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Be Open

Leaking and leakers have been hot topics in our current U.S. administration, more so I think than they have been for a long time. However, this sort of thing goes on all the time in politics. Reputations are made and broken sometimes with one careless remark that gets out to the media. Then of course there are calculated leaks, as we saw in the case of former FBI Director James Comey earlier this year. Such leaks are sometimes designed to destabilize political opponents.

Jesus was a leader who was concerned about leaks. There were some things, like his identity, that he wanted to keep secret until just the right moment. New Testament scholars often refer to this as the Marcan Secret. Yet here, as elsewhere in Mark’s Gospel, we do not simply see the good news about Jesus leaking out. Rather, it is pouring out, as people find themselves unable to be silent about what Jesus is saying and doing.

Let us read together Mark 7:31-37 and see what God might have to say to us through this story….

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. 32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 Then Jesus[a]ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

Be Open to People

This story begins by describing an amazing journey. It was amazing because Jesus first went 25 miles north of Tyre to Sidon before going about 120 miles southeast to the region of the Decapolis on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. If you count the total distance Jesus walked on this circuit from Capernaum to Tyre to Sidon to the Decapolis and back to Capernaum, it comes to about 255 miles. Some scholars calculate that the journey would have taken some eight months. Not only is this an amazing physical feat by today’s standards, it means Jesus spent the better part of a year in Gentile territory.

Mark spends the first six chapters of his Gospel telling us about Jesus’ ministry in Jewish territory. However, beginning in chapter seven, Mark focuses on this whole idea of Jesus ministering to the Gentiles. Over the past few Sundays, we have seen Jesus declaring Jewish ceremonial washing and eating of kosher food as nonessential. Then he heals the daughter of a Syrophoenician woman, a Gentile. And in this week’s reading we see Jesus traveling extensively in Gentile territory, and healing another Gentile, this time in the region of the Decapolis, the ten Greek cities on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee.
This entire section of Mark’s Gospel makes clear that Jesus is for everyone. He is not just for the Jewish people; he is for all people.

I believe Jesus sets an example here for us of being open to all people, not just people who are like us and who we enjoy being with, but all people. And that makes me wonder: how open are we to other people? For example, how open are we who have been members of this church to new people? Do we greet new people when they are in our midst? Do we welcome them into our church? Do we talk to them? Do we invite them to coffee hour? Do we invite them into our homes and into our lives?

What about people who are different from us? Are we open to people who have a different skin color? Are we open to people of different sexual orientations? Are we open to people of different nationalities? What about people of different faiths?

Pastor of the Rock church in San Diego, and former football player, Miles McPherson, tells the following story….

I walked out of my office one morning, and a guy I had never met was just getting off the elevator. He was about six foot four, at least 250 pounds, and he wore cut-off jeans and a sweatshirt. His body was all tatted up …. We talked down the hall together, and he told me he was going to his first ministry meeting, and he was really nervous.

[I asked], “Nervous? How come you’re nervous?”

“Pastor Miles, you always encourage us to do something, so I figured I got to do something. I want to serve the Lord.”

Since our church has over a hundred outreach ministries, I asked him, “What’s the ministry you’re joining?”

“The knitting ministry,” he said.

He added, “Well, actually, I don’t knit, I crochet.”

Here’s this huge guy who looks like he could be an NFL tackle, and he’s nervous about joining a ministry that makes blankets and hats for hospitalized children.

Curious, I asked him where he learned how to crochet.

“I was in the Hell’s Angels for 12 years,” he told me. “I learned to crochet in prison. I know it’s the one thing I can do for the Lord.”

Just then the lady who heads up the knitting ministry walked toward us, said a quick hi to me, then asked the former Hell’s Angel, “Are you Jim?” She gave him a big grin and took his hand. I watched them go down the hall together.[1]

I love that story! What a beautiful picture of being open to someone who is different than you are! That former Hell’s Angel was open to join a bunch of ladies who were knitters, and the lady who led the knitting ministry was open to that tattooed guy! That’s the way I think we need to be in our church, in our community, and wherever God leads us.

Be Open to Listen

Of course the main thing that happens in this passage of Scripture is Jesus’ healing of the deaf and mute man. This takes place in the region of the Decapolis, the ten Greek cities on the east side of the Sea of Galilee. I find it interesting that just as in Tyre so here there are people who recognize Jesus as a healer. His fame has spread far and wide. We are not told who precisely brings this deaf and mute man to Jesus. The text says simply “they”, but it seems most likely that the “they” are the Greek speaking people of this region, non-Jews that is.

I also find it interesting how Jesus heals this man. Jesus takes him away from the crowd, into a private place. Often we need the same thing in order to experience healing. We need time away from the crowd. We need quiet and privacy.

It’s intriguing isn’t it that Jesus puts his fingers into this man’s ears, he spits and touches the man’s tongue with spittle? Saliva was thought to have curative powers in ancient times. But as we saw just last week, Jesus is able to heal with a word. Perhaps he performs the healing in this way on this occasion because he knows that the man needs a physical touch. I don’t know. But the bottom line is that Jesus has a variety of ways that he can heal us.

Jesus’ prayer or word of healing is striking. Jesus looks up to heaven first, thus demonstrating where his healing power comes from; it comes from his Abba, his heavenly Father. Then Jesus sighs. Was he sighing over the suffering of the world? Was he moved in his spirit? Is that why he sighed? Paul says in Romans 8:26,

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.

Whatever this means, I believe Jesus, through his Spirit, is still sighing over the world, over you and me. Jesus is moved with compassion at the sight of our suffering, and he wants to do something about that suffering.

I love Jesus’ simple words here: “Be opened.” Jesus spoke these words, one word in Aramaic, and the man’s ears are opened to hear again, and his tongue is loosed to speak properly again.

I believe Jesus is still praying these words over us. As I have suggested already, I think Jesus wants us to be open to people. And even more specifically, I think he wants us to be open to listening.

I was sharing the other day, I think with our “Mere Christianity” group, about an experience I once had with some Mormon missionaries. When we lived in Pennsylvania, our town had a yearly event called “Community Days”. Many of the organizations in town had booths, and it was very festive every year. One year our booth was next door to the Mormons. Part way through the day, two young Mormon missionaries came over to talk with me. It occurred to me that I could take one of three possible approaches to them. (1) I could tell them I was the pastor of the church and therefore they didn’t need to talk to me about their faith. (2) I could try to preach to them about my own faith. Or (3) I could listen. I decided I was just going to listen to them. And that’s what I did for a half hour or so, throwing in the occasional question. Finally, one of the young men asked me: what do you believe? And so I got to share with both of these young men, in a non-confrontational manner, what I believed about Jesus’ divinity, his sacrificial death for our sins, and his resurrection from the dead. I got to share everything I wanted to share with them, but it wasn’t received as a sermon because they had asked me to share my faith with them. And that happened largely because I listened to them first.

However, as the three of us were talking, a professing Christian from another church in our area entered into the conversation uninvited, and he began preaching to these Mormons and telling them why he thought they were wrong. You could see the wall go up in these dear young men’s souls.

I believe Jesus wants us to listen to people before we share our story with them, and especially before we share the Jesus story with them. That is what Jesus did. He listened to people first. And I believe Jesus wants to open our ears and make us good listeners just as he opened the ears of this deaf man so that he could hear. Jesus does not want us to be deaf to the experiences of others. He wants us to listen. He wants us to love.

Do you know how many times the Bible uses the word “speak” or “talk”? The Bible uses these words 742 times. Do you know how many times the Bible uses the word “listen” or “hear”? 2500 times! That suggests to me that I need to do an awful lot more listening than I do talking.

Jesus says over and over again in the Gospels, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Isn’t it interesting that Jesus never says, “He who has a tongue to speak, let him speak.” I think Jesus knew which one we need to work at doing better.

At the beginning of the one book in the Bible that is all about wisdom, in Proverbs 1:5, it says, “let the wise also hear and gain in learning.” You would expect the Scripture to say, “Let the wise person share his or her wisdom with others.” But it doesn’t say that. It says, “Listen.”

Be Open to Share

Now that is not to say that there isn’t a time to speak. Ecclesiastes 3 says, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven … a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.”
Apparently, when Jesus performed this miracle it was not the time for people to spread the word about him. We read that “Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.”
My father lived and worked in Hell Gate Station, New York City, for a long time before he ever shared with any of the gang members he befriended the reason for his presence there. First, he started a club for boys, where he taught them electronics. He gained their friendship. As my father used to say, “You have to first gain a hearing for the Gospel.” And that is precisely what he did in New York. And when the first young man my father befriended there gave his life to Jesus Christ, my father told him: “Don’t tell anyone.”
The young man was mystified. Receiving Jesus into his life was the greatest thing that ever happened to him. He had to tell someone.
My father said, “No, don’t even tell your family.” And then my father said, “Here is what I want you to do. I want you to memorize these Scriptures. Spend time every day reading the Bible and praying. Then wait until someone asks you what is different about you. Then you can tell them.”
That is exactly what the Scriptures tell us to do. 1 Peter 3:15 says,

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…

So that young man, Eddie Suarez, did as my father instructed him. He spent time memorizing Scripture. He read the Bible and prayed every day. Pretty soon he was ready to bust, but he did not tell anyone about his newfound relationship with Jesus Christ.

Then one day, one of the local police officers came up to my father and said, “You know Jim, there is something different now about that Suarez kid. What is it?”

And my father said, “Why don’t you ask him?”

And so the police officer did just that. And Eddie Suarez shared with him the reason for his hope, the reason why his life was changed.

Notice in the story we read today that Jesus not only healed the man’s ears, he healed his tongue as well. And just as with Eddie Suarez, the man Jesus healed, and everyone who saw him healed, was busting to tell the news.

That is the way I believe we need to be as Christians, and as a Church. But it only works when you are filled up with Jesus. Only Jesus can make us truly open to people, open to listen, and open to share the good news in a way that changes the world.

[1] Miles McPherson, God in the Mirror (Baker Books, 2013), pp. 51-51


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