Sep 9, 2018

“A Tale Of Two Healings” - Mark 7:24-37

“A Tale Of Two Healings” - Mark 7:24-37

            Several years ago, in the dead of winter, The Washington Post conducted an experiment.  The experiment involved one of the world’s greatest violinists.  His name was Joshua Bell.  He had performed for many of the world’s major orchestras.  The newspaper commissioned him to play his four million dollar Stradivarius violin, in of all places, a subway station in Washington, D.C.  Joshua was only available to play in January.  He dressed like a street musician looking for tips and sat in the subway station where he played for forty-five minutes.  The Washington Post hid a video camera to record the entire event.  Out of the 1,097 people who passed by him, only seven stopped to listen!  And he received a mere $32.17 in tips.  That didn’t count the $20 he received from the one person who recognized him.

            Many readers of the story started to cry.  As one person put it, “I cried because I find it depressing to think how oblivious most people are as they go through daily life.  Even smart and otherwise attentive people.  Who knows what beautiful things I've missed by just hurrying along, lost in my thoughts?  Another person said, “It's almost a panicky feeling.  If a performance by Joshua Bell on his Strad gets lost in the shuffle, what about all the smaller, beautiful things that happen every day?  Things that could be making us happier.  That is, if only we paid attention.”

            Our Gospel reading for today has to do with two healings.  Mark lets us know that these healings are important.  He does not want the tale of these two healings to get lost in the shuffle.  He wants us to know that the healings are very good.  That they are beautiful.  That the living God is at work in them.  Let’s take a closer look at what Mark has to say.

            Let us pray.  Dear God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

          Today, we find Jesus smack dab in Gentile territory.  And he’s in Gentile territory for a reason.  In part, it’s probably because he wants to lie low for a while.  He wants to be some place where he won’t be recognized.  A place where nobody knows his name. 

So, why does he not want to be recognized?  Well, as you may recall from the previous chapter, he has lost thousands of followers.  All he’s left with now are his twelve disciples.  To top it off, he finds himself confronted and criticized over and over again by the Scribes and the Pharisees.  All of this forms a pattern that keeps showing up throughout Mark’s entire Gospel.  The crowds applaud when he meets their needs, but then they fade away.  The Jewish leaders criticize him and keep picking on him and his ministry.  And even those very disciples keep misunderstanding him.  All of this would be enough to burden any person if it happened just once.  Let alone over and over again. 

          So, perhaps Jesus is feeling exhausted and worn slick.  Perhaps he just doesn’t feel like going on.  Perhaps he simply wants to get away from it all and to go some place where no one knows who he is.  Perhaps that’s why he takes off for Gentile territory.  Jesus understandably wants to go somewhere he can get a break from people who are either using him, or criticizing him, or misunderstanding him. 

          It’s in a house in the city of Tyre, of all places, where he ends up.  But I wouldn’t blame him if he checked in at a Holiday Inn using a fake name.  After all, he has compassion fatigue and needs some time away from people who think they know him.  But in any case it doesn’t work. 

          We are told that a Gentile woman comes to see Jesus in hopes that he would help her daughter who is possessed by an unclean spirit.  And believe me, she is quite persistent in her request.

          Before he can even unpack his suitcase, there’s a pounding on the door.  He opens it to find someone who demands to talk with him.  He listens to her story.  It’s about her daughter who has an unclean spirit.  Like Jacob and the angel, Jesus finds himself in a wrestling match.  And she seems determined to not let go until she gets what she needs.  So, they argue.  But most importantly, Jesus takes her seriously.  He does this even though she is a woman and an unclean Gentile to boot.  As they talk, Jesus finds himself overcome with compassion for her.  And he is amazed by her faith.  As a result, Jesus lets her know that her request has been granted.  That her beloved daughter has been healed.  And miracle of miracles, she returns home to discover her daughter is well. 

            What a remarkable story.  In taking this woman seriously and healing her little girl, Jesus is showing her and us, and even the entire world, that the Good News is for everybody.  That’s right.  The Good News is for Gentiles, too.  That means you and me, by the way.  Yes, Jesus shows that all people, including you and me, are now God’s chosen people.  Furthermore, some Bible scholars think this episode was just the beginning of Jesus’ ministry to us Gentiles.  Some actually think he may have spent as long as eight months among us heathens at that time.

          To back this up, Mark gives us another powerful example of Jesus’ ministry there.  For just as soon as Jesus sets foot in another Gentile city, some people bring a deaf man with a speech impediment right up to him.  They beg Jesus to help the man.  Without hesitation, Jesus responds to their request.  And the way that Jesus responds shows how good he is with people.  How compassionate and considerate he can be.

          He takes the man aside from the crowd.  Cares for him in private.  In doing so, Jesus shows the most tender consideration for the feelings of a man for whom life must have been very difficult to say the least.

          Throughout this miracle Jesus even speaks the man’s language.  Yes, he uses sign language so that the man won’t be frightened.  Mark gives it to us in graphic detail.  And can you just imagine what the Pharisees would have said if they’d seen this?  They’d have gone berserk to see Jesus actually putting his hands in the ears of this unclean heathen.  Even touching his tongue with his spit.  Then, Jesus looks up to heaven to make it clear that God is the source of the healing.  And when Jesus declares “Be opened!” the man is able to hear and speak perfectly. 

            After Jesus heals the man, he orders the crowd not to tell others what just happened.  But the more he says this, the more they talk about him.  They’re astounded beyond measure.  They think what he’s done is too good to keep.  So, they let the world know what Jesus has done.

            Oh, did you notice those folks are "astounded beyond measure?"  When is the last time that any of us were astounded beyond measure?  Let’s face it, we aren’t so easily astounded anymore.  We see wondrous things so often that they fail to move us.  And we miss out.  For to be astounded is truly a wonderful thing!  How much richer we would be if we could recover our ability to be astounded by the wonderful things that God does for us every single minute of every single day.

            An artist, Tim Lefens, wrote a book entitled Flying Colors.  It’s the story--the true story--of his work with persons severely disabled.  Many of them could not speak.  He writes about JR, a young man who could communicate only with his eyes and his left knee.  To say "Yes," he would look up and raise his left knee.  To say "No," he would look sideways.  Just imagine!  And he had to wait for someone to ask the right question, because he could only signal "Yes" or "No."  He could want something desperately, but he would have to wait for that right question.  Wait for days or weeks or months or even a lifetime!

            One day, someone had finally thought to ask if JR wanted to go to the author’s painting class.  Without hesitation, JR looked up and raised his knee repeatedly.  He was signaling, "Yes!  Yes!  Yes!"

            So, JR went to the class, and Lefens taught him to paint.  He strapped a laser pointer to JR's head so that JR could point to the place where he wanted the paint to be applied.  Then, he offered JR various colors of paint until JR signaled, "Yes, that is the color!"

            With that, JR started painting.  He flashed the laser with furious intensity at the canvas as an assistant applied the paint.  An abstract painting emerged.  Jammed into the corner of the canvas was a black, electric cloud.  Powerful!  Emotional!  But what did it mean?

            One of the other patients said, "I think I know what he's saying."  He's saying, "Get me the heck out of here."

            Lefens asked JR, "Is that what you were saying?"  And then he looked at JR's face.  His eyes, once so frantic, were radiating in a rich beam.  The answer was definitely, “Yes.”  He was obviously astounded.                Astounded beyond measure!  Astounded to be able to communicate.  Astounded he could speak through his painting!  Astounded!  Just like the deaf man was astounded to be healed by Jesus.              We would do well to recover our ability to be astounded.  To be astounded at God's wonderful creation.  To be astounded at the wonderful things that Jesus does in our lives every single day.  We read about the miracles in the Bible, but they seem so remote.  So unreal.  But Jesus still works miracles.  Jesus still changes lives.  Jesus still loves.  Jesus still heals.  Jesus still forgives.  Sometimes he does it in dramatic ways.  Sometimes he does it in small ways.  But make no mistake, his Spirit is still very much at work in our world.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.