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September 10, 2006 (Sunday 23 • Time after Pentecost)—“Be Opened!”
Interim Pastor Steve Jensen
Isaiah 35:4–7a; Mark 7:24–37
Lamar Williamson, in his commentary on Mark, says that if in the chapter preceding today’s gospel lesson Jesus declared all foods clean, in these stories he declares all persons clean—whether a Gentile woman or man of indeterminate race in an “unclean” territory. Both stories advance Jesus’ repudiation of traditional taboos. However, Jesus’ comments do not make everything clean. There are still unclean and evil things and powers in the world, but this woman and this man are not among them.
That is one emphasis for today’s Gospel. Another is a follow-on to last week’s message. It is what comes out of a person—what is in one’s heart—that matters. A demon came out of the woman’s daughter at Jesus’ direction. Words of faith came out of the woman, affirming her belief that the mercies of God extend beyond ethnic Israel. The man’s speech difficulties become correct speaking, and he is now able to utter words of praise.
Yes, Jesus changes what comes out of a person.
Both are addressed by Jesus’ compassion and healing love, and we see the effects they have on a person. There were indeed taboos regarding race and a man speaking to a woman in public. In fact, it has been suggested that only a prostitute would have anything to say to a man in public. If that is the case, this could also mean immorality does not keep one from receiving Jesus.
Thus the adage, “A church is not a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners,” might apply.
Yes, coming to Jesus, likely touching him in some way as she fell to her knees before him, speaking publicly to him, were all forbidden. To my mind, however, a desperate mother might ignore any taboo. Would we not be willing to break with serious traditions if we heard about Jesus and his power, had a very sick child, and knew Jesus was in our neighborhood?
Edwards, in his Gospel According to Mark, indicates this is hard to imagine in the “tradition of the Elders.” He then asks if it is hard to imagine certain people coming to our churches. He suggests we sit at a mall—perhaps Ala Moana—and ask which of the people walking by would be welcomed at our church. Which would not? Further, which people are we willing to invite to our church or the Christian faith? Which would we not invite? Would we be willing to break today’s social taboos and talk to others about Jesus—especially if we knew Jesus’ presence would bring healing?
As taboos against racial, gender, and perhaps moral boundaries are exploded in the first story, prejudices against the handicapped are addressed here. With the woman and her child, healing happened at a distance. This healing required touch and sign language and spit and a command. What Jesus does in one situation, he may not do in another. This story affirms that it is God-like to hurt for—and help—any person in need. It gives us an example of God’s understanding concern for all who are different and struggle, and it certainly illustrates how we kingdom people ought to treat each other and reach out to comfort and help. It is Christ-like.
It was not just the man’s ears that were opened, but his hearing or listening ability. The man’s hearing problem likely created his speaking problem. Our inability to listen well can effect when we say and how we respond. There may be other things that keep us from speaking out correctly, too. The bonds of embarrassment, social taboos, inadequate understanding, lack of confidence all can often keep us from speaking clearly about our faith.
At my first congregation, I kept a poster in my office along with Luther’s “Sacristy Prayer.” It was a poem by Bob Rowland, entitled “Listen Christian.” Listen:
I was hungry and you formed a humanities club and discussed my hunger. Thank you.
I was imprisoned and you crept of quietly to your chapel in the cellar and prayed for my release.
I was naked and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance.
I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health.
I was homeless and you preached to me of the spiritual shelter of the love of God.
I was lonely and you left me alone to pray for me.
You seems so holy, so close to God. But I’m still very hungry, and lonely, and cold.
Ephphatha! Let our ears be opened and our tongues loosened and our hearts filled. The loosening of our tongues gives voice to our souls. Hope and new life flood in. Now nothing is impossible with him.
The woman came to Jesus on behalf of her daughter. The man’s friends brought him to Jesus and implored the Son of God to heal him, confidently expecting their prayer to be answered. When is the last time we brought someone in need to Christ, fully expecting Him to be compassionate and heal?
Just as the man’s friends brought him to Jesus and he was then able to hear and speak, so when we experience the presence of Christ in our lives, we are enabled to hear the cries of pain from others. This loosens our tongues to speak the often ridiculed words of compassion, sympathy, and love that may never before have come from our mute mouths. When we experience Christ in our lives, we are able to bring others in confidence that He will supply their needs.
This miracle was one of the things promised would happen when the Messiah came. Isaiah told the people that there would be one who could come and that this is the way it would be when he arrived: “The blind will be able to see, and the deaf will hear. The lame will leap and dance, and those who cannot speak will shout for joy.” (Isaiah 35:5) He has already come!
Our lives are miracles, a sign of what is yet to come. That we should live by grace, that we should show love, that we should come with the word “be opened” to lives closed by sin and loneliness and separateness; this is the miracle of renewal we can bring to others through ears that hear and voices that speak the Good News—and lives that celebrate the love of God.
The miracles of Christ did not stop when he ascended into heaven. God through Christ continues to be attentive to the needs of his children today.
Our winters in New York were cold and snowy, and one of the places for sledding was our driveway. One particular day, my next youngest brother and I had finished sledding and retired to the living room to watch TV. Unbeknownst to us, my other brother decided it was his turn to sled and down he went—right into the path of a car. My mother had been ironing in front of the living room picture window and suddenly noted the heap in the road was Greg. To her shout of “My God, Greg’s been hit!” I raced out the front door barefoot in the snow to my brother’s side. I could see a tire mark above his eye and both eyes were swollen shut with blood. By all appearances, my brother could die at any moment.
My mother rode with him in the ambulance, and my father was summoned from work. Relatives took me to the hospital, and we all awaited his arrival. I noted the faces of the medical staff as he was brought in to the emergency room and there were many teary eyes among them. Once he was wheeled in to a treatment room, we huddled in the waiting room and prayed to God in our own ways.
The wait seemed endless. Fortunately, our family doctor’s physician daughter was on call and came to assist. After some time, she came up to us shaking her head—and I feared the worst. Her gesture did not signify we had lost him, but rather she was at something of a loss to explain what she had just witnessed. After taking time to look us each in the eye, she said he was going to be just fine. Then she added: “Someone out here has been praying. He should have died, but we watched him heal before our eyes.”
It was our Jewish doctor who pointed out that at least in this instance, a loving God had taken pity on a seriously injured boy and his family and provided a miraculous healing. But having faith in God was not insurance against evil and hurtful things in the world. Those who witnessed his healing celebrated with us and shared the miracle with all who would listen. Sadly, many with whom we shared the gift of Christ for us chose to attempt to explain it away. Our doctors, the medical staff, and our family were forever changed by it, however.
Has Jesus responded to you with a miracle? Have you shared it? Have you and others been “astounded beyond measure” because of it? Being “astounded beyond measure” is not the same thing as faith. Confessing that Jesus has done all things well—causing the deaf to hear and the tongue-tied to speak—is not the same as centering one’s faith on the cross. The healed man and his friends saw partially, but not enough to completely understand Jesus. They rejoiced at miracles. They are likely to have been offended by the cross.
Ephphatha! Let our ears be opened and our tongues loosened and our hearts filled. The loosening of our tongues gives voice to our souls. Hope and new life flood in. Now nothing is impossible with him. Live in God’s grace. Share the Good News. Live life as a gift of God. Share God’s grace and hope and love with others. Don’t wait. Do it today.
Note: Greg has since celebrated his 50th birthday and is a proud husband and father of 4 children. He also is a career police officer, fire commissioner, and volunteer EMT.
Copyright © 2006 Steven Jensen
Comments welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org