A Reading from the Book of Proverbs (22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23)
A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold. The rich and the poor have this in common: the Lord is the maker of them all. Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of anger will fail. Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor. Do not rob the poor because they are poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate; for the Lord pleads their cause and despoils of life those who despoil them.
1 Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, *
which cannot be moved, but stands fast for ever.
2 The hills stand about Jerusalem; *
so does the Lord stand round about his people,
from this time forth for evermore.
3 The scepter of the wicked shall not hold sway
over the land allotted to the just,*
so that the just shall not put their hands to evil.
4 Show your goodness, O Lord, to those who are good *
and to those who are true of heart.
5 As for those who turn aside to crooked ways,
the Lord will lead them away with the evildoers; *
but peace be upon Israel.
A Reading from the Letter of James (2:1-17)
My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark (7:24-37)
Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
“Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’”
The gospels, in fact all the books in the New Testament, were written originally in Greek: the common language of the eastern Mediterranean in the first century C.E. So it is a bit surprising that Mark retains an Aramaic word, “Ephphatha,” when he tells this story about Jesus healing a man who is deaf and has a speech impediment.
Historians of the period have pointed out that, in that Greek-speaking world, there was a belief that the original words of a holy person or of a healer had life-giving powers. That may well be the reason that Mark incorporated Jesus’ original, Aramaic words, “Talitha cum” (that is, “Little girl, get up”), into his account of the raising from the dead of Jairus’ daughter. And that may well be the reason that he likewise incorporated Jesus’ original, Aramaic word, “Ephphatha” (that is, “Be opened”), into this account as well. Words have power to tear down and destroy, but also power to heal and give life. Sometimes, hearing those words can even heal us, even when we don’t think that we need healing.
The two stories that we heard in today’s gospel reading, the healing of the Syro-Phoenician woman’s daughter and the healing of the deaf man, are the final miracles recounted in the first half of Mark’s version of the gospel: the part that focuses on who Jesus is. They both extend Jesus’ ministry beyond the Jewish people to include Gentiles, non-Jews, as well. And they both have to do with coming to hear.
In the second account, it is obviously this man from the Decapolis, a mostly non-Jewish region east of the Jordan River, who comes to hear. But in the first account, it is Jesus who comes to hear; it is Jesus who, in effect, is healed of a different type of deafness.
As a full and complete human being, Jesus, like all of us, was part of the times and the culture and the worldview in which he lived. Up to this point, he clearly saw his ministry as being limited to those who were part of the Jewish people. The bold response of the Syro-Phoenician woman to his insulting remark seems to have opened his ears, enabling him to hear, not only her plea on behalf of her seriously ill daughter, but also the call of God to bring God’s love and healing to all people, Gentiles as well as Jews. It was in hearing and in responding positively to what Jesus has heard that he gives healing and life.
The Letter of James, in the passage that we heard earlier, likewise talks, in a symbolic way, about listening and hearing. Apparently, some of the members of the author’s church thought they had heard the plea of the poor; but they had responded only by wishing them well and probably promising to pray for them. But those, who were not as fortunate as those early Christians, were hungry and lacked protection from the sometimes brutal weather that they faced. They were not asking for sympathy and for prayers; they were asking for food and for clothing. And, in reply to the terribly inadequate response from those in this part of the early church, James declares bluntly, “Faith, by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” Put another way, “Open up your ears to hear what those in need are really asking. And open up your heart to respond as God would have you respond: not in words only, but in action.”
Far too often, people in our society refuse to hear. They choose to listen only to those voices that happen to agree with them, only to those who support and reinforce their prejudices and, too often, their own ignorance. “Don’t confuse me with the facts; my mind is already made up!”
Yet our Anglican tradition is one that values minds that are open to a variety of points of view, that seek a broader understanding of the truth: to minds that are willing to question and to challenge, that are willing to listen and to hear. In the baptismal rite in The Book of Common Prayer, we ask God that those who have been baptized be given “an inquiring and discerning heart.” Like King Solomon, in his prayer that we heard as our first reading just a few weeks ago, we ask that God would give us the wisdom to discern between truth and falsehood, and also the courage to choose the truth and be guided by the truth, even when it means putting aside some of our earlier attitudes and assumptions and prejudices. We ask that God would once again pronounce God’s “Ephphatha,” God’s command to “Be opened,” to the ears of our minds and hearts so that we might truly and more fully hear.
This approach is, in effect, an act of humility: one that recognizes and acknowledges our limitations. It finds a solid basis in the writings of St. Paul, who came to realize that he had been profoundly wrong in his earlier rejection of Jesus and his followers. And it finds a solid basis in the words of Jesus, who, in today’s gospel reading, comes to realize how inadequate and terribly limited his own attitude had been; and he realized it by allowing God to open his ears and by listening to one whom he had first rejected: the unnamed, Syro-Phoenician woman.
If Jesus can listen, if Jesus can acknowledge that he was wrong, if Jesus can learn, can’t we?