Open Up!

ear diagram
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Mark 7:31-37

On his way back from Tyre, Jesus passed through Sidon toward the Sea of Galilee and the Ten Cities area. Some people there brought him a deaf and dumb man, and solicited Jesus to lay hands on him. Jesus took the man aside and put his fingers in the man’s ears. Then he spat on his finger and put it on the man’s tongue. Then, looking up, Jesus said, “Effatha.” (Translation: “open up.”) And, poof! The man began to hear and speak clearly without being tongue-tied.

Jesus told the people not to tell anyone, but the more he tried to get them to shut up, the more excited they were to blab it all over. They were thrilled with amazement and said, “He’s so great! He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak!”

First, Sidon and the Decapolis (Ten Cities) is the territory of foreigners, gentiles, enemies, the unclean. Jesus is out of bounds.

Second, according to the law, saliva is as unclean as any excrement. And yet, it is the unclean that heals.

Third, Jesus can get the man to hear and speak by speaking to him in Aramaic (a language the foreigner wouldn’t likely understand). But he can’t get the people to listen and not speak.

Everything about this incident is backwards. But being backwards, we learn:

  1. We can often accomplish the greatest good when we go beyond what’s ordinarily acceptable.
  2. The things that seem the most unacceptable are often what we need the most.
  3. The way to healing and understanding often comes when we stop talking.

Besides that, the word Jesus uses, “open up,” turns out to be a pretty good motto. Next time you’re shut out, when you’re unsure, when you can’t express yourself, when you’re tongue-tied. Open up. You can even stick your fingers in your own ears and touch your own tongue if it helps remind you: open up. Stop blabbing all over town and listen. The people who blab the most are the ones who’ve probably missed the whole point of what they’re talking about.

Think about It Before You Hit “Reject”

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8Reject Button

So friends, we ask you, we call you by Jesus, to do as we taught you, living to please God even more than you now are. You know what we taught you, by Jesus. God wants you to to be pure, to not have sex, to be pure and honorable by learning to control your lust (unlike the Godless heathen), and especially not to lust for one another. The payback will be from God if you do. We told you about this before. We warned you. God didn’t call us to uncleanness but to purity. Whoever rejects these directions rejects God, not humans, because God’s spirit is in you.

Christians have Paul to thank for being so uptight about sex. You’d think that if Jesus had a direct line to God, and if God was really concerned about people’s complete chastity, Jesus would have mentioned it. But he never does. In fact, Jesus left himself wide open to accusations of being impure, hanging out with “prostitutes and sinners,” the very people Paul would imply are unwelcome, or second-class citizens among the followers of Jesus.

Jesus’ concern was for people to be healthy and whole, and of course, sleeping around is not the healthiest of lifestyles. Sexual addictions, like any other addictions, need to be dealt with in order to live well. Jesus would say, “Go and sin no more.” Jesus would affirm that one ought to try to do better than one is already doing. But Jesus never condemned sex in itself as evil, even a “necessary evil solely for the purpose of procreation,” the way Paul and many subsequent church teachers have.

On this account, Paul is just plain wrong. And his threats of God’s vengeance on those who disagree are the projections of his own hostility. One might just as easily retort (and Jesus did say something similar in Luke 10:16), “Whoever rejects the unclean followers of Jesus rejects not them, but the Jesus who welcomed them.”

Think about it next time you’re thinking about someone. Before you hit the reject button.

Take Time to Be Holy

denied stampMark 3:1-6

Jesus went back to church. A man with a deformed hand was there. And they watched to see if Jesus would heal on the holy day because they wanted to pigeonhole him.

He called the man with the deformed hand, “Come here.” Then he said to them, “Which does the law say, that you shall do good on the holy day, or evil? Is the holy day a day for saving life or killing?”

They didn’t answer.

Shaking his head at them in disgust and grief over their hard-shriveled hearts he said to the man, “Raise your hand.” So he raised it; and there it was, all of it.

Then the legalists stormed out and began to scheme together with Herod’s people about how they would bring him down.

The issue here is not healing. (If you’re interested in that, see these comments on Jesus’ healing.) The issue is who gets to define what is holy acceptable behavior, and who is a holy, acceptable person.

If you’ve been around churches long enough, may have experienced people who didn’t get their way storming out. Picture that scene in your own experience, and you’ll have the proper setting for Mark’s story. Or maybe at a town hall meeting where someone stormed out when the people in charge didn’t capitulate. Or maybe you’re the one who stormed out.

In any case, Jesus insistence that persons regarded as second-class citizens because of their physical condition should be restored and accepted is what triggers their blow-up.

Imagine –  you don’t have to imagine, really, because it happens all the time – a group of legalists objecting to the welcoming and caring for people with, for instance:

  • preexisting health care conditions
  • Downs syndrome
  • Tay-Sachs
  • autism
  • Aspergers
  • post-traumatic stress disorder

In Jesus’ time and ours, the disability of limiting physical conditions is compounded by social stigma that isolate and exacerbate the suffering. Social stigma that are dictated by the trendsetters and codified by the law- and policymakers. Social stigma that kill as surely as any nails. And they do it in the name of being holy.

By bringing the marginalized one to the center and affirming that the condition of his “unacceptable” hand, all of it, is to be considered just as holy as the “beautiful people,” Jesus makes it clear what being holy is really about.

Go, and do likewise.

Just Say Yes

Biohazard flagMark 1:40-45

A contaminated man came and knelt in front of him. “You can purify me if you dare.” Enraged, Jesus took him by the hand and said, “Of course I want you to come clean.” And so he was. Then Jesus told him in no uncertain terms, “Go back to the priests and pay the legal fee for the certificate of reinstatement they refused to give. There’s spit in their eye!” But instead he went out and blathered it all over town, so Jesus couldn’t go into town openly. People had to come out to the boonies to see him instead.

I owe “if you dare” to Brother Ched.

To get uncontaminated, according to the law of Moses, you had to pay a fee, get an evaluation by the priest, and then the priest would either grant or deny your request. It wasn’t a medical decision. It was a judgment about your fitness to be a part of society. Like getting into a private club. Some people were blackballed. Jesus let him in.

Sometimes the ability to make someone well is as simple as saying “yes.” Simple, but not without risk.

Someone you’ve helped might go quietly on their way. But if it gets out that you’re accepting applicants who have already been rejected, you’re not going to be welcome in town either.

But take heart! Those who really understand and support what you’re doing will go out of their way to find you.