A small businessman from the old country kept his accounts payable in a cigar box, his accounts receivable on a spindle, and his cash in the cash register. His son said, “I don’t see how you can run your business this way. How do you know what your profits are?”
His dad replied, “Son, when I got off the boat, I had only the pants I was wearing. Today your sister is an art teacher, your brother is a doctor, and you’re an accountant. I have a car, a home, and a good business. Everything is paid for. So, you add it all up, subtract the pants, and there’s your profit.”
Most of us try very hard to live in the real world. Growing up means fantasies give way to realities. We learn to favor probabilities over possibilities. We learn our limits. We learn to be reasonable. That’s how we often see it.
Another way to look at it may be that we get fitted to our restraints. We accept our constraints. But there should be a limit to your limits. You need to restrain yourself from accepting your constraints.
After all, how do you know what’s impossible? Who says this thing is probable and that is only possible? As scripture asks, “Who has directed the spirit of the Lord, or as his counselor has instructed him?” We shouldn’t be so sure of the odds of something happening or not happening.
If you want to be blessed, build a bigger box that fits God’s bigger blessings. If you want to do more than just walk lock step with the eventual, break ranks and believe in the possible. If you want to find God’s will, make the impossible you’re inevitable.
But not everyone does, at least not when it really counts. Still, some do, as in our reading from Mark’s Gospel shows. Easter begins in the dark, in the quiet, before roosters and dogs begin to make their noise, no light, not a sound. Even before anybody knows Christ is resurrected, Easter begins with the impossible being disregarded.
Three women get up in the dark and assemble the collection of spices that they had bought the evening before, as soon as the Sabbath had ended. When dawn breaks, they start to make their way to the cave where Jesus’ body was lain.
This much time after his death, their spices are not going to do any good. Too much death and decay has set in. They take their spices anyway. It
doesn’t matter what happened to Jesus, it doesn’t matter whether they had to follow the Sabbath teaching of rest. They’re going anyway.
What doesn’t make sense on one level is not what must be followed at times.
The women go with spices because it’s necessary; it’s humane; it’s proscribed; it’s important; it’s doing something; it’s love; it’s dedication; it’s friendship; it’s kindness; it’s casting light when darkness seems stronger; it’s strength when feeling weak; it’s gratitude when something irreplaceable is lost; it’s spiritual strength overcoming worldly strength. It’s the possible standing against the impossible.
They know when they get to the cave it will be sealed with a massive stone. They won’t be able to budge it. They will be on one side and Jesus’ body will be on the other. What stands between them is an impossibility. They go to the tomb anyway. They disregarded the impossible.
We need to have a healthy disregard for the impossible. We ought to dispute often with the inevitable. Who knows, maybe the impossible isn’t. Or as Nelson Mandela in his book, A Long Walk to Freedom, put it upon walking out one brilliantly sunny day after spending 26 years behind Apartheid prison walls and bars, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
Make the possible your reality. Let the Lord bring about what others think impossible.
In 1984, Augusto and Michaela Odone took their six-year-old son to a doctor because he was stumbling, becoming bad-tempered and not feeling well. After a few tests doctors diagnosed their son, Lorenzo, with a rare disease called adrenoleukodystrophy (adreno-leuko-dystrophy).
There was no treatment for the disease. Doctors said little Lorenzo would continue losing his balance, go blind and deaf until eventually dying of aspiration. He wasn’t expected to live longer than two years after diagnosis.
Augusto and Michaela consulted several doctors and specialists about the disease, but everyone said the same thing: there’s no known cure or treatment; it’s hopeless. But Augusto was a fighter and refused to accept such a terrible situation. If no cure existed, he would just discover one on his own.
Augusto had to learn everything about the disease from scratch. That includes things like how degradative enzymes cross membranes and how
long-chain fatty acids accumulate. After learning about it, he had to discover a cure. And do it all in less than two years so he could give it to Lorenzo. When they told doctors and researchers about the plan, they heard the same thing: “It’s impossible. It can’t be done.”
By day, Augusto worked as an economist at the World Bank. At night, he scoured research papers and medical journals from the National Institute of Health. He worked dauntlessly and put all his effort into figuring out the disease. He finally got an insight from an unlikely source: the oils he used to make spaghetti carbonara. He reasoned that the oils might soak up the deadly acids before it hurt Lorenzo’s nervous system.
Medical researchers thought he was crazy. But when they tested the oil on Lorenzo, it made a huge impact on his condition. While it didn’t cure him completely, it did halt the progress enough for Lorenzo to live an additional twenty years when he died from an accident, not the disease.
It took until 2005 for doctors to publish a study to finally prove the treatment works—what is now known as Lorenzo’s Oil. In that time, Augusto and Michaela had given it to hundreds of other people and saved lives all over the world.
If you think about it, perhaps the most surprising thing about our reading from Mark is that Mark was satisfied with an empty tomb. That’s it. I know you get an angel giving some instructions, but even that doesn’t do much because the women are still fearful.
How? Why? Who would finish on an empty tomb and fearful women? It’s like he was saying, “Nuff said.” The tomb is empty. Jesus isn’t there. He’s left instructions. What more do you want? What more do you need? Nuff said!
The impossible has happened. You got it? The stone is rolled back. The tomb is empty. Jesus is risen. Christ is alive. The impossible happened.
Just so you know, and know a little more, Mark was a member of a Christian community who was living under the threat and reality of persecution. People had been imprisoned and killed. They were afraid.
Mark’s women were afraid, and Mark’s church was afraid. Perhaps a little different fear but they’re united in one thing: They face the question of what to do next. Do they have faith or will they be overwhelmed by fears?
When people are afraid, their fears control them. When folks are fearful, they let others direct them. Fear takes control of our faith, opens a garbage can and stuffs faith in. Lifting that lid isn’t so easy.
Don’t let fear be the end of the story. Fight and scratch and crawl your way out of it’s grasp. Get yourself to faith. Reclaim your right to the possible. Stand up for the improbable. Make way for the impossible.
The truth is rarely a day goes by that we don’t face the question of what we’re going to do with the impossible. You have something, you know something, you’re dealing with something whose solution you don’t see, whose power you can’t overcome, whose effect you can’t undo. It’s something you view as basically unbeatable.
Perhaps it’s someone else. Perhaps it’s something about you. Most the time we ignore it. We’ve accepted our lot in life. We don’t like it, but we don’t see any other way. We’ve accepted our fate. We’ve given into the inevitable.
It’s a heavy rock, and we can’t move it.
It is heavy, for us, but not for the Lord. God rolls back tombstones. God raises the downcast. The Lord opens the way forward. God makes a way where there seems to be no way.
What’s stopping you, doesn’t stop the Lord. What seems impossible, isn’t. Let go of what you’re afraid of. Don’t acquiesce to what isn’t from the Lord. Build up your faith. Give God and yourself a new chance. The tomb is empty. The impossible happened.
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.
Can the church say Amen?