Monday, March 19, 2012

A Lenten Journey: Climbing to the Cross - Day TWENTY-THREE

Mark 7:24-37, Common English Bible 

Jesus left that place and went into the region of Tyre. He didn’t want anyone to know that he had entered a house, but he couldn’t hide. In fact, a woman whose young daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit heard about him right away. She came and fell at his feet. The woman was Greek, Syrophoenician by birth. She begged Jesus to throw the demon out of her daughter. He responded, “The children have to be fed first. It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” But she answered, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 

“Good answer!” he said. “Go on home. The demon has already left your daughter.” When she returned to her house, she found the child lying on the bed and the demon gone.

After leaving the region of Tyre, Jesus went through Sidon toward the Galilee Sea through the region of the Ten Cities. Some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly speak, and they begged him to place his hand on the man for healing. Jesus took him away from the crowd by himself and put his fingers in the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. Looking into heaven, Jesus sighed deeply and said, “Ephphatha,” which means, “Open up.” At once, his ears opened, his twisted tongue was released, and he began to speak clearly. 

Jesus gave the people strict orders not to tell anyone. But the more he tried to silence them, the more eagerly they shared the news. People were overcome with wonder, saying, “He does everything well! He even makes the deaf to hear and gives speech to those who can’t speak.”

Like the prickly cactus flower in the picture above it, the first story in Mark's gospel reading for this Monday is sometimes tough to appreciate.

What on earth is this one about? 

Try these ideas and see if anything grabs you:
     Jesus is tired, maybe even a little bit cranky, and he takes a very deliberate break - heading away from Galilee into Gentile territory. He is trying to find some alone time...and this woman tracks him down.
     The woman, even though a Gentile, is a True Believer, recognizing that even crumbs from the kingdom table contain richness, nourishment, indeed - the entire kit and caboodle.
     Even when exhausted and depleted, Jesus enjoys and responds to a little word play, especially if such play indicates that the Light has dawned.
     And even when he's tired, spent, wrung out - even then - compassion rules in the heart and actions of Jesus.

Sometimes it is almost too easy to forget the humanity of Jesus, isn't it? 
     ALL of the humanity of Jesus. 

The truth that he got tired, that he sometimes felt overwhelmed by the demands placed upon him, that he could speak sharply when he was displeased or depleted.

This time the sharpness is directed at an unnamed Gentile woman instead of at the Jewish religious establishment. And somehow, that makes this story harder to hear, doesn't it?

What I hang onto are these true things:
     Jesus, like the God of the Old Testament, enjoys a good wrestle - this time with words.
     Jesus, also like the God of the Old Testament (and the New), can heal with a word. Just a word.
     Jesus, the Son of Man as well as the Son of God, knows our frame - he truly remembers that we are dust - and there is not one thing I feel that Jesus has not also felt.

And story number two?

Again, we're in Gentile territory. 

Again, people are pushing up against him, asking for help - this time for a deaf and speechless friend.

There are two details that stand our for me in this account -
    * that Jesus took this man away from the crowd to interact with him individually, and 
    * that he looked to heaven and sighed deeply as he moved to the last stages of the healing process.

I've done my homework, in seminary and for the preaching process. So I'm fully aware that much of what is described in this small story is typical for 'wonder-workers' and 'magicians' in 1st century Palestine - the spitting, the incantation - taken together they constitute what might be called a magical formula by historians and sociologists.

But there are differences, too. Important ones, in my book. Jesus' healing ministry is important - to him, to his followers, to those who are healed. 

But it is not all that he is, not all of what he does. 

These small details are part of what mark the difference:
     He is not a grand-stander, not out for the acclaim, the performance. 
     And he is visibly shaken and grief-stricken by the pain and suffering of the human beings he meets. The healing flows from who he is; it does not define him. 

Among so many other wonderful things, Jesus is a miracle-worker. And I believe in miracles. They may not always look like miracles to us and that's part of the beauty of it.  

Sometimes they come as word play...
     and sometimes, they come with deep sighs.

I thank you, Lord Jesus, that you have dropped a few crumbs my way over the years. And I thank you for these reminders that you truly did live as one of us, your days full of people and pushing, of groans and sighs. Open my ears and loose my tongue that I might hear and speak your love, your grace, your power to heal and transform. And cause me to sigh over the suffering I see and to look for ways to be part of the miracles you want to work in this place, this time.