The Revised Common Lectionary has done us a favor this week by combining two stories of Jesus’ healing ministry. The first is a doozy, and left on its own, as is the option in Proper 15A, would make for a tough sermon. Instead, we get the going and coming of Jesus’ northernmost trip to Tyre in the Gentile land of Phoenicia. Mark tells us that Jesus made the long journey to this seaside town for some vacation. Unfortunately for Jesus, his attempt at being incognito in a far away land failed.
A woman hears that Jesus the healer is in town and she seeks him out. Her daughter is tormented by a demon and she is desperate for help, so she musters up all her gumption and, though she has no reason to assume he will, she asks this Jewish Rabbi for help. The encounter is shocking. Modern readers are shocked by Jesus’ rudeness, but that’s not what shocked Mark’s original audience; they were floored that Jesus even spoke to her, and then, worst of all, he healed her daughter. What might be most shocking of all is that Jesus seems to change, to learn, to grow in this encounter. (For more, see David Lose on the subject)
As Mark is wont to do, he abruptly moves the story along, and we find ourselves on the way back to Jesus’ home base on the shores of the Sea of Galilee when he is approached by a group of people hoping to get their deaf-mute friend healed. Jesus, still seeking some time away, takes the man off in private, sticks his fingers in the mans ears, spits and touches the man’s tonged and says, “ephphatha,” “be open.”
Thinking about these two stories together, I can’t help but wonder who Jesus is talking to in that moment. My standard reading has been that he’s telling the man’s ears and lips to open up, but today I’m thinking that maybe Jesus is talking to himself. Be open to the Spirit of God. Be open to the new ways God is working in the world. Be open to healing outcasts.
Or maybe Jesus is talking to you and me. Be open to spreading the Gospel to people who you think maybe don’t deserve it because you don’t really deserve it either. Be open to whomever God puts in your path. Be open to go wherever God calls. Be open to reach out in love and compassion to the least and the lost. Ephphatha, dear reader, be open!