Mark 7, 24-37
TITLE: Open Your Eyes
CHAPTERS 6-8: EYES TO SEE & EARS TO HEAR
Beginning with the Feeding of the Five Thousand (6:30-44), Mark relates a
series of miracles, including the restoration of the deaf man's hearing
and speech (7:31-37) and a blind man's sight (8:22-26). The passage
culminates in Peter's confession of faith, "You are the Messiah" (8:29).
Along the way, Jesus encounters the antagonism of the scribes and
Pharisees (7:1-23; 8:11-13) and the lack of faith of the disciples
(8:14-21). When the latter worry about not having enough bread (keep in
mind that Mark has just related both the Feeding of the Five Thousand and
the Feeding of the Four Thousand), Jesus says, "Why are you talking about
having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts
hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to
hear?" (8:17-18). Jesus' has come to impart physical healing, but his
greater purpose is opening spiritual eyes and ears.
SCRIPTURE: Mark 7:24-37
"He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there" (v. 24b). Perhaps he is looking for solitude from the crowds that have pursued him in his Galilean ministry. Perhaps he simply wants time alone with the disciples.
"Yet he could not escape notice" (v. 24). The "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" (v. 26).
We are shocked at Jesus' response. "Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs" (v. 27). This is one of the most troubling verses in the New Testament. The mother is asking healing, not for herself, but for her daughter. It must be difficult for a Gentile woman to ask a Jewish man for help, but she
does it because her need is great. She comes in faith as a reverent requester. What more could Jesus ask? As it turns out, he could ask that she be Jewish. "Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." Most references to dogs in classical and Biblical literature are negative.
"But she answered him, 'Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs' " (v. 28). It is a good answer -- a soft answer with a sharp edge. The woman acknowledges the special place of the Jews, calls attention to her own need, and turns Jesus' words to press her plea. The image is of children carelessly or even purposely dropping bits of food on the floor -- a benevolent image. What harm could come from allowing this woman to partake of that which the children have refused?
"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" (vv. 29-30). Note that: -- Jesus does not go with her to her home. He does not touch the child. He does not issue a healing command. He simply reports a healing that has already taken place.
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. A man's friends brought the man to Jesus in the hope that Jesus could do something for him. Over the years, lots of friends have brought lots of people to Jesus in the hope that Jesus could do something for them. They have brought blind people -- people confined to wheel chairs – cancer patients -- drunks -- ne'er-do-wells -- husbands -- wives -- children.
When his friends brought the deaf/mute man to Jesus, Jesus took him aside -- away from the crowd -- and healed him. The story of the healing is a bit disgusting. Jesus put his fingers in the man's ears -- and spat -- and touched the man's tongue. There is a significant parallel between the deaf man and Jesus' disciples. The man can neither hear nor speak properly. The disciples cannot understand what Jesus is telling them, and are thus hampered in their proclamation. They, too, need Jesus' touch so that they might see, hear, and understand.
We, too, need Jesus' touch so that we might see, hear, & understand. The popularity of the Prosperity Gospel ("Believe and grow rich") is but one evidence of the spiritual misunderstanding that is widespread in the church today. And then there is the assumption on the part of many Christians, that we attend church not to give glory to God but "for what we get out of it." In these and a thousand other ways, we demonstrate our own blindness and deafness. We, too, need Christ's healing touch.
This healing is very different from that of the woman's daughter. In that story, Jesus took no action other than to report the healing to the mother (v. 29). He puts his fingers into the man's ears. He spits and touches the man's tongue. Sometimes Jesus heals us with a word, and sometimes he has to spit. I don't know why some healings are easy and others aren't.
And then Jesus looked up to heaven -- and sighed -- and said, "Ephphatha," which means "Be opened" -- "And immediately (the man's) ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly." Jesus brought the man freedom -- freedom to move his tongue -- freedom to talk -- freedom to tell people what was on his mind --freedom to share his heart and soul with other people. And was commanded not to tell anyone.
And the people were "astounded beyond measure." When was the last time that you were astounded beyond measure? We are not easily astounded anymore. We see wondrous things so often that they fail to move us. Put a man on the moon -- did that! Bring down the Berlin wall -- did that too! Have lunch while jetting seven miles above the ocean -- do that every day!
But it is wonderful to be astounded! It would be wonderful if we could recover our ability to be astounded at the wonderful things that God does for us daily.
An artist, Tim Lefens, recently wrote a book entitled Flying Colors. It is the story -- the true story -- of his work with severely disabled people --people confined to wheelchairs -- many of whom cannot even talk.
Lefens tells 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! To be able to give the right answer, he had to wait for someone to ask the right question, because he could signal only "Yes" or "No." He could want something desperately, but often nobody would ask the right question for
days -- or weeks -- or months -- or ever!
One day, JR showed up for Lefens' class. Someone had finally thought to ask if he wanted to go to the painting class, and he looked up – and jerked his knee up. He signaled, "Yes! Yes! Yes!"
JR came 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 applied. Then he offered JR various colors of paint until JR signaled, "Yes, that is the color!"
Then JR started painting. He flashed the laser with furious intensity at the canvas as an assistant applied paint where the laser pointed. An abstract painting emerged -- a black, electric cloud jammed into the corner of the canvas. Powerful! Emotional!
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, was radiating in a rich beam."
Astounded beyond measure! Astounded to be able to communicate -- astounded to speak through his painting! Astounded! Just like the deaf/mute man was astounded when Jesus healed him!
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 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. Sometimes he does it in dramatic ways. Sometimes he does it in small ways -- in ways that we most often
fail even to notice.
-- Augustine once noted that Jesus changed water into wine at Cana of Galilee, and everyone said, "Wow!" But God changes water into wine every day in vineyards across the world, and we hardly notice.
-- Jesus fed five thousand people at one sitting, and everyone said, "Wow!" But God feeds billions of people every day, and we hardly notice.
-- Jesus healed a demoniac -- drove the demons into a herd of swine -- freeing the demoniac from his obsessions -- enabling him to sit and have a civil conversation -- enabling him to talk sense -- to become a real person once again -- and everyone said, "Wow!" But week after week -- year after year -- Jesus slowly shapes a child so that the child doesn't become a serial killer or a terrorist -- but instead grows up to be a kind
and generous person -- and nobody even notices.
There are dozens (or hundreds) of miracles right here right now in this sanctuary. Just look around for a moment at the people around you -- it's O.K. -- look around. Those people in the pews around you are miracles -- nearly every one of them is a miracle.
If the person in the next pew had committed heinous crimes -- and had then become a Christian -- had been transformed from a killer into a kind and generous person -- you would say, "Wow! What a miracle!" Why then can't we give Jesus a little credit for transforming that person BEFORE he or she committed a heinous crime!
If Jesus had healed us when we were terribly sick, we would say "Wow!" Why then can't we give thanks that Jesus helped us to stay well -- that he took care of us BEFORE we got sick -- that he kept us healthy and on the right track! Why can't we be astounded at the little everyday miracles that keep us from self-destructing!
Jesus worked his Biblical miracles, in part, because of his compassion for sick people. I am sure that he cared deeply about the deaf/mute man, and was delighted to help him. But his greater purpose was to open the people's eyes -- our eyes -- to the glory of God.
This week I would like to invite you to practice a daily spiritual discipline to help you become aware again of the glory of God. The spiritual discipline has two parts:
-- First, open your eyes and your ears and your heart to see and hear and feel the wondrous things of God that are happening all around you. Count your blessings -- not just the riches that you have but also the troubles that you don't have. Let yourself be astounded -- and you will find that your sense of wonder is another blessing layered on top of all the other blessings.
-- And then bring a friend to Jesus. Think of one or more friends who would benefit from knowing Jesus, and bring them to Jesus. At the very least, bring them to Jesus in your prayers. Pray for your friends daily this week. Bring their names before Jesus. Then consider inviting those friends to come with you to church. Bring a friend to Jesus.
First open your eyes to see the blessing and your heart to receive the blessing. And then share the blessing with a friend.