Today’s video was filmed at the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Center in Corpus Christi. Not only has this place, and the people who work here made an amazing difference in our lives, one of today’s stories is about Jesus healing a deaf man. My wife started volunteering here with senior citizens, learned to be an interpreter under the tutelage of Susan Tiller, for whom the building is named, and has since gone on to the highest level of certification as an interpreter in Texas with a medical interpreting certificate added. She now teaches sign language and interpreting and interprets our worship services at Second Baptist Church (http://2bc.org) with our daughter. I noted in the video that she will be going through hip replacement surgery on Monday, August 17 and I asked you to pray for us as I renewed my offer to pray for you. We also look at a story that deals with the problem of racism and the healing of a deaf man. May God bless you as you read.
24 And from thence he arose, and went into the borders of Tyre and Sidon, and entered into an house, and would have no man know it: but he could not be hid. 25. For a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell at his feet: 26 The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter.
Jesus spent a lot of time away from the Jewish areas of the land. I think He must have gotten tired of religious people. When I say “religious people,” I’m not talking about people who are in a close relationship with God and spread His love and grace to others; I’m talking about those people “have God on their side” and are ready to correct everything “wrong” that you or anyone else is doing. Recently there was an exchange on Twitter when an author responded to a person’s interpretation of their work, pointing out that they had it wrong. The person responded angrily, “Have you even read that book?” That’s the reaction Jesus got from the religious Jews of His time and He needed a break from the continuous confrontations – and – He also knew that He needed to be in Tyre and Sidon fo a specific reason, or so I believe. He tried to go there anonymously, but they didn’t have sunglasses back in those days, and it wasn’t long before people found out who He was and where He was staying. A Gentile (Greek) woman from Syrophenicia whose daughter had an unclean spirit found out about Him and begged Jesus to cast the demon out. Here, the story takes an interesting twist.
27 But Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto the dogs.
Jesus’s response was simple, straightforward, and insulting. He said, in effect, “I need to take care of my people, the Jews, and not deprive them to take care of the dogs.” Yes, it was a parable and if you want to be kind, you might try to sanitize the word “dogs” in the explanation, but I think that Jesus chose that wording deliberately. The question is, “why?” Did Jesus believe that anyone but Jews were “dogs?” I don’t think so. When a Roman centurion came to Him for help, Jesus not only gave the help, but He marveled at his faith. Did this women’s request show any less faith? I don’t think so. Did Jesus hate women, or perhaps just foreign women, and He insulted her to let her know that she wasn’t worthy of being in His presence? Again, I don’t think so. That doesn’t sound at all like Jesus who helped numerous women throughout His time on earth. My belief is that Jesus knew this woman’s heart and that she, in the past, had used similar language to describe Jewish people. Despite those comments, she sought help from a Jewish rabbi when her daughter needed help. I believe Jesus confronted her racism by throwing it back in her face and caused her to realize how wrong she had been.
28 And she answered and said unto him, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs. 29. And he said unto her, For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter. 30. And when she was come to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed.
Again, this is my speculation on the rationale for the insult Jesus delivered, but the woman recognized her own thoughts thrown back at her, humbled herself, and implored Jesus to heal her daughter once again with a request based in humility, not pride. Her response showed that she understood what Jesus said, why He said it, and was a request couched in the language of the parable. We have a dog, and our dog goes for every crumb she can, under the table or on my shirt. Jesus never hated this woman, He loved her enough to heal her racist attitude and cast the demon out of her daughter. When He recognized that her heart was changed, He announced that her daughter’s demon was gone. I don’t know if the woman left in faith, or if she left skeptically, but we see that her request was granted and that her daughter was healed. Racism is always ugly and sometimes, the only way to deal with it may seem brutal, but Jesus thought that this lady deserved to understand how wrong she was and experience God’s love and grace when she was confronted with her attitude. Let me say this one final time: this is my understanding of this passage. Anytime someone shares their understanding of a passage it may a) be the only correct way to understand the passage; or b) be completely wrong; or c) be one of many possible correct ways to understand the passage. I would hope that c) is the answer in this case.
31 And again, departing from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, he came unto the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis. 32. And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him.
Jesus left after this encounter, and I can’t help but wonder that He made the trip to Tyre and Sidon just for that woman. He went to the Decapolis region where some of the people brought a man who was deaf and, in the words her, had an impediment in his speech. These people asked Jesus to heal him. A quick note on the “speech impediment” here. There are qualities about the speech of people who are deaf that may sound like a speech impediment when, in actuality, they come about because a deaf person can’t hear their own speech correctly. The New International Version (NIV) puts a title on this encounter that said that Jesus healed a “deaf and mute” man. The text doesn’t describe a person who is “mute” so much as a person whose speech is different because of his hearing loss. A person can be mute, unable to speak, without being deaf, and most deaf people are able to speak and thus, should not be described as mute. Often, they don’t speak because people make fun of their speech because it exhibits qualities that relate to their deafness. Two lessons to make of this: 1) don’t call Deaf people “deaf and mute,” and 2) show respect to any person who is different, sounds different, or has different abilities because of their physical nature. These people must have loved their friend who was deaf so much that when they heard that Jesus was in the area, they brought him to Jesus. (Personal note: I have been involved with the Deaf community in one way or another for over forty years. I was certified as an interpreter for the Deaf for a short time and my wife has been involved in the community as an interpreter for all of that time. Even so, I may not have been completely accurate in my analysis above and I apologize in advance for any mistakes and welcome anyone in the Deaf community to call attention to my mistakes.)
33 And he took him aside from the multitude, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue; 34. And looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. 35. And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain.
I would love to see a picture of this scene, but apparently, none of the disciples had their cell phones with them at the time. Jesus took the man and put His fingers in his ears. I find the issue of spitting here interesting. I imagine He spat to the side and not on the man. Then, Jesus touched the man’s tongue. It is possible to touch a person’s tongue when you have fingers in their ears. I checked it out. Jesus looked up to heaven and sighed. Again, why a sigh? When I write fiction, I imagine my characters doing a lot of sighing and I try to find alternative words for sighing. I think this might have been describing a deep breath. Whether I’m correct in this understanding or not, I think the sigh/deep breath included a quick, non-verbal prayer. Then Jesus told the man, “Be opened.” The man’s ears were opened and, he was able to speak without any perceptible difference. At first glance, that might show that my earlier interpretation of the “speech impediment” was wrong and it is possible, if not probable, there was a physical impediment to clear speech. Wrong or not, though, the explanation is a reminder to treat people who are different with respect. It’s also possible that when Jesus healed the man of his hearing loss, He brought healing to the speech patterns. We could argue about the details, but the simple fact is that the man could now hear and speak just like anyone else in the crowd.
36. And he charged them that they should tell no man: but the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it; 37. And were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.
Jesus gave them a charge – they weren’t supposed to tell anyone what had happened. One of the scholarly debates is why Jesus tried to keep this “Messianic Secret.” I’m not a scholar, but my understanding of the reason Jesus told those He healed to keep quiet is that He wanted people to experience the Kingdom of God as opposed to coming to Him just for the healing. This question is one of those questions I’ll be able to answer for you in a hundred years or so. This was a command that they couldn’t follow, because they kept spreading the news about the man who was deaf being healed. Note here: “dumb” is also not a term you should use for the Deaf community. People are not “deaf and dumb,” they are deaf. The NIV uses the term “mute” in their description. The miracle is that a man who could not, or would not, speak suddenly began to speak clearly. I wonder sometimes if we don’t teach evangelism all wrong. We tell people to go and tell and they stay home and stay quiet. Jesus told people to stay home and be quiet, and the people decided to go and tell. Since we know the rest of the story already (Spoiler alert if you haven’t read the Bible before or haven’t heard the news) that Jesus died and rose again, we have a much more amazing story to tell in our world about the crucified and resurrected Savior. I don’t think Jesus was using reverse psychology here, and neither will I, since Jesus told us His response to the situation after His resurrection. Go and tell this amazing story to friends and loved ones: “He forgives sins, empowers His people, and He’s conquered death.”