23rd Sunday – Year B – 2021       Mark 7: 31-37

For a traveller a detour sign can be a nuisance, but it can also be a serious inconvenience. I am trying to get to the airport; as usual I have left things to the last minute and then I read, 'detour': next three Kms’! The blood pressure rises. I have a death grip on the steering wheel and panic sets in. A simple detour makes me a candidate for road rage!

Detours can be more than highway inconveniences. Indeed, there is not a road through life that does not have a detour somewhere. Every pilgrim will learn that. Some of them will be causes of celebration. Others are not, and range from the slightly disturbing to deep tragedy A visit to the doctor may produce test results that result in a permanent change in a life-style – a morally and unlawful decision by a young man can alter a family’s future, as well as his own. Investments that don’t perform as expected can change a couple’s retirement plans. It’s those unanticipated circumstances which require all of us to revise our itineraries. Jesus found this to be true.

We have read in this chapter of Mark how Jesus is travelling from his home region of Galilee into Gentile country. Why he made this detour we are not told. Perhaps he was trying to distance himself temporarily from the thronging crowds and the threatening Jewish officials. But whatever his personal agenda was in that region of Tyre and Sidon, Jesus got side-tracked by a Gentile woman with an afflicted child and later by a man who was deaf. And the end result was that the power and love of God reached out to those in need on the highways and byways of life. Wherever he went Jesus’ mission of healing continued – and there were no outsiders.

What have been the significant detours in your life and mine? What have been the experiences that have set your life on a new and different course? Are you/I grateful for those changed directions? Have you/I ever considered that there is more than a possibility that they were providentially arranged?

Detours stories have always been part and indeed central to our faith-story. I think of the fanatical Saul on the road to Damascus to hunt down members of a troublesome sect. His way is blocked. He becomes a changed man. Later he would carry the message of Jesus of Nazareth throughout the Roman Empire. Yes, the Bible and Christian history speak of a God who arranges some of our detours and seeks to make use of them.

Changes in direction – there are those over which we have no control. Look what Covid-19 has done to the lives of billions of this planet's inhabitants. Others result from personal conscious decisions. Most of the changes in Jesus’ life were conscious choices. And some of them were very difficult to make. I think of the time ‘he resolutely set his face for Jerusalem”, knowing what lay at the end of the journey.

If you and I are really serious about following Jesus; being committed to his person and mission, then we will find ourselves faced with the choice to turn aside, because serving and loving become more important than getting to wherever we were intending to go. Sometimes only you and God are aware of those times. God will always honour our freedom. These will always be our decisions...for better or for worse.

There is an irony here – if we change direction in order to love and serve others, then such detours are the real roads to the abundant life we are all seeking.

Geometry may teach us that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. But the most meaningful journey may be a circuitous path. Robert Frost captured the power of detours in his poem, The Road Not Taken; “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less travelled by. And that has made all the difference”.

Take time today to prayerfully reflect on life’s journey. At what point have you arrived? And in that time and place are you/I loving and serving God and neighbour?