Let me ask you something?
Do you have a hearing joke, or have you been amused by one? It might go something like this.
Two parishioners were chatting over coffee one Sunday and one was describing her new digital hearing aid. “it was a bit expensive but it is almost invisible, was recommended by Consumer and I can even adjust it on my computer or smartphone”
Her friend asked “what kind is it?”. She answered, “Ten past eleven.”
There are lots of jokes about hearing, but deafness is no laughing matter, we all have friends or family who struggle with hearing and the exclusion it causes.
I had an uncle who was, as we put it in the 50’s, stone deaf and a grandmother who deteriorated into deafness so from a young age saw the difficulties they faced. It hurt when they were yelled at or spoken to in disparaging tones. Both were isolated by their deafness.
I am sure you can all reference famous names who were deaf, some with more positive outcomes.
Thomas Edison had severe hearing problems, a complication of scarlet fever when he was young and although he referred to himself as deaf he believed that the loss of hearing helped him to be a better scientist.
Ludwig van Beethoven began to lose his hearing when he was 26 years old and by the time he was 44, he was almost completely deaf.
Interestingly in a recent lecture given by Heath Lees’ which he aptly called Beethoven’s Deafness- How’s that again, we heard that scientists have gathered what they say is conclusive evidence that Beethoven died of lead poisoning and that it was that that caused his deafness; amazing what they can now prove with six hairs and few pieces of skull!!
In our Gospel from Mark today we heard about a man who was deaf and barely able to talk, possibly deaf from birth.
Sadly, with no laws about discrimination and given the period we are talking about, his situation would have been very different;
he may have been taunted as a child, would have fallen short in education and one can imagine, not considered for employment.
There was protection under Jewish law for the profoundly deaf but they were classed with other groups such as women, slaves, and minors who had no standing in society.
One could surmise then, that this man’s life was falling short spiritually, emotionally and physically, that he was not reaching his full potential,
that his deafness was disabling.
For Isaiah’s original audience, most likely living in exile in Babylon, the suffering servant in our Old Testament reading may have been seen as a metaphor for Israel’s suffering, a prophet or saviour, even a King, certainly an able-bodied person who suffers.
But Jeremy Schipper, in his book Disability and Isaiah’s Suffering Servant, points out some of the words and expressions used in the passage would have been associated with disability in the ancient world; marred, with no form, plagued, stricken by God, despised and rejected by others, and cut off from the land of the living.
In other words, rejected and judged because of his physical condition, the servant’s isolation captures the social experience of many people with disabilities.
Obviously, in today’s world, the outcomes for these examples would be different, physical disabilities are better understood in most societies and help would be available for people with hearing difficulties; surgery, hearing aids and visual communication, however this does not mean that there are not people with disabilities who fail to reach their full potential.
They may be able to hear and speak and are physically well, but they are just as lonely and cut off from others.
In our second reading this morning, Pauls letter to the Colossians, he writes about genuine concern for others,
Verse 12 Clothe yourselves with Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, in other words those qualities that speak of your relationship to others. And in verse 14 clothe yourselves with love which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
The Gospels tell us constantly to run the risk of a face to face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pain and their pleas.
As Christians we should be at the forefront of those who proclaim the need for acceptance and respect for all humanity, welcoming those on the outside by refusing to see them as outsiders but as God’s people.
A few weeks ago, we heard from our lovely Kirsten who talked about living with Williams Syndrome and Cerebral Palsy, her plea to us was that she just wanted to be accepted as normal because that is what she is, normal. When people saw her as different it hurt. In answer to a question about discrimination she said yes, she faced it everywhere she went.
We may have the ability to cure many diseases and physical abnormalities but human need and understanding is as great today as it ever was.
In Mark’s extract a picture is painted, not just of a Gentile woman and a deaf man but of Jesus humanity when he encounters those asking for help.
He leaves Capernaum and goes to Tyre, a distance of approximately 48kms as the crow flies and much more when on foot – and then to Sidon around 80kms.
Jesus, apparently, just wants to get away, with his disciples, for some R&R. He didn’t want anyone to know He was there. After the intensity of his ministry with the multitudes in the wilderness and His conflict with the religious leaders, not to mention Herod’s execution of John, He could be forgiven for wanting a break.
But our text says; “He could not escape notice. A Gentile woman with a desperate need heard He was there and to be honest he seems a bit terse with her:
Remember the gulf which existed between Jew and Gentile could hardly have been wider.
This woman would have been referred to as a dog by the pious and self-righteous Jews and Jesus uses this term meaning shamelessly unclean.
But with true humility she accepts Jesus’ portrayal without resentment pointing out that even the little puppies under the table eat the crumbs of the little children then continues to plead as she believes he is the only one that can grant her the kind of divine mercy that she requires.
If you look up the word mercy in a thesaurus you will find words such as humanity, kindness, understanding and compassion
This Gentile woman had a need, and she believed Jesus could meet that need and it appears that it is her humility and faith that moves Jesus,
after some hesitation it has to be said, to grant her request.
As some of you will know, I spent a number of years working in terminal care and saw first-hand not only the power of faith but the humanity, compassion and the healing touch at work be it with the family or the patient. I firmly believe that we cannot heal the body without healing the mind and that requires faith.
We might not be able to heal like Jesus but we can have compassion and we can make a difference and we can share his healing touch.
I know nurses from my decade go on about what we have lost with modern technology but there is no doubt that the simple things like touch, focussed attention and communication that were drilled into us, can make an enormous difference. For instance, holding a wrist to take a pulse meant physically touching the patient, that not only told us how fast their heart was beating but whether their skin was warm or cold and clammy, pink or blue, we would quietly observe their breathing rate while a thermometer was in their mouth and possibly observe any pain, fear or tension.
A digital device may be more accurate but it won’t do that.
Anyone who has been a recipient of our wonderful Peggy’s therapeutic skills, or those receiving home communion and the prayer ministry will have experienced the power of communicating that healing touch.
Of equal importance is dialogue, in the hospice we made a point of asking patients and their families if they understood what they were being told and what challenges they most feared and often these conversations were ones that had to be repeated. As we all know dialogue and communication seem to be one of our greatest losses in this digital age. Don’t get me started on that topic.
The other point that this passage makes is that no blame is apportioned for the man’s deafness.
In Jesus day it was customary to blame the person affected or their parents when some physical ailment was present, God’s punishment for something they had done wrong. We see it laid out in John’s Gospel Chapter 9 verse 1 when Jesus sees a man who has been born blind and his disciples ask, Rabbi, who sinned this man or his parents that he was born blind.
Having said that it is difficult not to lay blame when you see patients trundling their intravenous equipment and smoking outside the hospital or someone full of alcohol or drugs taking up the space so desperately needed in A&E.
However, when we stop blaming people for the mess that they are in and recognise that this is a fellow human being who is suffering, our common humanity should motivate us to feel compassion and help.
This is what Jesus does, he refuses to attribute blame, he answers his disciples Neither this man or his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. This is an opportunity for God to act.
Even if people have behaved in a way that caused their own predicament, there are no circumstances when Jesus doesn’t advocate the healing touch.
Remember, He used the example of the prodigal son who had it all and threw it away on a life of debauchery as an example of how we should forgive.
Again, He embraced the corrupt tax collector and showed real love to the prostitute
This then provides a template for us in our actions with those we see who are suffering.
Jesus’ healing touch has no restrictions
So now consider the actions of Jesus in today’s story.
Jesus takes the man aside away from everybody else, away from the crowd and gives him one on one time. As I said earlier, the man would probably have been used to discrimination but Jesus will not subject him to that possibility.
By taking him aside He gives him dignity and stature, he shows compassion and humanity.
Jesus …put his fingers into his ears and he spat and touched his tongue… So he touches the two areas that need to be restored his hearing and his speech.
But most importantly, Jesus looks up to heaven indicating that this is a God given cure not an earthly one, it requires faith.
If we allow God to touch our lives in whatever situation we find ourselves he brings healing – that is true for us as a community and as individuals. God’s strength is equal to our need.
Leo Tolstoy once wrote,
“Everybody thinks of changing humanity and nobody thinks of changing himself.”
In his later life, Tolstoy converted to Christianity and is perhaps pointing out one of the conflicts of being a Christian.
But if we believe, God is changing the entire world by transforming individual people one at a time, then we see true healing.
Pope Francis in a TED talk he gave in April 2017, asserted that tenderness was a movement that starts from our hearts, reaches our eyes to see the other, our ears to hear the other and our hands to comfort.
Today we need this healing, this compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience and our world needs it also.
We are all in need of His healing touch.
Jeremy Schipper Disability and Isaiah’s Suffering Servant : Biblical Reiterations, Oxford University Press, Oxford United Kingdom, 2nd September 2011
Leo Tolstoy Three Methods Of Reform in Pamphlets: Translated from the Russian (1900).