She came to him. She sought him out. She had no where else to go. And there he was, the man who could not escape notice. The man who fed the multitudes, and cast out demons, and healed the blind and the lame. Not caring for custom, or boundaries, or the threat of those in power who could make her life difficult for her audacious act of talking to a man, a Jew, asking him, begging him, to cast his gaze upon her suffering daughter and remove whatever ailment she could only call evil from her body. She was willing to sacrifice anything. Everything – to save her child.
He was a man who had survived in a world without sound. His tongue betrayed him as well, but he had still managed a life where he was fed, clothed and was able to sleep at night. He wasn’t looking for a cure. He wasn’t looking to be saved. He simply lived each day that he awoke in the world. But his friends, his neighbors, or perhaps just Jesus’ challengers… out of pity, or as a cruel joke, insisted, demanded that he go with them to the man who was known to heal. The Deaf Man did not ask for this, did not desire this, did not need this. But here he was, face to face with Jesus, and everything was about to change.
These two stories seem like two separate Gospel passages, they don’t seem to need each other, but could easily stand alone. The players in the stories come from different backgrounds, have a different drive or purpose behind them, have different ailments plaguing them. One is male, one is female. One has his own handicap; the other comes on behalf of an undescribed demon in her daughter. Their nationalities differ and their desire, or lack thereof, to receive help from Jesus are motivated by different realities. So why are they told together – not just printed in order as two separate events, but used together in the lectionary of the church year?
I think it has to do with the impact the first story has on Jesus and his ministry, as reflected in the words that he uses in the second story, “be opened.”
It is the challenge that is thrown at him by a woman he shouldn’t be talking with, shouldn’t be spoken to by – it is her return volley when Jesus tells her that God’s invitation to healing and wholeness is first extended to those he is most familiar with – his own kind before it can be extended to those outside the circle. Her retort that “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs” cast back in his face the cold water words that remind the woman of her place, her station in life, and her suffering that will ensue from having been born into it.
When Jesus hears her response he is, in fact convicted, he has perhaps an aha moment, if he had not quite realized it of himself before, that what he has to offer, should not be limited, should not be kept under a bushel basket, but rather could and should be the shining city up on the hill that casts light onto all the lands it is visible from, even those beyond the mapped out boundaries that claim that this piece of land is separate from that.
The Deaf man, allows himself to be put forward, though he is reluctant. What can this healer do differently than every other charlatan that has swiped a quick cash payout before yet another disappointment? And yet, the words that are spoken, the first words heard by ears never before understanding, never before open, is the invitation to be opened – opened to the possibility that miracles can happen, that God is good, that change is possible, new realities can be born – that even just as we are fully human, so Christ can understand the weakness of wanting to draw the line of who is in and who is out, but in the face of the actual need of the suffering, that line can be challenged and must be overcome. Jesus has the power in both of these stories – the power in the first story to refuse to help this woman, and the ability to step back from the place of privilege he had over her, look her in the eye in her moment of desperation, and serve her as a beloved child of God – because she chastised him? Because she was right?
Perhaps because this story reveals to us that even Jesus was learning as he went all that he had to offer, and that by his example, his willingness to give up power, his healing power stretched that much further, served that many more, bore witness to the gift of humility of giving away freely the gift he has to offer to all.
Jesus even has the power and authority to give it away to those who are not seeking such healing. The deaf man did not seek, or believe he needed, or expect anything to happen when he was brought to Jesus. But when the moment of healing occurred, he could not ignore the fact that God’s power and presence had been made apparent to him.
Be opened. What do these words say to us today? An invitation, perhaps to be open to the possibility that God is up to something in our lives and in our communities that we may not even be looking for, we may not even know we need. Jesus himself had to hear the sentiment of the words ‘be opened’ from the woman who challenged him to accept the possibility that he was there to do more than he thought or expected of himself. And it changed him.
What would it mean in your life, and in the lives of your neighbors if you challenged what you see before you as an injustice – challenged in such a way, that those who held the power were willing and able to step back and consider giving something, or someone in need the chance to be served.
Where in your life and work are you the one holding the power – where you are the bearer of the resources that can be held close to your chest, or shared with the person in need looking you in the eye, asking for your help?
Where in your life do you have an ailment that you have learned to live with, a chasm, a hole, a pain, a disappointment, that which you have held onto as your burden to bear alone? What would happen if you opened yourself up to the possibility that that burden can be relieved, that Christ might be taking you aside and saying let me take this yoke from you awhile to lighten the load, perhaps you won’t even miss it when it is gone. Rest in me so that you may be freed to do for others what I have done for you. Be opened. Allow yourself to live in the world as one sent to serve others, just as I am here to serve you. To care for you in your time of need.
These stories fit together, they inform one another and they inform us of God’s action in our lives, reaching out to us, inviting us to reach out to him, using us to serve those who have no other hope. Be opened. God is at work in you. Be opened. God is at work through you. Be opened. Be healed, and be a healer in Jesus name. Amen.