When to Talk about Jesus
Scriptures: Mark 7:31-37, Mark 8:22-26
I once saw a poster in a high school classroom with the
title: "Have you ever wondered?" Underneath it said, "Have you ever wondered.
Why there are interstate highways in Hawaii?
Why drive through automated teller machines have instructions in Braille?
Why there are five syllables in the word monosyllabic?
Why people press harder on a remote control when they suspect the battery is dead?
You wonder about these things.
Well in our Bible story for today I wonder about this
question: why did Jesus heal a man who could not speak and then tell him to keep quiet. Jesus said this not just to the man but to everyone who witnessed the healing. Mark says, "Jesus ordered them to tell no one."
This is not the only time Jesus did this. Edina read for us
the story of Jesus healing a blind man, which by the way will be the Bible story for tomorrow in our 365 Bible stories. These two stories are very similar. Both involve spit. By the way, the Greek word for spit is "ptuo"-one of the easier Greek vocabulary words to remember. In the first scripture Jesus puts spit on the guy's eyes (ptuo), and in the second scripture he puts spit on his tongue. I will say more about this method of healing in a moment. But notice how the first scripture reading ends. Jesus sends the blind man to his home and says, "Don't even go into the village or tell anyone." That last part is included in one of the oldest manuscripts of Mark's gospel. Jesus heals a man who was blind and then tells him to keep quiet about it. If this happened in our church, we would have at least put it on Facebook. Why does Jesus tell these people to keep quiet about the wonderful healing they have received? I will come back to that in a minute.
But first let's go back to the details about the weird way Jesus heals
people. Sticking his fingers in the guy's ears? Spitting on his finger and touching his tongue? Jesus did not need to do that. Just before our story for today, Jesus meets a Syrian woman who begs him to heal her daughter whom she says is demon-possessed. Jesus says to her, "Go-the demon has left your daughter." And the woman goes home and finds her daughter completely well. That's it. There is no spitting, no sticking his fingers in the girl's ear, no wrestling match with the demon, like in the movie The Exorcist, which as I recall also involved spit. Jesus just says, "Go, your daughter is healed." And she is. Jesus does not need props in order to heal people. Jesus' word alone is sufficient to make people whole.
Ah, but the deaf man can't hear. So maybe that is why Jesus uses
touch to help him understand what is going on. There were in fact many first century healers who used saliva to cure people. So maybe Jesus used saliva to help the deaf man understand what was going on. Because the man could not hear, Jesus used touch to help the man understand what Jesus was doing for him,
The case of the blind man is similar. Of course the blind man could
hear, so Jesus talks to him. But Jesus not only wanted the blind man to hear what God was doing for him; he wanted the blind man to feel what God was doing for him. So he did not just talk to the man; he touched his eyes, not once but twice. Even if they can hear, sometimes people need to be touched by Jesus before they believe his message.
One of my seminary teachers told about a child who woke in the middle
of the night calling for her parents. The child said, "I'm scared." Half asleep the parents said, "There is nothing to be scared of. Go back to sleep." A few minutes later the child called out again, "I'm still scared. I don't want to be alone." This time the parents said, "It's okay. God is with you. God will take care of you. Now go back to sleep." There was a pause, then the child said, "I'd rather be cared for by someone with skin on."
Jesus was God with skin on. He knew that sometimes we
cannot hear God until first we feel God, so he often made a point of touching people, laying some skin on them, so to speak.
But Jesus not only touched people; he gave his life for
them. And that brings me to why Jesus did not want publicity for his healing.
If you are following our 365 Bible stories, on Thursday this
last week we read about Jesus' transfiguration. Jesus goes up on a mountain with three disciples, and they get a sneak preview of Jesus' future reign in glory. They see Jesus in shining white clothes flanked by Moses and Elijah. It is very impressive. But on the way down Mark says that Jesus ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen until after he had risen from the dead.
Why would Jesus give such an order? Because you can't really
understand Jesus' healing until you understand his crucifixion and resurrection. It's not just physical healing that Jesus wants to give us; it's spiritual healing. It's forgiveness of our sins and restoration of our broken relationship to God. If you come to Jesus only when you need healing, if you come to Jesus only when you get cancer or struggle with depression or worry about your kids or your marriage-if only you come to Jesus at times like that, you will miss the most important thing he can do for you.
When Jesus heals people, it is a sign of something greater
that he wants to do for us. Think about it. The people Jesus healed all eventually died. Every one of them. The eyes he opened eventually closed; the ears quit hearing, the tongues fell silent. The physical healing that Jesus did for people was not the ultimate gift. The physical healing was a sign of an even greater gift that Jesus came to give us: the gift of forgiveness and reconciliation and eternal life. Which is why Jesus did not want people publicizing his healing until after his death and resurrection. If all we ever talk about are the wonderful things Jesus does for us in this life, we will miss the greater gift he offers us through his death and resurrection: the gift of eternal life in God's new creation.
One more story. There was a girl in the youth group of the
church I served in Spokane named Kara. During high school she went with our church youth group on a mission trip to Mexico, and discovered a deep compassion for the poor. She went to college studying Spanish and education hoping to serve the poor in Latin America.
Ironically, however, as her heart for the poor grew larger, her mind
became more skeptical, and she began having serious doubts about her faith. When she came home on vacation, she and I talked about this, but I don't think my answers ever satisfied her.
After college she volunteered at an orphanage sponsored by a
children's organization in El Salvador and eventually became the director of one of their new orphanages in Bolivia. Then one day she sent me a long email, and here is part of what she said.
When I was in El Salvador I started truly believing again. And it was partly because in the midst of complete despair, there was still hope. . I stopped asking "if there is a God why does all this suffering exist," and I started being awed by the way God was touching people's hearts to ease suffering and to give hope where it seemed there could be none. . I learned to accompany people in their suffering, accepting that there was little I could do for them except to be there. And gradually I learned that being there was pretty important! I allowed their suffering to penetrate me.
Do you see why Jesus touched people? Because sometimes words alone
won't do it. We need a God with skin on, a God with saliva, a God who enters into our suffering and walks with us through it. That's also why Jesus did not want people talking about his healing before they had witnessed his crucifixion. The cross, even more than Jesus' healing, shows the depths to which Jesus will go to walk with us through suffering.
There will always be experiences that threaten to weaken our faith-having to pay a bill before a child can be admitted to the ER, seeing a teenager on a street corner with her baby sniffing glue, watching an old man sitting on the highway in the middle of three lanes of busy traffic begging for help, seeing children so weak with hunger their hair is turning color, and they can't even hold your gaze. These experiences, sights, smells will forever be part of my consciousness, and I am glad. They allow me to see Jesus in the face of the suffering and just try to love them. And so I no longer question if God exists, because I know he does.
The time to talk about Jesus is not when we are healed, but when we
are not healed. For then we see the meaning of the cross, the meaning of a God with skin on, a God who enters into our suffering and opens the door to hope.