Sunday, September 09, 2012

Proper 18

Mark 7
31 Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis.[a] 32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him.
33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.
36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

Handy thing, having your own personal linguist.

I can quiz Carmen on the meaning and context of certain words, and more often than not she knows, without even looking it up! And then, every once in a while she will say something like, “You took Hebrew. Surely you remember the past participle in the passive voice?”

Past participle in the passive voice. You know that blank stare people give when you might as well be speaking another language to them? Well, two things are happening here. First, someone in the Ontario government decided around 1970 to stop teaching grammar to the children. Too boring? Too complicated? So not only did I learn Hebrew and Greek twenty-five years ago, and the content kind of came out of left field for me, even the idea that grammar existed was a new concept. Wait, there are parts of speech?

(By the way, an example of the past participle in the passive voice would be something like, “The chicken was eaten.”)

And so while I remember next to nothing about these biblical languages and the attendant grammar that surrounds them, I can at least remember the name of my Greek textbook, the aptly titled “Greek to Me.” It was fun, actually, with little cartoon characters and bits of wordplay, that the authors (Story and Story) thought might aid in long term retention.

I do remember one tiny bit, or a snippit, whatever is smaller, and that is the verb luo, meaning “I loose.” Now, I’m told that the people who write these books fall into a pattern, and will often use the same examples as a sort of tradition, or perhaps a homage to those who went before. Whatever the reason, this bit of Greek is lodged in my head: luo, meaning “I loose.” The rest of it, lueis, luei, luomen, and the rest I had to look up.

So you can imagine my excitement when I read Mark 7.35: “At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.” I can read that. I can read that! Okay, not really.

One of the things that always puzzled me was using ‘loosed’ as a common example, when it seems ‘loosed’ is anything but common. How often do you use loosed in a conversation? However, it seems loosed is common in the Bible, appearing dozens of times in various and sometimes surprizing places. When the disciples get the donkey just prior to the palm parade, the animal is loosed! When Jesus, through his tears, calls Lazarus from the tomb, he demands that his grave clothes be loosed. And Jesus teaches that whatever the disciples bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever they loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

(Sounds like homework: I challenge you to use the word loosed in a conversation this week.)

So loosed is more than speaking plainly as reported in Mark 7, it is also about untying things, and unbinding things, and releasing the dead to live again. There is much more to loosed than meets the eye, one small word that can do so many things!

Back to Mark 7, Jesus has entered the early fame section of his ministry. In a land without walk-in clinics, ER’s and Dr. Jim’s, the people stuggle to find healing. Some things could be attended to at home, and you hoped for the best, and other things required the kind of care that simply did not exist. When people heard that a powerful healer was about, they raced to see if it was true.

Before I say more, I should mention that St. Mark is writing before the invention of sociology. One of the disturbing aspects of this passage, and a reason why few will preach it this morning, is the shift in understanding that came about in the 1960’s and 1970’s regarding disability. Under the social model of disability, theorists demanded that we look less at the disabled individual and more at the society that surrounds the individual. What barriers do we erect? What misaprehensions do we possess? And to what extent do we regard disability as an illness that we expect might cure? So there was a definite shift in understading, and it has a direct impact on Mark 7.

Clearly the deaf man’s friends were operating out of the older model, and Jesus being Jesus had the power of heaven at his disposal, and so a transformation takes place. I hesitate to even use the word ‘healing,’ since that harkens back to the ‘disability as illness’ model, so I will use transformation. The power of God is fully present in Jesus, he touches the man, and everything changes.

Newly loosed, the man began to speak plainly. And here again we see an onging theme in the gospels, or at least the first three gospels, whereby Jesus performs some miracle and then demands that no one be told. Does it work? Of course not. How could the sick be healed and storm be stilled and the dead be raised and no one tell the story? How could Jesus possible expect a loosed tongue repress the good news that demanded to be shared?

Even Jesus seemed to know that this was impossible. Luke 19: Some of the Pharisees called to Him from the crowd, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” But He answered and said to them, “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.” Matthew 10: “What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the rooftops.” And in Mark 10, Bartimaeus begins shouting before he is healed, so much so that the crowd turns on him and demands he be quiet. Yet still he shouts the words “Son of David, have mercy on me” and Jesus hears.

So there is lots of loosing and lots of shouting and lots of healing. Recalling that what is loosed on earth is also loosed in heaven (Matthew 16) we can begin to construct a bit of mission here, whereby the God of loosing is looking in on our lives and imagining the many ways and place we could use some loosing too. Some are bound, and need loosing.

Someone nearby, maybe even here, is bound by addiction or habit and needs loosing.

Someone nearby, maybe even here, can’t let go of a decades old hurt that is as real now as then.

Someone nearby, maybe even here, has a house that is filling and filling with stuff and may be full before long.

Someone nearby, maybe even here, can’t begin the day without checking their bank balance and can’t say why.

Someone nearby, maybe even here, is bound by a false sense of self, a sense of self that would suprise most if they knew.

Someone nearby, maybe even here, is wanting to be unbound, wanting to be loosed through the power of God present in Jesus the Christ, and is stuggling to find the words that are already known in heaven.

Jesus refused to rebuke his followers, the ones who shouted “Glory to God in the highest. Blessed be the one who comes in the name of the Lord,” knowing full well that if they stopped shouting, if their tongues were no longer loosed, then on that day, on that very day, the stones themselves would shout. May the shouting continue even now, now and always, Amen.


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