Thursday, September 27, 2018

You Don't Want to be that Guy (Reflections on Pentecost 19, Year B)

I had an old Hollywood buddy who once told me the trouble with most people is that they don’t know what they want and they don’t know who they want to be. I may not know either, but I certainly know that there are four guys I never want to be:

Self-Pity Guy. I may serve a working class parish in a dilapidated building. I may not make the Joel Osteen big bucks. But I’m proud of my little congregation, and I have chosen to be here. I don’t want anyone feeling sorry for me because I don’t feel sorry for myself.

How Soon Can I Retire Guy. I’ve seen a lot of clergy over the years who have just walked to the end of their ministries. They had great careers and did wonderful work for the Kingdom of God, but, at the end, they just kind of slowed down and let the congregation slow down with them. I don’t want to be that guy. But neither do I want to be…

Big Score Guy. You know that guy who wants to hit one more home run before he retires from ministry? He’s the guy who is going to get his parish into a capital campaign to build a new social hall or merge his congregation with another church or start some other fabulous program and then he’ll retire and the whole thing will turn to crap. I don’t want to be him, but I most definitely never want to be…

Stumbling Block Guy. He’s the one who puts a stumbling block in the path of the little ones—the ones who are weak in faith. And this week, the news has been full of stumbling blocks.

You couldn’t turn on the TV in America this week without seeing the face of Bill Cosby, and I can’t help but see tragedy here even as justice is being served. I remember laughing myself silly when I was a kid listening to Cosby’s Why is There Air? album. He was hilarious and, to many, he was a hero. The first African American to star in a network TV drama. “America’s Dad.” A man who showed white folks that there could be a two-parent black family in the upper middle class. A strenuous champion of education.

How utterly disappointing—heart-breaking, really—to see him led away in handcuffs. He had gained so much admiration, respect, and influence and chose to use it in a sick and shameful way. It would have been better that he never possessed such notoriety than that he should have used it to commit the crimes for which he is now being justly punished. And when an idol falls, faith is shaken.

But the bad news continues, doesn’t it? The crimes of Bill Cosby are dwarfed next to the recent report from the Pennsylvania Attorney General about clergy sex abuse in the Catholic Church here in the Commonwealth, and other reports are surfacing about this scandal in Catholic church bodies around the world.

 Now please understand: I am not trying to re-fight the Thirty Years War. This isn’t a Lutheran versus Catholic thing. I only bring it up because it’s in the news, knowing full well that there has been clergy abuse in all denominations. Nevertheless, when I read the reports of my fellow clerics’ perfidy, I almost want to cry. The eyes which lusted and the hands which groped were better cut off than cause the decades of pain they inflicted. And the stumbling block of criminal behavior was, of course, made into a road-closing boulder by the hands of bishops and other church officials which were used to write letters of transfer rather than reach for the phone to report the crimes.

How can we do anything but stumble, I wonder? From priests to movie and TV stars to pro athletes to candidates for the Supreme Court[i], and even presidents, it seems there is no one in whom we can put our faith and trust. No one we can look to for guidance and moral certainty. No one, that is, except Jesus Christ.

We who call ourselves “Christians,” who bear the name of Christ, have taken on a sacred responsibility to see Christ in others and to be Christ for others.  The consequence of our sin is that we shame our family name. Our misdeeds aren’t just about us. Our guilty actions aren’t just that we risk God’s displeasure. Stumbling Block Guy robs others of their sense of belonging to a community and the paradigm of death, hope, and resurrection which grants peace to our souls and helps us make sense of this crazy world.

The stumbling block need not be a heinous crime. It can be as simple as the arrogance of exclusion illustrated by the disciples in the Gospel lesson for Pentecost 19, Year B (Mark 9:38-50). It is anything which keeps others away from the love of Christ.

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we pray that God’s name would be made holy—in us. We are praying to receive the honor of bearing that sacred name. Let’s understand that this honor is not for ourselves, but for those around us—our kids, our neighbors, our co-workers, our extended family, whomever. Our honor and our duty is to reveal Christ and give him glory.

I once did a funeral for a Cuban-born physician who served at our local hospital. He had been killed tragically in an auto accident. He was raised under a Communist regime which sponsored atheism as its state religion. He had never grown up knowing Jesus. As a young doctor he went to Spain as part of his medical training and fell in love and married a Roman Catholic girl. When his sons were born, he insisted that they be raised Catholic. Even though he had no conception of the faith, he was so taken by the virtue and decency of his wife that he wanted his boys to be what she was.

Can we all try to walk so in the honor of God’s name that others will see us and say, “I want to have what YOU have?”

God be with you, my friend. Keep the faith.

[i] I’m not going to weigh in on the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings as I feel too ambivalent about this subject. Besides, chasing this rabbit will really lead me away from the Gospel message; moreover, I know this issue will be resolved by politics and not by theology or moral scruples.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

What's So Great? (Reflections on Pentecost 18, Year B)

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“But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.” (Mark 9:32)

One of the great characteristics of Mark’s Gospel, according to the great professor of New Testament John H. P. Reumann[i] under whom I studied while in seminary, is that the disciples are depicted as being “really dumb.” Of course, next to Dr. Reumann, just about everyone is pretty dumb. I prefer to think of the disciples in Mark as being really human. In so many ways they’re just like the rest of us dumbasses.

The story we get in the Gospel appointed for Pentecost 18, Year B (Mark 9:30-37) is kind of like the one appointed for the previous Sunday (Mark 8:27-38). In both these readings the disciples don’t seem to be taking a very firm grasp on stuff Jesus is trying to explain as simply as he can. He tells them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” (v.31) Okay. So what’s so hard about that?

Oh. Yeah. That rising again stuff. That kind of weird jazz just doesn’t happen every day. And yet, didn’t the disciples see Jesus perform myriad signs of supernatural power? What about this message was giving them such a hard time? Was it the fact that they just couldn’t get their brains around a resurrection? Or, maybe, they really didn’t dig this betrayal and death thing..? Who knows?

So why don’t they just ask Jesus to explain it? Are they afraid of looking dumb, or is it they simply don’t want to have to deal with the unpleasant fact that Jesus would die as a criminal? Either way, I get it. There’s messy stuff going on all around us, and signs and portents that things are going to get even crappier, and I really don’t want to think about it. For example, when we see “hundred year” storms occurring every year, we just might get the message that the earth’s climate is changing—and not in a good way for the likes of us. But who wants to think about that?

Nope. The easiest thing is to ignore the hard questions, turn on America’s Got Talent, and bury our head in the sand of trivialities. That’s what I’m thinking these boys in our story are doing. They don’t want to face the hard truth of Jesus and his message facing rejection and violence, so they start mixing it up in a silly argument over which one of them has more street cred. Which one is the greatest?

Now that’s a really dumb thing to argue about. Of course, to us, there’s never anything trivial or silly about our sense of self-worth, is there? We’re always ready to pull out the switch-blades as soon as someone acts like they’re better than us. We just love doing that kind of stuff. But how can you really tell who is greatest? I mean, what does that even mean?

Oh, sure. You can trot out statistics. You can say, “I did more of so-and-so than you did.” But what does any of that prove? We argue about greatness all the time. Who is the greatest athlete, football team, chef, actor, writer, musician, statesman, president, preacher, etc., etc. The list is endless and the criteria for judging is highly subjective. The Philadelphia Eagles may be the greatest team in the NFL today, but what will happen by the end of the season? The problem with greatness is that there will always be someone greater. Not only is greatness subjective, it is really ephemeral. It doesn’t last.

The Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe, in his Edward II wrote:

“Base fortune, I now see, that in thy wheel
There is a point, to which when men aspire
They tumble headlong down: that point I touch’d,
And, seeing there was no place to mount up higher,
Why shall I grieve at my declining fall?”[ii]

So what do we make of this story? And what’s up with Jesus picking up a small child in verse 37? First, I’d say that it’s certainly our nature to avoid tough questions about our faith, our mission, and our meaning. Avoiding the questions, however, isn’t going to answer them. True obedience to Christ is going to cause us some inconvenience in this world, and there’s no ignoring that fact. Secondly, the way we judge our self-worth is always going to be flawed. It will be temporary and subjective. Moreover, our resume of achievements, unless it’s grounded in the love of the Savior who died for us, is never going to satisfy us. And, finally, I think Jesus is showing us that the only way to look to greatness (and I don’t hear Donald Trump or, for that matter, any politician saying this) is to look to the weakest and the most vulnerable: the children, the refugees, the poor, the addicts, the prisoners, the elderly, the disabled—all the ones nice people would rather pretend didn’t exist. In such as these we may not find the world’s acclaim. In fact, we may even find its scorn. But we will find Jesus.

God bless you, my friend. I’m glad you shared this time with me.

[i] John H. P. Reumann (1927-2008) was a leading Lutheran clergyman, ecumenist, scholar, teacher, and author. He was one of the foremost leaders in the Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogues, a Guggenheim Fellow, and an all-around really smart guy. I think he’d like it that I mentioned him in this end note. He actually read end notes.

[ii] This probably means nothing to you, but I just thought it would be cool to include a quote from an obscure Elizabethan playwright

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Sweet Success! (reflections on Pentecost 17, Year B)

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But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’” (Mark 8:33)

“So are you still at Faith?” a friend of mine asked.

“Yup,” I replied. “Still here.” It’s coming up on twenty years in November. I guess that strikes people as odd these days. I mean, nobody stays put in the same old job for that long in our culture. Kids put their resumes on Linkedin or other websites. My daughter has changed employers three or four times and each time she’s gotten a more important job or higher pay or both.

I have a seminary buddy who is now on his third congregational call. He is the senior pastor of a huge congregation which worships in a gorgeous, Gothic cathedral church. His congregation is extremely prominent. It sits proudly on the town’s main drag, and people come from all over to worship on Sunday, hear dozens of voices in his choir, and sing to the immense pipe organ. He has a large staff working under him and tons of ministries operating out of his church.

Now I, on the other hand, just had to lay off my parish secretary this past year because we really don’t have enough money to fund the position any longer. I’m in a tiny, cinder block building on a one-way street hemmed in by a freeway and a shopping mall. People tell me they’ve lived in this neighborhood all their lives and never knew Faith Lutheran was here. I haven’t had a raise in five years, and they pay me my Christmas bonus in cookies (Not that I mind. I like cookies).

So which of us—me or my seminary pal—would you say is the more successful? I guess that depends on how you define success. Is it by human standards or divine standards?

In the Gospel lesson assigned for Pentecost 17 Year B (Mark 8:27-38) Jesus makes a distinction between the divine and the human. He addresses all of the disciples, not just Peter, when he calls Peter “Satan.” And, by the way, the word “Satan” comes from a Hebrew word which means “an adversary.” An adversary is someone or some thing which works against you. Satan can be a person, but he can also be a misconception. A really, really bad idea—an idea which keeps you from having the relationship with God and others which God wants you to have.

The disciples in this story know Jesus is the Messiah. They just don’t have a very firm grasp on what the Messiah’s job description should be. Jesus tells them plainly—not in parables but plainly—that he has come to feel rejection, persecution, pain, and to give his life for the rest of us. He also says that he will rise so we can have faith (v.32). Peter just doesn’t dig this. He’s got this idea that a Messiah should have the adulation of the people and should sit in a seat of power above the common masses. But Jesus knows he can only be the Messiah if he shares the pain of the masses, if he walks through the swamp of rejection, loneliness, and despair which we will all feel at some time or other. The opinion of the world doesn’t matter. In fact, it almost always gets in the way.

Jesus came to love us through his sacrifice, and he calls on us to do the same for others. The Presbyterian minister and author Frederick Buechner put it well: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”[i]

Jesus refers to the world’s opinion as “adulterous” (v.38). This is generally believed by smart Bible scholar folks to mean “idolatrous.” That is, the conception of value the culture teaches us is really a false god. Once you decide to say, “Screw the world’s opinion! I’m going to live as Jesus commands,” you have really set yourself free. When you say, “I’m not here to get rich. I’m not here to get famous. I’m not here to be better than someone else. I’m not here to prove anything. I’m here to love God and the people God put in my life,” you are going to know true liberty.

You see, in true discipleship, you have nothing to lose. There’s a quote I love from my favorite Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. If you remember that Yuletide gem, in the end of the movie the angel Clarence leaves George a copy of Tom Sawyer with the inscription “No man is a failure who has friends.” I would amend that to read “No one is a failure who follows Christ.”

So, when I consider my life and compare it to that of my old classmate with his giant church and ask “Which of us is more successful?” I have to conclude that, as we both get to preach the Good News of Jesus, it looks like it’s pretty much a tie.

Thanks for looking in on me. Go be the success Jesus calls you to be.

[i] From Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC (Harper:1973).

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Saint of the Month: Patrick Dale Gentile

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I wonder, what drove me to look up my old friend Pat Gentile? I hadn’t thought of him in years, but I remembered that he was a type 1 diabetic, and the last I heard from him he was in rather strained circumstances. So I “googled” Pat and discovered that he had died from complications of his life-long illness some twelve years ago.

The older we get, the more dead people we know.

Poor Patrick. He was a curious little fellow. I’d known him since junior high school, and, I must confess, I found him to be rather obnoxious back then. A little Italian guy who tried to talk tough. I had no idea how much he suffered. Being born a diabetic should’ve been enough, but he also came from what he claimed was a dysfunctional household, possibly involving alcohol abuse. The teen-aged me would never stop to think of how difficult his life must’ve been.

Always below average height, Patrick was often the butt of jokes. There was a picture of him in our junior high yearbook squeezed entirely into the space of a hall locker.

Being tiny didn’t exactly make Pat a ladies’ man, and his amorous misadventures are something it’s best not to dwell upon. It seems that the little guy just couldn’t catch a break. It’s hard to woo a girl when you have a rather elfin appearance, harder still when you have a stubborn and complex personality. Patrick would over-think just about everything, and people who didn’t take the time to get to know him found him infuriating.

Pat’s apartment in Signal Hill was, I always thought, something of a macrocosm of his interior life. The place was cluttered and chaotic, which seemed incongruous to me as I knew Patrick to be precise in all of his opinions to the point of being dogmatic. He loved specifics and demanded exact information, so I couldn’t understand why he had two refrigerators and two coffee tables, none being in particularly good repair.

“Why don’t you toss one of these out on the curb?” I asked him. He answered, “Well, they’re both still good. They can be repaired.” “But you only need one,” I said, “so pick the best one and throw the other out.” “But I’m not sure which one,” he answered.

And that was Pat all over. It had to be perfect, and if he couldn’t come up with a definitive answer, he became intellectually paralyzed. I guess this makes sense. He’d grown up in a chaotic household, and suffered from an unpredictable malady. He desperately craved control, yet he found it so elusive.

Pat’s obituary listed him as an “amateur actor and impersonator.” Normally, control freaks don’t make very good artists—in the theater or anywhere else. I have to say, however, that Patrick genuinely had a degree of talent and, his obit to the contrary, he had actually worked as a professional actor for a season with a traveling Christian theater troupe called The Lamb’s Players.

I remember coaching Pat for his audition for the company. I suggested a monologue which he performed sincerely and sweetly. I also coached him on his singing audition, urging him not to croon but belt. He performed that audition with confidence, and I never knew him to be happier than when he was asked to become part of the company. Unfortunately, a year on the road is hard for a diabetic, and Patrick ultimately had to leave the company because of health and healthcare issues.

The theater was the place where Pat and I connected. We’d gone to different high schools after junior high, but met up again in the Theatre Arts department of California State University Long Beach. We were both cast our first year in a production of The Tempest, directed by an outrageous Brit from RADA named David Perry. I was pretty hot stuff, I thought, being a freshman cast in a fairly major role. Pat, however, because of his tiny size, was cast as a supernumerary, an attendant to the goddess Juno in the pageant scene, his face blackened and unrecognizable. Apparently he got into some kind of tiff with the stage manager, and left the Theatre Department disgruntled after that first year.

Six years later I encountered Patrick again when I was hired on the theatre faculty of Long Beach City College. Patrick was enrolled as a student in the department, making another attempt to light up the stage. In my first year there I directed him in the brilliant one-act comedy Lone Star. Part of the challenge in working with him was working around his chronic tardiness and his combative tendency to over-analyzing everything. At one rehearsal I remember him gesticulating wildly, pantomiming everything his character said. I called to him from the stalls, “Damn it, Patrick! You’re telling a story, not signing for the hearing impaired!” To his credit, he never took offense at me, and we soon became good friends.

As I look back on it now, we were an odd and mismatched pair. I was an instructor and Pat was a student so there was an unfortunate inequality to our relationship. I’m afraid I looked on him rather as my “sidekick,” like Batman would’ve looked on Robin. He was shorter, less secure (or, truthfully, less arrogant) than I, and I could feel that he looked up to me. Adding to the inequality was Patrick’s new-found love of casino gambling. This dangerous little hobby often put him in a place of urgent financial need, and I more than once advanced him considerable sums of cash—once wiring him money when he was in Las Vegas and had gambled away the means of returning to Long Beach. I never asked for him to return the money I gave him, but, I’m afraid, my generosity added a layer of inequality to our friendship. Kindness has a way of becoming tyrannical.

In spite of his myriad difficulties, Pat had a charming way of remaining optimistic. If he wasn’t blowing money at the gaming table, he and I relaxed with friendly games of penny-ante poker with another friend at Pat’s Signal Hill apartment. These were really enjoyable and very innocent evenings, and Pat was always a gracious host.

I had the opportunity of seeing Pat at both his best and worst. During the period of our friendship he was diagnosed with Epstein-Barr or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, an added burden to his diabetes. It was painful to see him at times looking so frail, sick, and exhausted. On several occasions he’d visit me in my flat, and I’d see that look of pain in his eyes and often watch as he dropped his pants and jabbed himself in the butt with a much-needed needle full of insulin. I learned patience from him, and got into the habit of telling him to meet me a half-hour earlier than I wanted to get together, knowing his condition always caused him to be about a half-hour late.

But I do Patrick a disservice by recounting his faults and challenges. As I look back on him now, I realize that my diminutive friend had an enormous heart and an enormous faith. Sometime in the six years when I didn’t see him after CSULB, Patrick left the Catholic Church of his upbringing and united with the Church of the Brethren. The conservative, Biblical literalism of the Brethren must’ve appealed to his need for definitive answers. But I also think that in that fellowship he found the unconditional love and acceptance he had always craved. I have no doubt that his faith was honest and devout and that he truly loved God. He showed a tremendous capacity for empathy which I greatly admire and remember to this day. He was, simply, a kind man. Often he told me truths about myself which I didn’t want to hear, but he always did it with love.

A wonderful memory which sticks in my mind is how Pat invited me to his church one New Year’s Eve for a foot washing ceremony. I’d never experienced this ancient Christian ritual before, but I found it very moving. Now, I routinely wash the feet of my first-time communicants as part of the Maundy Thursday mass. It was touching, at the time, to be invited to share a special night with Pat at his church.

(After the worship, however, he and I retired to a local night club where we met two charming young ladies—exchange students from Germany. They invited us back to their hostel for a very polite and extremely chaste evening. I remember it being quite fun, and it put a huge smile on Pat’s face.)

Today I remember his wonderful and underappreciated intelligence. He was remarkably knowledgeable on a wide range of subjects, and—God bless him—he could drive a stick shift, a talent which came in handy when I needed to rent a truck for my move from Lakewood to North Hollywood. Granted, Patrick managed to damage the load door of the truck and then argued with the rental agent about whose insurance should pay for it. I remain grateful to him all the same.

Pat was a little shocked when I told him I was going to the seminary. I remember him blurting out, “You’re kidding!” He must’ve been surprised that this recovering alcoholic whose mouth spouted profanity like a fire hose would leave the glory of the theater to become a humble pastor. (I’m actually surprised by it myself at times!). Nevertheless, he gave me his blessing and told me he’d pray for me. As I recall, he was working at Disneyland at the time, and I always thought such employment seemed to suit him.  He was both child-like yet quirky and lovable like a character out of a Disney cartoon.

I never saw Patrick again after I left Southern California for Philadelphia in 1994. Sometime in 2000 or 2001 I received a message from him through another friend. I phoned him and found that he was again in desperate need of cash. I told him I wasn’t equipped to help him out. I have always regretted that.

Indeed, as I remember Pat, I regret many things. I wish I had been less condescending, more appreciative of his many gifts, and more worthy of his friendship.

He was a complex man loaded with contradictions: A true romantic who never married. A devout Christian and a compulsive gambler. A creative artist with a hopelessly literal mind. A compassionate, feeling man who could start an argument with anyone.

He has passed through this world leaving no lasting impact save the small and gentle fingerprints on the memories those who knew and appreciated him. I feel that I want to celebrate him. I want to say, “I saw you, Patrick. I knew you. And you mattered.” Truly, I want to say the same about so many I have known—both living and dead. They are the creative souls who, because of bad luck, bad choices, or any combination of the two, never rose in the estimation of the world to the lofty level of their poetic spirits. May they find their rest and reward in the arms of God.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Opening Fort Apache (Reflections on Pentecost 16, Year B)

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Henry Fonda and John Wayne in Fort Apache, RKO 1948

“This place is like Fort Apache,” says Wayne, the faithful sexton of my congregation in Northeast Philadelphia. “Why,” he asks, “are we doing a ‘Neighborhood Day?’ The neighbors don’t give a crap about this place!”

He might be right. I think Wayne sees our little parish as the besieged garrison in the 1948 classic John Ford western Fort Apache. I began to find this allusion weirdly coincidental when I saw the movie again and noted that the colonel in command (played by Henry Fonda) is named Owen, his faithful adjutent is played by John Wayne, and Shirley Temple plays the colonel’s daughter whose first name is Philadelphia. And yes, we do seem to be a little Lutheran island in a vast Roman sea, but I’m not entirely sure the neighbors are bloodthirsty savages! True, many of them probably view the church property as little more than the local soccer field, free parking lot, trash dump, and doggie toilet. I still refuse, however, to believe that they’re actually hostile.

But sometimes we just don’t want to have anything to do with the folks around us. A lot of little churches, I guess, get set in their ways and want to be protected from their neighbors and have much less of a desire to reach out to them. I’ve even had some push-back from more traditional parishioners at times over stuff like outdoor worship services, our annual Neighborhood Day, or our “Church Has Left the Building” service day.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, God’s people are supposed to be set apart from the tribes around them.[i] I guess that’s why Jesus makes the wisecrack he does in the Gospel lesson appointed in the RCL for Pentecost 16 (Mark 7:24-37). Suggesting the Syro-phoenician lady and her daughter are “dogs” isn’t exactly what we look for in a Savior. Maybe Jesus is just being a good Jewish boy and keeping away from outside influences like his mother probably taught him to do.  

But then he does an extraordinary thing. He breaks with the tradition of religious and national insularity and shows mercy to this foreign neighbor. This must’ve been disappointing to some of his followers who were really hoping they could still have a class of people to look down on. Yet Jesus sees that God’s love isn’t reserved only for those who pass some kind of theological litmus test. He doesn’t care what pews they sit in or if they sit in any at all. In Jesus, there is no class of people whom it is okay to despise.

Jesus’ radical inclusivity demonstrated in this action of healing is why churches reach out to neighborhoods. It’s why ecumenical organizations exist and why my congregation tries to reach out to our foreign neighbors be they the Haitians of our “tenant” Seventh Day Adventist congregation or the South Asian Muslim community around the corner.

There’s a second healing story in the appointed lesson. It’s the story of a deaf man with a speech impediment who is healed by the touch of Jesus (Verses 31-37). There are two ways we can look at this story. It can be seen as prophecy fulfilled, or we could look at it allegorically. Since we have time (I’m not doing anything, are you?), let’s look at it both ways.

The RCL marries this Gospel lesson with a reading from Isaiah 35:4-7a. The context here is a passage in which the prophet says that when the Hebrew people are restored from exile to Zion, lots of cool stuff will happen. Verse 5 reads:

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
   and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
   and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.

The folks who saw Jesus heal this man must’ve thought of this passage from Isaiah and thought it was a sign of the coming to pass of the prophecy. Israel was about to be restored and returned to her former greatness and glory. But Jesus knows that his purpose in this healing has nothing to do with national pride or a sense of communal identity. He’s not passing out any “Make Israel Great Again” ball caps, because his work of mercy and compassion is an end in itself. This is why he tells the crowds not to go around talking about the healing (v. 36). He knows they’re going to misinterpret it. Why? Because that’s what we do. We interpret God’s blessings through the lens of our own desires and opinions.[ii]

There might also be a cool allegorical lesson here too. The deaf guy has a speech impediment because he can’t hear himself speak. I get this because I have a wonderful young parishioner who’s profoundly deaf. Her mom tells me that sometimes when the young lady doesn’t wear her hearing aids she speaks a lot louder than normal because she can’t judge her own volume. It’s kind of a common issue for folks in the DHH community.[iii] It’s really hard to speak plainly for others when you don’t hear.

Jesus once again ignores tradition and comes into physical contact with a culturally despised disabled person. He touches the guy and tells him to “be opened.”

“Be opened.” That’s a great exhortation, isn’t it? As you might’ve guessed, there’s an awful lot going on in American politics and American Christianity these days which makes  me angry enough to foam at the mouth and bark like a rabid Chihuahua. But maybe, if I’m opened to hear the thoughts and feelings of those with whom I disagree, my ears and heart might learn where they’re coming from and my tongue may be loosened to speak words more pleasing to the ears of God. After all, we can’t really speak unless we’ve first really listened.

Be opened. As people and as church. And be healed. Here we have two examples of Jesus as healer. Maybe a good question to ponder or discuss this week would be: How is Jesus (and your faith) a healing power in your life? And how does Jesus make you an open-eared healer for your neighbor?

Think about it and get back to me, will you? And thanks again for visiting.

[i] See Leviticus 20:26 and Deuteronomy 26:18-19
[ii] In verse 37 the people say “He has done everything well.” The word “well” in Greek is kalos. This word can mean “good,” “right,” “honorable,” or “beautiful,” but it also means “proper” or “fitting.” This suggests to me that they see this action as “fitting” with the prophecies and things they expected the Messiah who would restore Israel to do.
[iii] That’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing, but you probably know that already.