September 5: Who Are You Listening To?

Readings from Scripture (CEB)  Mark 7:24-36

24 Jesus left that place and went into the region of Tyre. He didn’t want anyone to know that he had entered a house, but he couldn’t hide. 25 In fact, a woman whose young daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit heard about him right away. She came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was Greek, Syrophoenician by birth. She begged Jesus to throw the demon out of her daughter. 27 He responded, “The children have to be fed first. It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”  29 “Good answer!” he said. “Go on home. The demon has already left your daughter.” 30 When she returned to her house, she found the child lying on the bed and the demon gone. 31 After leaving the region of Tyre, Jesus went through Sidon toward the Galilee Sea through the region of the Ten Cities. 32 Some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly speak, and they begged him to place his hand on the man for healing. 33 Jesus took him away from the crowd by himself and put his fingers in the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 Looking into heaven, Jesus sighed deeply and said, “Ephphatha,” which means, “Open up.” 35 At once, his ears opened, his twisted tongue was released, and he began to speak clearly.  36 Jesus gave the people strict orders not to tell anyone. But the more he tried to silence them, the more eagerly they shared the news. 37 People were overcome with wonder, saying, “He does everything well! He even makes the deaf to hear and gives speech to those who can’t speak.”

Who are you listening to?

As I said at the beginning of service, I’m so very grateful for the time off this summer.  I was beyond burnt out, to the point of not being sure how to even take a break.  I had stopped listening to my body.  I had ignored the signs of exhaustion.  It was weird for the first few days.  Unsure of what to do, I hid.  I turned the phone off, put the computer away, didn’t answer email.  After some rest, I eventually settled into a Sabbath routine, spending time in the hammock, time with family, a little work around the house, but mostly trying to care for all that had been neglected. 

So I found it funny when the first passage back is Jesus trying to take a break:

Jesus left that place and went into the region of Tyre.
He didn’t want anyone to know that he had entered a house, but he couldn’t hide.
(Mark 7)

Unsure of what to do, Jesus hid.  He had no phone to turn off or computer to hide, but even without them, he too wasn’t sure how to rest.  There’s just so much more at stake for him (than me).  He wasn’t allowed to be human.  His Godly connection confused people, them wanting miracle after miracle, not knowing that the fragile, human frame of the divine was perishable.  This was a god who got tired.  A god who needed to hide from attention.  Who ate and cried and learned and loved.  And I cherish these passages for the same reason that the early church (and some current churches) abhor them – that the perfect human being is still human.  He makes mistakes. 

And in his tired state – he makes a one.  He chooses to listen to his gender, his culture, his worn-out-ness and react poorly rather than hearing the cries of a mother standing before him.  It’s no different than that time when you were 15 minutes from home after a long day’s drive and someone cuts you off and you either lay into the horn or something worse.  (Maybe that was just me).  We have no idea if that other driver is heading off to an emergency, no different than this mother desperate for a cure for her daughter.  She begs Jesus to get back to work.  But he’s listening to everything except this woman, except his heart, and because of that it’s easy to ignore her cries. 

This summer I tried to listen to the other side.  I tried to hear the concerns of the anti-vaxxers, those protesting lockdowns and masks from the worrisome side of government control, the conspiracy theorists believing that globally we’ve been able to align both political and personal beliefs (which might be miraculous in its own right), and I heard that no matter what side you’re on, our collective mental health is spiralling out of control, fueling all our fears.

What I’ve learned, or what I believe is happening is that we’re the inheritors of fifty plus years of mistrust.  Just prior to Richard Nixon (it was difficult to find statistics of decline in Canada outside of the last two years – but our media is so intertwined that one can assume correlation)[1] there started a downward turn in trust for public officials.  Their decisions were suspect – whether they were listening to their gender, their culture, other outside influences, it made everything that didn’t reflect the choices of their constituents immediately worthy of questioning. 

And over the last few decades that mistrust has spread from institution to institution (for good reason) as stories and accusations of abuse in the church, and sports, and education, and as we saw just last night, the Liberal candidate[2] for Kitchener Centre have come to light. 

The pandemic didn’t help things, as it put a microphone and a loudspeaker to all of that (in our own worn-out-ness), as we’ve come to expect Messiah like abilities from our elected officials or businesses[3] or each other, resulting in disappointment when the curtain was pulled aside, revealing only  humanity.[4] 

It’s like that scene in the Wizard of Oz – Dorothy and her friends had based all their hopes on this great and powerful magician who would grant them their hearts’ desires, and after a long journey are dismayed only to find the tricks of a con-man behind a curtain.  Welcome to election season!

And now we have people who will not trust their doctor because they’re worried that they’re in the hands of pharmaceutical companies.  They’ll just as quickly run to their local farm store to buy an anti-parasitic meant for livestock because in their eyes, especially in the U.S., their government and their doctors have never given them anything free in their whole life – believing those in charge don’t care if they live or die[5]  – instead taking matters into their own hands. 

We look down our noses, we try to shame them, but I think I finally understand.  Those around the world no longer feel connected to a greater good, they feel like pawns in a broken system, they wonder if their vote will actually benefit them, or their communities, and they’re grasping at straws just like this woman who came to Jesus as her last hope because she’s gone everywhere else just to help her daughter.  And she’s greeted with:

“The children have to be fed first.
It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

Like it’s some two tiered health system meant only to benefit the few. 

But here’s where it changes.  Jesus listens.  He stops listening to his humanity, his gender, his culture, his worn-out-ness, and chooses to hear the voice of one suffering in his midst.  Listening instead to the divine voice as it speaks through this woman, Jesus hears the cries of those in need.  He changes his mission – widening its scope beyond “the children” of Israel, so much so that Jesus turns around right after this passage to feed four thousand of the people of that region – people previously excluded – ones who believed that their governments, health and religious systems didn’t care if they lived or died – Jesus feeds them. 

What would happen if we listen to the divine voice that calls for the goodness of all?  What if we listened to the voices of those suffering – even the ones decrying vaccines and masks and hear instead the pain and suffering of all that has led them to this.  We don’t need to ascribe to their beliefs to recognize their fear, their struggles – for our world continues down paths of divisiveness that drawing lines between us and them isn’t going to help us going forward. 

For in compassion,

Looking into heaven,
Jesus sighed deeply and said, 
“Ephphatha,” which means, “Open up.”

Open up your hearts knowing that they may break in sorrow.  Open up your trust so you may again believe the best in others.  Open up to the presence of Jesus, as it leads us to the lost and lonely, the broken and hungry, to understand what we were meant to do and be.[6] 


[1] https://www.environicsinstitute.org/docs/default-source/default-document-library/ab-democracy-report-revised-sept11_209.pdf?sfvrsn=bda257b6_0

[2] https://www.cp24.com/news/kitchener-centre-liberal-candidate-raj-saini-drops-out-of-election-amid-harassment-allegations-1.5573894

[3] https://nationalpost.com/news/politics/covid-pandemic-eroded-canadians-trust-in-politicians-science-and-even-their-neighbours-poll-finds

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-RQxD4Ff7dY

[5] https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2020/03/donald-trump-coronavirus-deaths-vs-economy

[6] Quoting our closing hymn I am the Light of the World written by Jim Strathdee

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