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Be Open!

Rev. Dr. Karin Case
Sun, Sep 06

Text: Mark 7:24-37

Our scripture reading from Mark this morning presents two amazing stories of healing. Strikingly different, the stories are nonetheless linked. Mark has chosen to place them together, in close juxtaposition—a literary unit. And this placement is provocative, intriguing, more powerful, perhaps, than either story on its own.

One healing seems intensely personal, intimately private—the healing of a deaf man, whom Jesus takes aside, away from the crowd. Jesus touches his ears, his mouth, and even orders them “to tell no one.” The other healing has a strong cultural overtones—a very clear public dimension. A Gentile woman, of Syrophonecian origin, asks Jesus to heal her little daughter. At first Jesus resists, rudely rejecting her as an outsider. But she stands up to him. She insists. And the healing follows.

Both of these stories suggest that healing is messy. It is intimate. And it risks something.

We all know that personal healing can be messy. When we desire healing we must come face to face with our humanity, our limitations, with bodily processes and emotional complexities. With brokenness and pain, with hope and longing. Bodies knitting themselves back together, lives opening to a new horizon. And this is vulnerable stuff. Therapy sessions, medical procedures, bodily fluids. It’s intimate and it’s the kind of thing we usually like to conceal. In this culture that is so obsessed with health and perfection we don’t like people to see our stuff.

One thing I love about the stories of Jesus healing people is how messy it gets. In this story of the deaf man, Jesus gets right in there. He puts his fingers in the man’s ears. Jesus spits. He touches the man’s tongue. This healing is very personal and intimate and very messy. Anyone want to get out the hand sanitizer after hearing this passage? (That’s how messy it is.)

Jesus commands in Aramaic, ephphatha—be opened—and the man is healed. His hearing restored, his speech restored.

We all live with wounds, sometimes bearing them with quiet grace, sometimes with open complaint. Some wounds are painfully obvious, others invisible. Some we are acutely aware of, others may remain hidden—even from ourselves. Sometimes we seek healing eagerly but sometimes we prefer to nurse our sore places and conceal our scars.

Healing requires much of us. Even to want healing can be a vulnerable thing. Healing does not always come. I read this week that more than 100 million Americans live with some kind of chronic pain. That’s almost a third of the population, living with chronic pain! And we live in a wealthy nation, in an age of pharmaceuticals.

Not all conditions can be cured. This Biblical story of the healing of a deaf man has always touched a deep cord in me. My father was born deaf. He had nerve deafness. Not the kind of thing that can be healed with surgery or implants. There would be no miraculous healing. And yet, this is what I yearned for as a child.

My father’s life was profoundly shaped by his deafness. All of our lives were profoundly shaped by my father’s deafness. Born in 1929, before there was a deaf community, before simple communication forms like TTYs and texting, decades before the Americans with Disabilities Act (this July marked the 25th anniversary of the ADA), Dad faced a world that was seldom understanding or accommodating, and sometimes flat-out cruel.

I wished Jesus would touch my Dad’s ears so that he could hear again. I wished Jesus would touch my Dad’s tongue and make his speech normal and clear. I longed for healing for my dad, an opening that would take away pain, restore simple, straightforward communication, make life kinder and gentler. And I concluded pretty early in life that there were some things Jesus just couldn’t do.

I share this story, not as a way of drawing attention to myself, but because this is a place where I know most intimately the emotional terrain of longing for wholeness, inclusion, and fullness of life. This is the terrain that is opened in Mark’s stories of healing. We feel the intense vulnerability of our private, personal wounds—as the deaf man in Jesus’ day, as my father in his day.

I want to suggest that our public wounds—the wounds we bear together as a culture—even the wounds we inflict on each other—are no less painful and no less personal than these private places of fracture and longing. If personal healing is intimately, uncomfortably messy, so too is the healing of our collective trauma.

Now, I confess that I have no idea what Mark the evangelist had in mind when he put these two stories side-by-side. The story of the deaf man and the Syrophonecian woman. But here’s where I see the connection. Both have a private pain that needs healing; deaf ears, a sick child. The pain is real. The urgency is real. But the Gentile woman dares to name the public dimension.

She calls Jesus on his stuff! (I preached on this a few months ago.) She gets right in Jesus’ face and insists on healing. Even though he sees her initially as an outsider, a Gentile. Even though he calls her a dog. Even though he even talks about excluding her from the table.

I love this woman! She has the courage to call Jesus out, to demand healing and inclusion, to insist that he transcend cultural divisions. Jesus initially comes off like a jerk. But he’s listening and he’s open to what she’s saying. When she calls him out, he doesn’t get up on his high horse and insist that he’s right. Now that is cool. That kind of openness is maybe even salvific. That capacity to hear one another’s needs and to respond with heart to heart.

Just as Jesus touches the ears of the deaf man and says “ephphatha, be opened,” the Syrophonecian woman makes a claim on Jesus. Be open! She tells him. She presses him toward a greater vision, a more expansive sense of God’s realm. A more radical, revolutionary idea than even Jesus had in mind at that moment. Be open.

Thank God for this woman who says to Jesus—respectfully but insistently, “Brother, your vision is too limited.” Don’t let your culturally-conditioned ideas about Gentiles get in the way. God’s vision is greater than that. God yearns for wholeness of persons and communities, the healing of sickness, but also the healing of divisions, the restoring of justice. The exercise of mercy and loving kindness. In the words of the prophet Amos, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream!”

We are at a critical moment in the U.S., a moment when something is opening up. A torrent of awareness is breaking through. The racial realities of our national life—visible, yet barely noticed by so many white Americans, are painfully evident in light of recent events. Something is opening up. Our collective awareness of historical trauma and pain, of on-going violence against Black and Brown bodies.

Not things that are hidden, but things some of us may have chosen not to see. Maybe some of us need to get a little spit on ourselves to open up our eyes to injustice, to see clearly, to speak truthfully and decisively, to hear the voices of our neighbors and communities. And to act.

This is urgent. And it gets very personal. Like private healing, to address our collective trauma and to redress injustice is intimate and vulnerable. We are all in this soup of race and history and culture. There is tremendous opportunity in this moment.

But here’s the thing. Our collective wounds are no less painful than our private wounds. They shape us and limit us and hurt us. But we carry them together. Sometimes this gives us mutual strength. But other times we share un unspoken pact about what we will allow into our awareness, what can be said aloud, what we are willing to act on. And we don’t see and we don’t act.

Friends, we face a crucial moment when there are daily decisions to be made about how messy we’re willing to get, how powerfully we yearn for healing, what we are willing to risk.

Will we allow ourselves the public vulnerability of making our pain and rage visible? Will we allow ourselves—like the people who came to Jesus for healing—to be seen and known as broken and beloved? Both. Broken and beloved. In urgent need of healing.

Will we allow ourselves to be touched by the gentle fingers of grace? Will we allow ourselves to get a little messy? Do we dare to allow Jesus—our healer—to touch us in these places of deep pain? Will we take the risk of being that open?

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