In the movie Groundhog Day, the main character Phil Connors is a self-centered, overconfident, and obnoxious Pittsburg weatherman. The story is based on Phil’s visit to Punxsutawney, PA with his producer and cameraman, who are sent to film the groundhog’s annual debut from his den, by which he predicts a winter extension or warm weather relief. A big snowstorm strands the three reporters in this sleepy little town, requiring Phil to stay at a local Bed and Breakfast overnight. On his first morning after a snowstorm, something unexpected happens. Phil finds himself stuck in a Twilight Zone kind of time loop where he lives the same day over and over again. Shocked at first, Phil soon discovers plenty of time to cultivate new interests: piano lessons, learning French, ripping off armored trucks, over indulging in bad food – even killing himself. He now lives in a world without consequences; where no matter what he does he wakes up in the exact same place repeating the same sequence of events, yet he can change his reaction to what is happening around him.
Phil lived the same day over and over, first in a pursuit of hedonistic pleasure and later falling into despondency, depression, and eventually an attempt to end it all in a freak car ride with Groundhog in tow. At one point in the time-loop, Phil meets a homeless man that somehow begins to melt his frozen heart, and his world changed forever; Phil’s soul changed. In the middle of all this no consequence, self-indulgent, loop, Phil experienced a conversion.
The pleasure seeking, self-centered weatherman discovered he had the capacity for more than himself, and the people around him were drawn to his new converted self. Phil was now a part of something much bigger than himself. As the loop continued, Phil began to show love to others, and Phil became a respected member of the community whom people recognized, not for his wealth, influence, or even for being a weatherman. Phil was now recognized as a lover of souls, a man who changed the tire for three widows, saved a boy who fell out of a tree, loved poetry, played piano, ice sculpted, and saved the mayor from choking. Phil discovered the power of love, through the gift of serving others through self-giving love. Phil experienced a conversion.
Webster defines conversion as “change in character, form, or function, or a spiritual change.”(3) Phil unearthed an unexpected truth that somehow he had in him the capacity to love others, and he discovered that the only real calling in life is to give away abundantly, that which we receive. Although God is mentioned only once in the movie Groundhog Day, I believe Phil Connors was actually seeking something that only comes from God. We all are seeking God’s healing, reconciliation, and conversion, but sometimes, we need to stop our own life time-loops, and live in expectant awareness of the holy interruptions, God provides us every single day. God desires our restoration and healing, but real healing and conversion happens when we serve others.
We all need healing
In today’s Gospel, Jesus crosses back over the Sea of Galilee again and this time, he is met on the shore by Jairus, the leader of the local synagogue. Jairus, had great faith and begged Jesus to come and heal his daughter who was at death’s bed. Jesus had another plan for his ministry that day I bet, but an opportunity for healing unexpectedly happened, and he put his plans aside for someone else. Along the way, he encountered a woman who was seeking God’s restorative, healing, reconciliation, and conversion and once again, Jesus was interrupted.
The woman had been hemorrhaging for twelve years and was not only suffering from a physical ailment, because she was bleeding (blood by the Jewish purity laws was considered defiling), which made her unclean and thus, an outcast from society. Others could not touch her or risk defilement, and so she was an outsider who needed spiritual and physical healing, reconciliation, and conversion.
With great faith, she risked it all and pushed through the crowd to find Jesus. She broke the purity laws, touching everyone in the crowd as she went, to get to him. Then she reached out her hand, touched just the lower part of the hem of his garment, and immediately, she was restored to full health. Jesus said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” It was more than physical healing, because through her physical restoration, she was restored to the community. She could be a part of something bigger than herself once again. She was given the chance to love others and find God’s desires for her restoration and healing, by participating in the work of healing others all in community.
Jesus then carries onto Jairus’ home and finds the little girl had died. The crowd present was weeping, but Jesus through his act of love, reminds us that our despair is not the end of the story. Jesus took her by the hand and said, “Talitha cum,” or rather, “Little girl, get up!” Immediately, she was alive. Unexpectedly, Jesus showed up again and brought hope in despair, new life in the midst of death, and hope in the midst of grief. This little girl now had a whole life ahead to be a part of something bigger than herself. She would have many opportunities to love as Jesus loved her. She and the woman who touched Jesus’ garment, both were healed.
Through Jesus’ holy interruptions in their lives, they were taken out of the time-loops of suffering, for one was an outcast who was suffering from physical defilement, and the other was a young girl who suddenly suffered the ultimate ailment; death. Both women and Jairus had faith that Jesus would restore them. They sought him out and he was faithful. God desires our healing and conversion; physically, spiritually, emotionally, and relationally.
We heard a reading today from the Wisdom of Solomon, “God created us for incorruption, and made us in the image of his own eternity.” We are made in the image of God, to be bearers of God’s reconciling, healing, converting, and restorative love. Sometimes though, we get stuck in a rut, a time-loop perhaps in which, each day is the same mundane treadmill. We wake up, do our morning routine, arrive at the office, or do whatever we do during the day, and the cycle just repeats itself. In this loop, we just muddle through and we may find ourselves in despair. We often live behind closed doors, gates, or our own self-inflicted walls of disconnection and isolation, hoping for a glimpse of healing, restoration, and conversion.
Maybe we come to church every Sunday, in our despair, hoping to experience conversion. However, in our despair, we close the door to Jesus’ attempts to transform us, and we are left with a repetitive cycle of liturgical actions, or a droning preacher, who tries to tell you God loves you. Maybe we are stuck in a Phil Connor approach to the gift of life and grace, and our search for Jesus begins with “what therefore is in it for me?”
“What are we seeking, and who are we seeking?” Jairus knew who he was seeking when he crossed all boundaries and the fear of the law experts to find Jesus. The woman who was an outcast and suffering from hemorrhaging knew who she was seeking, and she crossed all boundaries of culture and law to reach out with a mere touch to find Jesus. They all sought Jesus and the healing only he could bring and nothing would stand in their way. What are you seeking? Do you seek conversion of life? Are you willing to cross the boundaries of fear, uncertainty, power, or even self-preservation to find Jesus and the healing and conversion he desires of you?
I need some conversion today
Maybe we come to this walk of faith seeking a tame Jesus, who will put an arm around us and say, “it’s all going to be ok, you’re one of the insiders.” Maybe we hope tame Jesus tells us, “You don’t need anyone else, you got this all on your own.” Theologian Kate Layzer in her Christian Century article wrote, “It’s not a tame Jesus that people are craving. They want the genuine undomesticated Savior, the One who loves fiercely and speaks sharply, who looks us in the eye and speaks to us of God’s uncompromising love, who startles us with more forgiveness than we think we deserve, who challenges us to extend the same to others.” (2)
Transformative love-giving, life-giving, grace-sharing conversion of the heart is the healing we really need, and most likely without our knowing, the conversion and healing we really seek. We crave to be challenged by God’s love. We beg to be moved beyond ourselves and out into a community of love, so that we might take our place as one of the healers of the despair of life. Have you ever heard this quote, “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” How about this phrase, “In this hospital for sinners, we all are both patients, and at the same time, the physicians/nurses/attendants.” In other words, we come to God’s community of faith for restorative, healing, reconciliation, and conversion, but each one of us has a part in helping others to find it as well.
When Phil Connor became a beloved member of the Punxsutawney township, he shared the joy of his conversion in an interview, which he taped for his weather show and it showed how much his love for others, now overshadowed himself. Phil said, “When Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope. Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life. But standing here among the people of Punxsutawney and basking in the warmth of their hearths and hearts, I couldn’t imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter.” I cannot imagine in the chaos, uncertainty, and joys of life, a better fate for any of us than to bask in the warmth of the hearts of my sisters and brothers right here at St. Monica’s. Can you?
In this community of faith, we must help one another find Jesus together, and we can be assured that in that pursuit, we will be interrupted by God’s conversion and healing. It is time to be ever open, ready, and expectant, for Jesus to shock us and convert our lives with miraculous holy interruptions. Jesus takes us by the hand and says, “little one, get up!” Jesus tells us, “Get up out your despair. Get up out of the time-loop of disconnection. Get up out of your pre-conceived notions of what God’s Kingdom might look like.”
Jesus bursts into our lives every day with unexpected holy interruptions, moments when others’ concerns, pain, uncertainty, fear, and despair somehow overshadow our own, and these are the holy moments in which, we are called to respond with healing and self-giving love. It is in these moments when the un-tame Savior interrupts our time loops, and stands at our side, loving and challenging us, says, “Daughter, son, I love you, now, get up, and go love one another.”
(1)Willimon, William H. “Ready for Interruptions.” The Christian Century, vol. 108, no. 18, 29 May 1991, p. 587
(2) Layzer, Kate. “Living by the Word: Reflections on the Lectionary [Je 28, 2009].” The Christian Century, vol. 126, no. 12, 16 June 2009, p. 19