Sermon for Ordinary 23 by Rev Canon Charles Royden
The Healing Touch
Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an evil spirit came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter. "First let the children eat all they want," he told her, "for it is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs." "Yes, Lord," she replied, "but even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs." Then he told her, "For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter." She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man. After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man's ears. Then he spit and touched the man's tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, "Ephphatha!" (which means, "Be opened!" ). At this, the man's ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly. Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. People were overwhelmed with amazement. "He has done everything well," they said. "He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak."
Two older guys were chatting away. One of them was going on about a hearing aid which he had just bought. "I got the most expensive hearing aid which has ever been made," he said. "It is digital, has a loop system capability and it is guaranteed for life." The second man asked: "What kind is it?" The first man answered, "Ten past two."
There are lots of jokes about hearing, but of course it is not a pleasant thing. People struggle with hearing and it excludes people. The passage today is about a man who was living a life that was falling short of what God intended for him. This was a man who knew his need for help.
In our passage from Mark today we read about a man who was deaf and who could hardly talk. He had probably been deaf from birth, he had never heard language and he could not speak properly.
- He would have been shut out from people around him. from a child he would have been used to people pointing at him and making fun of him.
- He would not have been popular, and of course there were no laws about disability and discrimination. Deaf mutes were protected under Jewish law but they were classed with other groups such as women, slaves, and minors, not considered educated enough to keep the law.
- He would have been poor and most probably did not have a great job.
This man’s life was falling short spiritually, emotionally and physically. The man was living a life that was not reaching his full potential.
In the Old Testament, seven hundred years earlier than this episode the prophet Isaiah was describing the age of the Messiah, the time when God would act in the world. He said that when the Christ came,
“the ears of the deaf would be unstopped . . . and the tongue of the dumb would shout for joy” (Isa. 35:5-6).
People were looking to a time when God would act on earth in a new way.
Today that man would probably have been given all sorts of help. Medically we can do things for people who have hearing difficulties and we can help them be included by operations, hearing aids, visual communication and all sorts of things. However this does not mean that there are not still all around us people who are not reaching their full potential. That man born deaf and dumb felt cut off from others around him. He was physically unwell, he was also emotionally and spiritually unwell because of the isolated life that he lived. There are many people today who might be able to see and hear and speak and who are physically well, but they are just as lonely and cut off from others as that man.
I was reading this week about the billionaire Markus Persson who created the computer programme Minecraft, who despite his enormous wealth felt lonely
‘watching my reflection in a monitor.’
In one tweet, Mr Persson wrote:
"The problem with getting everything is you run out of reasons to keep trying,
and human interaction becomes impossible due to imbalance."
We may be able to cure things today physically through medicine, but human need is as great today as it ever was. In spite of the tremendous inventions and discoveries which have taken place, humanity is in just as great a need as it ever was. From a Christian perspective I would say this - Humanity is in just as great a need of healing as it ever was.
And so we look at our passage this morning to understand what Jesus is like and to discover the difference that God can make to broken lives.
We often say about people that they have a ‘special touch.’
It can be people who are good at looking after animals
Sometimes people can have gift of dealing with babies, they know how to settle them, we say that they have a ‘special touch’
When we look at Jesus we see that he has a special touch, he has the healing touch.
When he touches things he makes things well. If we ask Jesus to touch our lives then we know that his touch is a healing touch. We are told in the passage today that people looked at Jesus and they were overwhelmed with amazement and said
"He has done everything well,"
Jesus has a healing touch, he was characterised by a desire to make those who were troubled well again.
Are we like Christ moved and alive to the needs around us? When Jesus saw need he reached out and touched them, sometimes physically. We might not be able to heal like Jesus but we can have compassion and we can make a difference and we can share his healing touch.
There was an occasion recorded in John’s Gospel Chapter 9 where we are told that as Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been born blind and his followers asked him,
“Teacher, whose sin caused this man to be born blind—his own sin or his parents’ sin?”
“It is not this man’s sin or his parents’ sin that made him blind. This man was born blind so that God’s power could be shown in him.
It was customary to blame the person affected or their parents when some physical ailment was present. If you were a good person then you were blessed and you had things and you were well. If stuff went wrong in your life then it was your own fault, you brought it on yourself or God was punishing you. Obviously this type of understanding is convenient for those who have money and power and health.
Jesus is very firm.
This man has not sinned and neither have his parents. Jesus makes it clear that it is not his fault.
Jesus doesn’t blame people for being in need of help
That is the start of the healing touch. Once we have said that we are not going to begin by apportioning blame that changes things. We cannot now walk by on the other side. When we stop blaming people for the mess that they are in and recognises that this is a fellow human being who through no fault of their own is suffering. Our common humanity must cause us to be motivated to want to help and offer of ourselves.
This is what Jesus does.
Jesus refuses to attribute blame
He acts to reach and help with his healing touch .
Now you might say that this was a reasonable response to somebody who has a physical ailment. At the time it was thought that people were physically ill it was a punishment from God. Jesus challenged that and rightly so.
However it is and always has been thought that sometimes there are people who bring things on themselves. What about people who -
- Spend themselves into destitution
- Drug users who are born physically well but by their own actions knowingly make them make themselves sick.
Well we look at the response of Jesus and we see that there are no circumstances when Jesus doesn’t advocate the healing touch, even if people have behaved in a way that caused their own predicament .
- Jesus used the example of the prodigal son who had it all and threw it all away on a life of debauchery as an example of how we should forgive.
- Jesus embraced the corrupt tax collector
- He showed real love to the prostitute
- So this provides a template for us in our actions with those we see who are suffering. Don't think whose fault is it !
Jesus healing touch has no borders
The life of Jesus is a life about not just ignoring those who are in need but searching them out. Remember that this episode took place in the Decapolis (10 cities) it was a place away from Jewish control - Jesus goes beyond borders.
Borders are in our news right now as thousands of refugees seek safety and a place where they can live peacefully.
This week we have had a wave of public pressure triggered by images of a three-year-old boy Aylan Kurd found drowned on a Turkish beach. The Archbishop of Canterbury responded to public outrage by calling for Britain to do more to alleviate the human cost of Europe’s gravest post war migration crisis.
Now I am not going to get involved in that debate about how many should we take and which country is doing most to help. There are very complex arguments and I understand why David Cameron has not wanted to just open the flood gates. As he has said we can’t take everybody and we want to try and help the situation in the countries from where these people are fleeing.
Please put all those arguments to one side for a moment. What we can learn from the passage that we are looking at this morning is that when Jesus sees human need his response is not try and deflect responsibility to help by trying to blame somebody else.
I think that most people would recognise that the refugees in Europe are fleeing from the war zone which has spread across the Middle East which countries like our own started in the first place. Nevertheless we have to see that
- Jesus would not say that it was their own fault
- Jesus would not try and blame others to assuage his own conscience.
And here is the big one
Even if it was their own fault, Jesus would show compassion and love
We know this because that is what he did time and time again and that is what he told his followers to do. His mission was to the lost the weak the lonely, those who knew their need. He only ever got angry with the self righteous and those who sought to exploit others.
It is that caring Jesus that met the man who was born blind, deaf and dumb and we just know that this is another opportunity for Jesus to do something physically which demonstrates the love of God and shows that the prophecy of Isaiah 700 years previously was coming true.
Let’s look at what Jesus did to the man
When I visit hospitals and speak to people who are ill, when they are describing their symptoms and telling me about various pains I often ask them whether the doctor has told them what the ailment is and how they are going being to be treated. People will sometimes tell me that they don’t know what is causing them to be ill. I ask if they have spoken with the doctor and they say too frequently that the doctor has been, sometimes they will say that a whole group of doctors has been to see them, but the doctor hasn’t really spoken with them and told them what is going on.
The problem is that the doctors have talked among themselves, they have made notes about the medical problem, but they have not spent time talking with the patient. They have treated them like a medical problem, not like a human being. There has been no communication ! They do not communicate what is wrong and leave their patients lying confused in their hospital beds about what the problem is and what the treatment is going to be
So now consider the actions of Jesus in the story today.
- Jesus takes the man aside away from everybody else. First of all Jesus takes the man aside, away from the crowd. Jesus gives him one to one time. The man has been used to people looking at him and pointing and Jesus will not use him a spectacle, Jesus understand that the man does not want to be embarrassed. By taking him aside Jesus shows that the man is important and he deserves his complete attention. We are getting worse at this, giving people are undivided attention. When I was on holiday I was watching people at the dinner table and it was astonishing how often families would be at dinner and nobody was talking to each other they were all looking at their mobile devices. They were with physically with people but they were not really present. Jesus wants the man to see that he is important and he also gives him some privacy and dignity. There is a huge contrast here to many of the healing activities which we see on our TV screens.
- Jesus put his fingers into the man's ears. The man could not hear and so Jesus touches his ears. He makes it clear that he knows what the problem is with the hearing. The man is deaf and dumb and so Jesus cannot speak to him. Jesus knows how important it is to communicate and because he cannot use words to speak to the man he uses actions.
- Then he spit and touched the man's tongue. We are told that the man can hardly talk and so Jesus spits and touches the man’s talk. It was thought that spit had healing properties and Jesus touches his tongue to show that Jesus understand his difficulty with talking.
- Jesus looked up to heaven. Then we are told Jesus does another action. Jesus is making it clear that the healing which is about to take place is not an earthly cure. The man is being told in visual terms that the place from where we can find help from the things which trouble us is heavenly. There is no earthly answer to human need, we have to look to God.
So what do we take from the passage this morning ?
- God cares about everybody. Jesus shows us that there is nobody who is insignificant. Like the deaf and dumb man we might feel that life has treated us badly. We might just think that we are not very important. There are no borders to God’s love, no people who are considered more or less significant. Every human being that has ever been born is important to God, we are all God’s children. Jesus shows us that we matter to God.
- That whatever problems we face, Jesus has the healing touch. If we allow him to touch our lives in whatever situation we find ourselves he brings healing. That is true for us as a community and as individuals. God’s strength is equal to our need.