CAMINANDO WITH JESUS: Be Opened
Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
- Mark 7:24-37
Before he came to be known as the Son of God risen from the dead, Jesus was best known in his day as a miracle man. Miracles were no more common in Jesus’ time than in our own. When they occur, they tend to draw attention.
I have a dear friend who is terminally ill. The mere thought of this tears me asunder. If I knew of someone who could heal any disease, no distance, expense or crowd would stop me from finding this healer and shoving my sick friend right in their face, begging them for the life-giving touch. I know every one of you would do the same. This is the reason why the crowds swarmed Jesus and followed him wherever he went. It is also why Jesus regularly sought places by himself, or with only his closest friends. Just imagine what it would be like if everywhere you went looked like an overrun army field hospital filled with desperate people grasping you in hope. As we saw recently in Kabul, when you are out of hope, you will even cling to the side of an airplane as it is taking off.
Today we hear two of Jesus’ healing miracles. Both have similar outcomes but could not be more different. In the first, the Syrophoenician woman pleads for her daughter’s deliverance from a demon. Initially refusing to help her, Jesus ends up healing the girl because of her mother’s pleas. Perhaps you were caught short by Jesus’ ostensibly rude comment? If you are a woman reading this, perhaps your response was “disappointed, but not surprised.” Men belittling women is a despicable fact of ordinary life. But Jesus is no ordinary man.
I love this woman! Intelligent and strong, her urgent need and plucky faith compel her not to give up. In full sight of his male disciples, Jesus forever demonstrates that God’s mercy is a vast ocean without shore. The exchange sounds more like a deliberate lesson for the disciples than an account of Jesus being dismissive.
While the young girl is delivered of the demon at a distance, the healing of the deaf man is very up close and personal—literally “in your face.” And it is an odd story. It was as odd then as it is now. When was the last time you put your fingers into a stranger’s ears and then touched their lips with your spittle? “Ephphatha,” Jesus exclaims. “Be opened.”
Our passage begins and ends with Jesus seeking a lower profile, either hiding from the crowds or urging witnesses to keep to themselves what they saw. But how could they leave him alone? How could they keep silent about what they saw? Biblical scholars call these furtive requests of Jesus “the Messianic Secret.” I’m no biblical scholar, but my experience as a human being has taught me the best way to spread juicy information is to swear people to secrecy. Jesus is not motivated by fame; he is motivated by the love of God. As a fully human being, his energy needs to be restored through rest and time away; as the Son of God, his compassion for all God’s children is inexhaustible.
This tireless mercy and unending grace are not just for the people Jesus met in his earthly ministry—they are for us as well. We worship One who is intimately involved in our joys, hopes and sorrows. Jesus rejoices with us in our triumphs and comforts us in our defeats. And yet, many of us are voluntarily keeping the Messianic Secret, despite being asked to do the opposite! If you have blurred vision or hearing loss, can you not speak eloquently about how corrective lenses and hearing aids have changed your life? If you have received the coronavirus vaccine, would you hesitate to speak passionately about its benefits to a loved one who has not? I suspect you would summon the same kind of pluck the Syrophoenician shows when she advocates on her daughter’s behalf.
“Ephphatha.” “Be opened.” This is Jesus’s command to all his followers. Speak plainly about how your faith is a comfort to you in your times of trial. Ask the Holy Spirit for courage as you speak a new word of welcome to those who believe God holds them in low esteem. Tell others about the peace you feel each time you receive the Eucharist, and of the calm you know because your sins are forgiven. Above all, persist. Like the crowds who hounded him, do all in your power to bring yourself close to Jesus and ask him to use you in his service. Look for him especially in the eyes of the poor and suffering. Open your heart to him in prayer, trusting in a mercy that knows no limit.
The Rev. Clarke French is the rector of Church of the Holy Family, Chapel Hill.
Tags: Caminando with Jesus