Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him
After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!”(which means “Be opened!”). At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.
Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” (Mark 7:31-37)
Can you imagine being locked away in your head, not able to hear, not able to articulate your thoughts?
It would be tough. For most of us, it’s way outside of our realm of experience.
But there are other ways of feeling locked away. I recently read a fictional story about a college age girl who had been in foster care all her life, and was finally adopted at 16. Because of the deep scars from her past, when she gained a family she still found it almost impossible to engage with the world. She couldn’t believe that she had worth, that people could really care about her. She isolated herself and did everything alone.
The story isn’t about a real person, but it probably resonates with a lot of us. We also have had hard times in life that have caused us to withdraw. And the irony is that although our circumstances might be the cause of our withdrawal, we ourselves choose to continue staying in confinement long after the circumstances have passed.
I’m speaking from experience. As I’ve been working on my character, I’ve come up against these walls I didn’t even know I had. I hide behind them in fear. I’m scared to step out and engage.
It’s interesting. The passage above says that Jesus gave a deep sigh when he healed the deaf man. The Greek word used here for sigh actually means to groan. I think it was the sound Jesus made as he felt the man’s inner anguish and the magnitude of the task of healing. Healing for Jesus wasn’t just a callous flick of miraculous power. No, he was MOVED to his core to focus his whole efforts on helping that person.
That’s the kind of amazing compassion Jesus has for us. Yet it’s hard to believe in.
In the story, the girl’s father sends her care packages while she is at college. But she can’t bring herself to open them. Finally, the day comes when she cautiously unwraps the most recent one. She sees that her father has written her a note, “I know you’re not opening these, but I’m still going to send them. Because that’s what fathers do.”
Doesn’t this remind of of God? He gives to us, not because we deserve it, but because that is what he does.
The question is, can we venture out of our internal refuge and unwrap the gifts God is giving us? Can we engage more fully? I want to. But often I have this sense of dread and fear that holds me back.
Going back to the passage, when Jesus healed the deaf mute, he put his fingers in the man’s ears. He touched his tongue. That is another manifestation of the compassion of Jesus. He doesn’t just tell us to get better. He reaches out to us and puts his finger on the blockage, the source of our problem.
As I was praying this morning, I realized that the blockage for me is feeling like I am not enough. I play over my recent interactions and think I should have done better. I contemplate the day ahead and feel weight of expectation.
My problem is guilt and shame.
I’ve been reading another book lately, “Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion,” by Gregory Boyle. (Warning: this book contains rough language.)
It is written by a Catholic Jesuit who ministers to the inner city gangs in Los Angeles. Boyle writes that all of the gang members have one thing in common: shame. “There is a palpable sense of disgrace strapped like an oxygen tank onto the back of every homie I know. In a letter from prison, a gang member writes, ‘people see me like less.'”
So many of us feel like people see us like less, and we come to believe it is true.
We need the compassion of Jesus, that he would touch our shame. We need the truth of it to penetrate our walls.
Here are verses that are penetrating my walls. I’m learning to be kind and gentle with myself, as I see God’s kindness and gentleness.
- He is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Luke 6:36b
- While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8b
- He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Matt 5:45
- If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! Matt 7:11
- Love is patient, love is kind. . . It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. I Cor 13:4,7
- His compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Lam. 3:22b-23a
- As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. Ps 103:13-14
In conclusion, when Jesus healed the deaf mute, Mark says the people were overwhelmed with amazement. Why were they so amazed? Hadn’t they seen or heard of other miracles Jesus performed? This healing had to have been especially wonderful for them. A man who had never uttered a word could not only hear, he could also hold a conversation. When you think about it, it IS astounding.
It gives me faith as I work on my character. I can change, with Jesus’ help. He believes in me. His compassion loosens the stuck places in my heart. He gives me “gifts” that help me grow, if I will unwrap them.
Here is one gift I’ve been given. We now have a mature women’s discipling group! We call it WOW, “Woman of Wisdom.
One of the greatest things about the WOW group is that I don’t have to feel shame with them. We bare our souls and see that we all have similar weaknesses. We have compassion on one another, and say, “you are enough.”
That is how God is. He sees all our warts and failures and still is merciful. He delights in us and tells us, “you are enough.” That is what will melt our defenses and transform us.