Many of us are familiar with the saying: Desperate times call for desperate measures.
The mother in today’s Gospel reading was desperate. Her little daughter was demon possessed and it was going to kill the little girl if she didn’t get the help she needed. So as soon as she heard the Jewish teacher who had a reputation for healing people was in her area, she set out to find him. Can’t you imagine her going from house to house… is the teacher here? Do you know where he is? Is the teacher here? Do you know where he is?
Until finally, finally she finds herself standing before Jesus. She looks into his eyes and begs, “please, please cast the demon out of my daughter.” And Jesus doesn’t say, “Yes! Of course I’ll heal your daughter.” Because, there is a problem. This needy woman with her demon tormented precious daughter isn’t a Jew. Isn’t one of those called God’s chosen people. She isn’t part of the people Jesus was sent to minister to.
And Jesus reminds her of that in words that sound really harsh to us today: “First let the children eat all they want, for its not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
“ First let the children eat all they want, for its not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
I wonder what flares up inside you, inside me if we would hear Jesus speak those words to us? Would we recoil as if we had been slapped? Would we go away defeated? Would we stand there in front of him filled with anger? We are desperate. We are acknowledging he has the power to fix what needs to be fixed, to heal the one who needs healing and he responds with, “not my job.” How would you respond to that? I think I’d give up and walk away defeated. What about you?
The Bible doesn’t give us any clue about the woman’s emotional response, but she brilliantly says to him: “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” She’s not asking him to forsake his ministry, his mission to the Jews. She is simply asking for some “leftover mercy.”
I wonder if Jesus laughs as she says this? I wonder if his delight in her response shines out of his eyes as he says, “For such a reply you may go, the demon has left your daughter.” And she went home to a healed daughter. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
Jesus is still in Gentile territory when the next person is presented to him for healing. A deaf man who can hardly talk. This man could possibly have been a Jew, a merchant or a trader who lived in Gentile territory along the trade routes that supply Israel with goods. And his friends, his family those who heard about this famous Jewish healer bring him to Jesus and beg Jesus to heal him. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
So Jesus does what healers of those times did: put fingers in the man’s ears. Spits and touches the man’s tongue. Today he’d probably use an otoscope and a tongue depressor. Then he looks to heaven and says, “be opened.”
One of the reasons commentators think this man might have been Jewish is because people respond to his healing by referring to Isaiah 35: 5-6a:
“Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.”
This is Messiah work, the work of God among us: the ears of the deaf unstopped… and the mute tongue shouting for joy! And Jesus stops the celebrating by saying, “Don’t tell anyone.”
Why would he do this? The commentator I read suggests that it is only after the resurrection people are instructed to go and tell. But at this time, this healing points to spiritual events and spiritual changes which still lie in the future. Because there is more than one kind of deafness and muteness. There is physical and there is spiritual deafness and muteness. And Jesus’ disciples and followers still struggle with spiritual deafness.
Suddenly this story begins to pinch a little. Suddenly we realize that we have a lot in common with the desperation of the mother of the demon possessed daughter: we have people we love in our lives who desperately need the Messiah’s healing touch. And it just seems as if Jesus is not hearing our requests for healing. Some of us may know someone who is deaf or mute who needs Christ’s healing touch, but all of us know people who are spiritually deaf and mute. In Isaiah 42 it says:
“Hear, you deaf; look, you blind and see… You have seen many things, but have paid no attention; your ears are open, but you hear nothing.”
We live in desperate times. We look around us and see pain, disharmony, hatred, war, creation groaning… and as Christians, our worldview says that all of this is the result of spiritual deafness. Humanity not listening to their Creator, not living in harmony with his principles, not listening to his song of love and not living in response to his love. And when we as Christians try to respond. When we try to speak God’s words into these desperate situations, it as if we are speaking a foreign language. People look at us in confusion and disbelief. Because, essentially we are, we are speaking a different language… we are speaking from a paradigm that orients us around God and His Word. This is not a language others understand.
So what can we do? When Ed and I were in Hungary on a vacation, we were completed disoriented by the Hungarian language… written and spoken. There was nothing that we could grasp, nothing familiar, so when we got lost in the city one night and needed help getting back to our hotel, we would go up to people as show them the map, pointing to where we needed to go, and gesturing directions of how we could get back there. It ended up being conversations of a lot of pointing and gesturing. Nothing verbal. We were lost. We needed someone to show us the way.
I think that’s the approach we need to take for those we are trying to reach with the Good News of God’s Kingdom. I think as we approach the spiritually deaf around us, we need to act out kingdom values. I think the James passage we read this morning points us in that direction: My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism…Listen, my dears brothers and sisters: Has God not chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you?
We get the same message in the reading from Proverbs: Rich and poor have this in common: The Lord is the Maker of them all… the generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor. Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the Lord will take up their case and will exact life for life.
The problem for us is that our need to incarnate God’s love, to act out his kingdom values to those around us runs directly into our own spiritual deafness. We resist taking God seriously when he calls us to live in harmony with these kingdom values of honoring the poor and the needy. We want to pick and choose which values, with what people. We are not comfortable with the poor or the needy. So our ears are stopped (perhaps its because we’ve put our fingers into them!), our mouths are muted, our eyes are blind to the needs of those around us.
“Rich and poor have this in common: The Lord is the Maker of them all… the generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor. Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the Lord will take up their case and will exact life for life.”
The testimony of all of Scripture is that God’s intention was always to unite the world, to tear down the walls we build around ourselves and others. To break down the us/them barriers we build. Gentile/Jew. Black/White. Republican/Democrat. Men/Women. Rich/Poor.
We like being comfortable… we like hanging out with people just like us. People who have our values. People who look like us. People who think how we think and act how we act. So we resist Christ’s call to build an inclusive kingdom. A kingdom that reaches out to those who are not like us.
And yet, if we refuse to act out for others what the love of God looks like in their particular circumstances how can we expect them to understand the language of love God is speaking to them? President Jimmy Carter, a 91 year old cancer survivor who is still active in Habitat for Humanity puts it this way:
“My faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I am, whenever I can for as long as I can with whatever I have to try to make a difference.”
Desperate times call for desperate measures. Where is God calling you to step outside your comfort zone to show someone not like you what the kingdom of God looks like, sounds like? Right now, for me that is with my next door neighbors. It is having conversations with them. It is building bridges. So far, we have not had a “spiritual” conversation other than “I’ll pray for you.” But they know I’m a pastor. They know Ed and I are Christians, and they keep remarking about how “nice” we are. If all we do is break down their stereotypes of what a Christian looks like or sounds like, that’s progress. That is teaching them to begin to be attuned to the language of God’s kingdom. It is helping unstop their ears so they can recognize the music of God’s kingdom when they hear it from others as well.
It is in the kingdom of God that demon possessed are healed, even when they don’t belong to those identified as God’s people. It is in the Kingdom of God deaf ears are unstopped, and mute tongues healed. May God show us where we need healing, and where he is calling us to live out his kingdom values of healing for those around us. Part of our healing comes as we live into God’s call to show others who He is.