazines that sell by their alluring offer to peak into these people’s lives. What is it about famous people that captures our attention more than the average person does? Why do we want so badly to reach out and touch them?
I laugh thinking about the terrible (now funny) encounter that Will and I had with Kenny Chesney several years ago. We were on our anniversary trip to Seaside and were celebrating on the second story of a restaurant that overlooked the ocean and had live music. It was a perfect atmosphere for dining and hanging out. It was our first time to the gulf and we were giddy. And then we saw him. Behind a space in the place that was mysteriously roped off. The short bald man who had filled our car on the way down to the coast with his voice. Kenny Chesney. To talk to him was just going to top off a perfect night in a perfect place. In case you don’t know much about Kenny Chesney, the country-music singer, he grew up near Knoxville, Tennessee where Will is from. I think Will believes that “Back Where I Come From” was written partly by him.
So we giggled and plotted our way to get to say hello nonchalantly. I wonder why we were so set on talking to him? I guess we just felt a connection to him through his music. And maybe we thought that since we liked his music that he would naturally like us too. Our beach trip was going to be topped off by meeting Kenny Chesney and likewise, his would be topped off by meeting the Taylors. We might be the missing link to his fun. Perhaps he would invite us to hang with him and his crew the next day. In fact, he had kissed one of my close girlfriends in college. Here we were ten years later and I couldn’t wait to tell him I was her friend. What a great encounter it would be!
So, after some planning, we finally made our way to the roped off area thinking that if we could just draw near to him, he would draw near to us. Within an ear shot of Kenny, Will said, “Hey man, I’m from Knoxville too.” Kenny lit up with excitement as his body guards made their way over too just in case. “That’s great. Did you graduate from UT?” My heart was pounding but I tried to play it cool. He was right there. He and Will were connecting! Will said, “No, I didn’t graduate from UT, but I’m from Knoxville.” To which Kenny said, “Hey man, you should go graduate.” Oh dear. There was a misunderstanding. “No, you see…I did graduate college, but just not from UT. But I’m from Knoxville too.” Kenny was starting to get frustrated with Will. His body guards made their way over as he shouted at Will, “Hey man, you just need to go graduate.” And he turned away. Oh no. That was it. Did it really go that badly? Yes it did. Can we get a quick rewind on that? No we can’t.
Will and I made our way over the other side of the place and he put his hands on his head and we replayed the conversation. How did it go so wrong? We were so upset. And angry. We wanted to rally everyone we knew to never buy his albums again. We wanted to throw all of ours away. We were crushed. And especially crushed knowing that the Taylors could never actually hurt Kenny’s record sales even though he was a jerk to us. In hindsight, we see now that maybe we were the jerks for interrupting his night. Five years have passed since then and on a recent road trip we found an old cd. Kenny Chesney. We laughed at the memory and sang along to the songs. We aren’t bitter any more. And darn it, we still like his music.
I think what was so disappointing is that we were misunderstood. And that we wanted to be liked and known by someone we liked and knew. We wanted to be on the other side of that rope. We wanted to be invited to the inside crowd with the special people that night. How could we feel so connected with someone who felt absolutely no connection with us? How could we know someone who didn’t even know or care we existed? It just didn’t seem right. What was wrong about it wasn’t just how we felt. It’s that we elevated this man with a microphone to a place he never should have been. Do you ever do that? Do you ever elevate people? I do. They don’t even have to be famous; sometimes they can be close friends. Sometimes they can be spiritual leaders in my life who I start to lean on as my holy spirit. And if we are elevating some people above us, we are probably without fully knowing it, valuing others as beneath us. It’s funny when Kenny Chesney overlooks you, but not so funny when it’s someone close in your life who you care about. When we reach for the acceptance of those we elevate, we can find ourselves trapped in the prison of their approval. They were never meant to hold the keys to our identity and significance. And moments like these leave us feeling deflated because there’s only One we should elevate.
And it sure is different with Jesus, isn’t it? We want to be fully understood; he knows us better than we know ourselves. We want to be on the inside; he adopts us into royalty. We want to be heard; he lends an ear. We want to be included; he outstretches a hand. We want to be important; we are so important to him that he’d rather die than live without us. We want higher standing; he takes our imperfection and gives us his perfection. We want to be noticed; he has never once overlooked us even though we’ve overlooked him countless times. And this is not just someone who created a few albums. This is someone who created the universe. And yet he has all the time in the world to give you and me when we ask for it.
I was reminded of the concept of reaching out to touch someone in a crowd, like we often do with famous people, as I was reading the story in Mark about the woman with the bleeding (Mark 5:25-34). This woman sees Jesus and she has heard of him. She has heard how he heals and her heart is filled with hope. She has been suffering from the same bleeding for twelve years. I heard Beth Moore teach on this Scripture and ask a crowd of women if anyone had been trying to get over the same thing for twelve years? You could hear a pen drop and see the tears on the faces. The answer to many in the room was a silent resounding yes. The same fears that come back, the same sins you can’t shake, the same unwillingness to forgive….. Has anyone struggled with the same thing for years and tried everything else to be free of it? Tried doctors? Tried all the remedies of this world? Spent all your money and come up worse? She had. And in her culture she would not only have been considered a sick person, but if others touched her, they would be considered unclean. How tired was she of being lonely and unclean? But she had heard about this man Jesus. And he was coming into her town. She was filled with hope.
I relate to this woman. I didn’t suffer from bleeding, but for years carried around the record of wrongs that stood against me. I hid from them, but they were always there. They were a part of me. The real truth about me. The lens through which I thought God saw me. Jesus says these words I once found mysterious but now understand. “Blessed are the poor in Spirit.” Blessed? Yes, BLESSED. The poor in spirit are are not the spiritually proud or self-sufficient. They are the ones who need Jesus because they’ve tried everything else and come up short. Jesus says, “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3). The kingdom of heaven is not something we can earn, but a free gift from Jesus if we are desperate enough to reach out to him. If we are poor in spirit enough to say we need a Savior and that we’re not it.
I wonder how many people in the crowd that day saw Jesus and wanted to touch him but did not have her courage? How many of them knew they were sick but did not make their way to him for fear of the crowd? One commentary says, “this is a story of her resolution to cross the border of legitimate behavior to gain access to divine power.” If you are poor in spirit, if you are tired of hanging onto the same fears, the same shame, the same unforgiveness and bitterness in your heart, if you are tired of being haunted by the same demons and running in circles only to find yourself back in the same place, you will do what she did. You will fight your way against a crowd to touch that Jesus. “She thought, ‘If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.’ Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.” (Mark 5:28-29).
And when I was desperate enough to reach out to touch Jesus, he took that record of wrong away. His truth set me free. Immediately free. “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, GOD MADE YOU ALIVE WITH CHRIST. He forgave us all our sins, having CANCELED the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, NAILING IT TO THE CROSS.” (Colossians 2:13-14). The real truth about me is that I am HIS, cherished, beloved, chosen, adopted daughter, and when God looks at me, He sees his perfect son and He takes great delight in me. My record of wrongs white as snow, remembered no more. I have a new heart and a new spirit. When I believed these words, I was healed immediately just like this woman who reached out to Jesus. He says, “daughter, your faith has healed you, go now in peace and be freed from your suffering.” (Mark 5:34). Blessed are we when we reach out for Jesus. “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” (Psalm 145:18).
What is something you would cross boundaries of legitimate behavior to gain access to? We are always reaching for something, aren’t we? To be a good mom with good children, to live in a beautiful home, to reach the next level in whatever we do, to get the promotion, to feel approved, accepted, accomplished, loved, understood. We want to earn our way to the inside of what we’re currently outside. All the while Jesus has made us an insider to the Kingdom of heaven; our deepest desire can never be earned. What are you reaching for today?
This woman reached for Jesus. And Jesus would not allow her to recede into the crowd without publicly commending her faith and assuring her that she was permanently healed. I love how my Bible points out that the Greek word for healed here actually means saved, so both physical healing and spiritual salvation are meant. The physical healing is an answered prayer, but the spiritual salvation is the true gift. The free gift from Jesus of eternal life and peace. Physical healing is temporary; spiritual healing is eternal. She reaches for Jesus and her deepest desire is met. Hers is the Kingdom of heaven.
“You came near when I called you, and you said, ‘Do not fear.’ O Lord, you took up my case; you redeemed my life.” (Lamentations 3:57-58).
Blessed are the poor in spirit. The world would call them fools, and suggest they run, hide and medicate. But blessed are those who have lost hope in things that leave us empty. Theirs in the Kingdom of heaven. And that Kingdom of heaven is not just a destination; it lives inside of us today. What a gift!
God, would you remind me what it’s like to feel desperate? Some days I just need to fall on my knees and let your grace renew me. Some days I just need to admit that I’m tired. Sometimes I need to remember that I’m broken and a spec of dust without You. That Your power is made perfect in my weakness. Would you make me desperate…not just for Your benefits, but for You?
There is always someone famous in our midst. THE NAME ABOVE ALL NAMES. If we draw near to him, he WILL draw near to us. BLESSED are we when we reach out for Jesus. “In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change.” (Romans 2:4 MSG).