Our Sunday readings come from the “Revised Common Lectionary,” a schedule of readings that we share with other denominations and that runs on a three-year cycle. So, three years ago, we had the same readings we have this morning, and three years before that, and three years before that. In another three years, we will see them again.
As of this week, I have been at Saint David’s for ten years, so this is the fourth time I have preached here on this exact set of readings. Out of curiosity, I looked at my previous three sermons on these readings, and I was not particularly surprised to see that I preached on the Syrophoenician woman in all three of them.
This year, I decided to preach on the part of the Gospel that I have always overlooked, the little miracle tucked in behind the Syrophoenician woman, the healing of the man who was deaf and unable to speak.
By this point in the Gospel, we are used to miracle stories. We know that Jesus has the divine power to heal people. This is the second miraculous healing just in this passage.
We know that much about Jesus. But what about the deaf man? What was it like to be deaf and incapable of clear speech in first-century Israel?
For a time, I regularly visited a deaf couple in Northampton. I was tutoring one of them as he went through seminary. He could read lips and vocalize, but it was still hard to talk to him. After an hour or so, I was always exhausted. Some people wouldn’t make the effort, so he didn’t have a lot of hearing friends.
But I think even more about his partner, who just knew sign language. Whenever I saw Doug, I would nod and smile, point at him, and shrug as my effort to ask him how he was doing. He would give me a thumbs up. Then we were done. Doug had friends who knew sign language. But I think about how awful his life would have been without them, if he was cut off from everyone the way he was cut off from me.
That’s how I picture the deaf man in our story. This was long before the creation of a formal sign language. The man was probably illiterate, so he couldn’t communicate by writing. He must have been profoundly isolated, cut off even from his family, incapable of all but the most basic forms of communication.
When people brought this man to Jesus, he probably had no idea who Jesus was, or what was happening, or what he might expect. How could he? No one could speak to him.
Then Jesus healed him. The first words this man ever heard were Jesus’. And after this encounter with Christ, the formerly deaf man was able not just to hear and to speak, but also to interact with other human beings. Jesus opened the door for this man to have deeper and fuller relationships with the people around him than would ever have been possible before.
Now, part of the invitation in this story is for us to see ourselves in this deaf man.
My hearing is OK. But I can’t always hear the still, small voice of God, what Peter called, in a reading from two weeks ago Jesus’ “words of eternal life,” what I called in my sermon that day “the whisper of God’s love.” I can’t always hear God comforting me and calling me.
I can’t always hear other people either, the cries of people who are suffering, people in places like Afghanistan, or Haiti, or Louisiana, or the streets of Springfield. Sometimes I can’t even hear Carrie when she is down and could use a kind word.
So, sometimes I am deaf. Sometimes I am cut off from other human beings, trapped in the world of my own self-absorption, not fully capable of feeling love or loved. Sometimes I am deaf to God and to my neighbor, and I don’t even realize it.
Our reading for this morning invites us to acknowledge our own deafness, and to pray that Christ will open our ears, and release our tongues, and enable us to hear his voice more clearly and to connect more deeply with the people around us. And we can make that prayer knowing Christ can and will help us. That is good news.
But keep going. Maybe we are not the deaf man in this story. After all, sometimes we can hear God’s loving voice. It may be faint to our ears, but it’s there.
Still, we are surrounded by people who struggle to hear, who need to know that God loves them, who may never have heard the whisper of God’s love.
That means we are called to be like the friends of the deaf man in our story. We don’t know anything about them. Mark doesn’t even tell us they are friends. Mark just calls them “they.”
But whoever they are, they do what we are called to do. They bring the deaf man to Jesus, hoping for a miracle, knowing that Christ can help this man to hear.
We can do that too. We can do lots of things to help people hear, people who might not hear Christ’s voice on their own. We can pray for them. We can share our stories with them. We can invite them to join us in worship.
It’s not easy, of course. Not all welcome the kind of love displayed by the people who bring the deaf man to Christ. But anyone who opens their ears, anyone who hears Christ’s voice, for the first time or with a new power, they will be grateful.
And, it turns out that, whenever anyone hears Christ’s voice thanks in some small way to our efforts, we are blessed too. When the companions of the deaf man bring him to Christ, when Christ opens his ears and enables him to hear, they, too, hear Christ’s voice more clearly than before. Mark tells us they are “astounded beyond measure” and went around telling everyone what Jesus had done, even though Jesus asked them not to. Their enthusiasm for Christ ripples outwards. When Jesus heals the deaf man, it’s good news for everybody involved.
But go a little farther still. Sometimes inviting people to listen for Jesus’ voice is not enough. Sometimes we need to be more than the messenger. Sometimes we have to be Christ’s voice for others. We have to show Christ-like love. We have to meet people where they are, meet their needs as best we can, be with people hoping that Christ will make himself heard through our words and actions.
Last week, Deacon Terry preached on taking the good news outside the walls of the Church. Today and again next Sunday, we are doing what Terry said, heading to Court Square in Springfield today and to the Parish Cupboard in West Springfield next Sunday. We’ll worship with people on the streets and hand out lunches. It’s a beautiful example of us trying to invite others to hear Christ’s voice for themselves, or, perhaps, even in us. And it’s a time for us to hear Christ’s voice too.
I give thanks to God for putting me in a community of people who hear Christ’s voice, who invite others to hear, and who go the extra mile by trying to be Christ’s voice for others. And I pray that Christ will continue to open our ears and release our tongues to hear and proclaim Christ’s voice with grace and power.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan