The second part of our Gospel reading tells about a deaf man who was made to hear. This reminds me of the story about the guy who was mostly deaf. He finally decided to go to the doctor to see if the doctor could help him. The doctor prescribed a tiny hearing aid that essentially cured the man’s deafness. He came back to the doctor some weeks later, and told him, “It’s amazing! I can hear everything! I haven’t heard like this for over a decade!” The doctor was very pleased and asked him, “So what does your family think? Are thrilled that you can hear again?” The man paused and then said, “Well, I have not told them yet, so far I am just listening. In fact, I have changed my will three times.” Being able to really hear what is going on around can certainly affect one’s perspective.
Last week in our gospel reading the Pharisees and the disciples thought the discussion was about having clean or defiled hands. Jesus turned it around to show that God’s concern was about having clean hearts not defiled hearts. In today’s reading the issue is still about clean and defiled but we are no longer talking about hands but people. Today Jesus is with two Gentiles, the Syro-Phoenician woman and then a deaf-mute man.
In the episode with the woman we see a Jesus like we have never seen before. He is curt, practically rude. She asks him to heal her daughter and he responds with “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” This is the kind of answer that the disciples would have hoped Jesus would say. They loved it! Jews, especially Jews from Galilee had a lot of anger for the people in this region because much of their produce was taxed and taken to this area of Tyre and Sidon. So the grain and fruit that the Jews planted and harvested and sweated over, these people were eating while many Jews themselves were hungry. For the first century Jew there were not very many prerogatives to being Jewish, but at the very least, against all appearances, they were God’s chosen people! They were his children. It was only right that Jesus as a Jew spend his time, energy, and miracles upon God’s chosen people and not others and especially not on a woman like this woman from this region.
But the Syro-Phoenician woman was not disheartened by this reply from Jesus, at least not enough to give up, and she comes back with her, “Yes, but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Not even the disciples could disagree with her logic and nor even be upset with Jesus when he healed her daughter. And I want you to note that this is the greatest exorcism Jesus ever did. The demon is cast out even though Jesus is not present, He not even close to where the little girl was. But through this event Jesus shows his disciples that there is such an abundance of God’s grace that it should overflow from Israel into the surrounding area and people.
And right after this event the gospel takes us to the region of Decapolis. This is an area to the northeast on the Sea of Galilee but it was the Gentile’s area. So he is in a Gentile village. These are people who by Jewish standards are unclean and defiled. And just as the Syro-Phoenician woman these people certainly do not deserve the grace and miracles of God. And yet, while Jesus is there it happens again. Some people bring a deaf-mute man to Jesus. And yet again, Jesus heals this unclean, defiled fellow.
And I want you to notice how he does it. Jesus takes him aside so that they are in private, away from the crowd. Keep in mind that this man is deaf and is no doubt uncomfortable in large groups. People have made fun of him all his life; he is unable to hear what they say, but he can tell when they look at him and laugh or smile. But Jesus takes him away from all the people. They are in private now. And Jesus moves slowly so as not to startle or make this fellow afraid. To show this fellow what he is doing Jesus puts his fingers into the man’s ears and then he takes some of his spit and puts onto the man’s tongue. So the man knows Jesus is going to do something with his ears and tongue and then Jesus looks up. Why? He looks up so that man knows he is praying. Even a deaf man can figure out what Jesus is saying, “Ephphatha.” The man has had to learn to read lips and so by speaking out loud Jesus shows the man what is happening. Ephatha, “Be Opened!” And then of course, bam! He can hear—and then bam, he can speak clearly. Do you see how kind and loving Jesus is? Do you see how sensitive he is to this poor man? God in the body of a man takes the time to deal privately with him, a man from a Gentile city, a man whose whole manner of life would be considered unclean by the Jewish community. Any religious Jew would be unwilling to talk to, or even stand close to this man much less to reach out and touch him! And yet Jesus, a rabbi, reaches out and puts his fingers in this man’s ears and reaches out and touches this man tongue! It is unparalleled!
So what are we to understand from this? We see that yes, God’s grace starts with God’s people; God’s grace is for his children, but it is not to stop there. Certainly where would we be if it had? The odds are most of us are not of Jewish descent. And yet, here we are, worshiping God and not only worshiping but now we are able to call God our Father! And now we, like the Jews of Jesus’ day are God’s people, we are God’s children. But God’s grace is not to stop with us. Certainly we are to be sure to take care of our own, but as Jesus shows his disciples we need to be willing and ready to show and share God’s grace with even those who are not Christians.
Just like the man who suddenly was able to hear again, we need to hear what is going on around us and we need to pay attention to what God is telling us. We need to have hearts that are concerned for our community. If we do not have hearts of compassion for our community we need to pray that God will help us to change! And we need to help in the ways we can.
How do we do that? Well, God calls all of us to help but we help in different ways. Some of us may be called to physically get out there and serve in our food pantry or backpacks ministry or bread ministry or thrift shop. Some may be called to give more money to the church so we are able to help more people in need. And finally all of us need to pray for our community that people here would come to know and love Jesus and be able to be changed and have eternal life. We need to pray regularly for those in our community who need a job, or food, or clothes, or shelter. We need to pray that God will use St. Andrew’s to help people come to know Jesus.
Today I would to close today’s homily with a prayer. Let us pray, Almighty and loving God, you have shown us today through the example of Jesus to have compassion and to reach out and help others outside our church who are in need. We pray in particular for our community in and around Spring Hill. We pray that those who do not know you, that they would to turn to you. We pray that those who are in need of gainful employment would be able to find a job. We pray for those who hunger or need clothes or shelter would find help. And finally Father, we pray that you would change our hearts. Help us to truly love you and be able to truly love and care for those around us. We ask these things in Jesus name and for his sake. Amen