23 Sunday B - Ephphatha

Michel DeVerteuil
Textual Comments
We are given the context of today’s story: it took place as Jesus was “returning from the district of Tyre”. He was passing “by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee” and this brought him “right through the Decapolis region”. This reminds us that we must know how to leave our ordinary surroundings so that we can meet people like this man.
Today’s gospel passage is a healing story. We must be careful to interpret these stories correctly. For example, we would be wrong to draw the conclusion that since Jesus healed miraculously, all his followers are called to do the same. That would be to misunderstand the meaning of the miracles.
St John gives us the key to interpret Jesus’ miracles. Whereas the other evangelists refer to the miracles as “wonders” or “powers”, John calls them “signs”; for him the miracles point beyond themselves to the “kingdom of God”. This is the world as God wills it to be. It is what Jesus lived and died for. The miracles therefore are living lessons on the kingdom. They are also signs that the kingdom is already present in the world. We can see fleeting glimpses of it, its first fruits, its heralds.

stages of growth

Jesus’ miracles are like the educational films made nowadays which show the processes of nature speeded up. They are “fast forwarded”. For example, we see in one continuous movement a seed germinate, become a bud then a beautiful flower, and then spread new seeds. In somewhat the same way, Jesus’ miracles display (and announce the arrival of) God’s plan for the world. They “go against nature” but only in the sense that in them God’s kingdom comes instantaneously, whereas in real life it takes considerable time and plenty of painful effort.
The person in this story can neither hear nor speak and is therefore a truly touching symbol of those who cannot communicate. They cannot hear God’s word of truth, wisdom and consolation, the words of those who would like to enter into communication with them. They cannot hear the life-giving words spoken by nature, the truth of themselves, the greatness or the weakness of their own beings.
The “impediment” in his speech symbolizes well our inability to initiate conversation – with God, other human beings, nature, oneself. The phrase “the ligaments of his tongue were loosened” tells us that the power to communicate is within us all. It is kept in check by the negative forces within us, like fear, hurt and anger. “He spoke clearly” is also a very telling phrase – it refers to the great wonder of good communication, a power we have within us, if we can only do it right.
jesus man born blind 
Jesus takes the man “aside in private”. This is surely an indication that his healing often requires intimacy. When we try to do it publicly, we run the risk of using persons to bolster our ego or for our personal ambition.
The healing process in this story is very physical. Jesus “puts his fingers into the man’s ears” and “touches his tongue with spittle”. This reminds us that the meeting of bodies is very important in the ministry of healing. Jesus also “sighs”; this is telling us that he takes on himself the pain of the man. He “looks up to heaven” – a sign that he knows the source of his healing power is there. It is also a sign of a deep respect before the person’s vulnerability.
The passage concludes with one of the several stories of Jesus imposing what biblical scholars have called the “messianic secret.” At present, scholars are divided on the issue. Some think of the deep significance of this mysterious aspect of Jesus’ ministry, a meaning which is always manifested slowly. We need to enter into this mystery as we can.
My own feeling however is different. I take it to mean that the “secret”  of Jesus reminds us that as always we must interpret the story of Jesus from our own experience. Jesus is then the model of those who choose to minister from the truth of who they are. He does not start from the false idea of what status society finally confers on them.
The text brings out the important aspect of what Jesus really achieved. It notes that the people  “published widely” what he had achieved; their “admiration was unbounded”. It then adds, “He has done all things well”, and specifies further, “he makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.”
This is always Jesus’ point of view. He is always there to help people, to make sure that the deaf hear and the dumb speak. Those who had little or no capacity for communication  are now able to speak clearly.
Prayer Reflection
 Lord, nowadays, when people need to have hands laid on them they are often treated impersonally:
– doctors and nurses see the sick as objects rather than people,
– parents are too busy to spend quality time with their children,
– teachers prefer classroom lectures rather that one-to-one sessions,
– pastors in your Church no longer sit and converse with members of their communities,
– the confessional has been replaced by the office with secretaries and answering machines,
– spiritual guides approach their work like busy professionals.

Our Western culture needs care-givers like Jesus
who take people aside in private, away from crowds,
put their fingers into the ears of those who have not heard words of forgiveness and encouragement,
make personal contact with them as intimate as Jesus putting spittle on the tongue of the man who had an impediment in his speech;
people who feel very deeply the pain of the person entrusted to them so that in communion with them they will raise their eyes to heaven and sigh.

Only then will those whose ears are blocked be able to hear
that they are worthy of love and friendship,
the ligaments of their tongues will be loosened
so that they will feel able to speak clearly the truth of what they feel.

Lord, we bring to you the many people who cannot hear
and have an impediment in their speech
so that they do not experience the joys of human communion:

integrated medicine– they have heard so many negative things about themselves that compliments do not get through to them;
– they are fearful of being rejected and cannot risk saying what is within them.
Send them people like Jesus to lay healing hands on them,
people who recognise how deep-seated their problems are
and take them aside in private, away from the crowd,
where they can say what is in their hearts;
people who will make a human contact with them,
almost putting their fingers into their ears and touching their tongues with spittle;
not arrogant people, but the kind who will look humbly to heaven
for the wisdom to say and do the right things;
who will not be aloof either,
but will sigh as they feel the pain of those they are listening to.

They will say, “Be opened,” and people’s ears will be opened;
at their touch, ligaments of tongues will be loosened and speech will flow.
Lord, we think today of the many people who live in their own world,
unable to communicate with those around them:
– the elderly abandoned by their families and residing in homes with strangers,
– young people isolated from both peers and elders,
– immigrants who cannot hear what is being said to them and cannot speak in their own language,
– people of deep faith categorised by majority religions as pagans or idolaters.

They have heard no words of love or even of respect and are impeded from sharing what is most important to them.
We ask you to send them people to whom they can be brought,
as the man in the gospel was brought to Jesus, to have hands laid on them
so that they can hear the liberating words, “Ephphatha”
and their ears can be opened to hear a voice they can recognise
and they can feel a human presence which will loosen the ligaments of their tongues.
Lord, we thank you for Charismatic Renewal in our Church.

Through Life-in-the-Spirit seminars many have been brought to Jesus to have him lay hands on them.
Their ears were opened so that they heard your word spoken personally to them,
the ligaments of their tongues were loosened
and they who up till then were silent in your presence
as if they had an impediment in their speech now speak clearly and freely in joyful praise.
Lord, we thank you for the humility showed by your son Jesus

when he ordered those he healed to tell no one about it.
Help the leaders of your Church to walk in his steps,
not relying on their status as bishops, priests, deacons or lay ministers,
but on their willingness to meet people at their level,
in private away from the crowds,
sharing their common humanity and feeling their pain.
always share faith
Lord, we pray today for societies divided on grounds of ethnicity, race and culture,
religious belief and practice, long-standing territorial disputes.
Their history of mutual suspicion has made them incapable
of communicating with each other.
Like the man in the gospel story their ears are blocked
and they have an impediment in their speech
– neither side can hear what the other is saying,
and they cannot speak without being misunderstood.
We pray that Jesus will lay hands on them and do all things well for them

so that their ears will be opened and they will be able to speak clearly.
Lord, we thank you for revealing to us the deep meaning of your messianic secret.
Help us always to find it within the limits of our human experience of people
who can now be introduced into the great mystery of human communion.
 Thomas O’Loughlin
Introduction to the Celebration
The Rite of Blessing and Sprinkling Holy Water (Missal, p 387) is appropriate because the gospel is that of Jesus restoring hearing and speech to the deaf man with the speech impediment.
A more focused introduction could take this form:
Dear friends,
Today’s gospel reminds us that when we were baptised,
the Lord touched our ears to receive his word and our mouths to proclaim his faith.
Now we have gathered together to listen to his word and to proclaim that faith.
So, let us ask God to bless this water, which we will use to remind us of our baptism, and to keep us faithful to the Spirit he has given us.

Gospel Comments
This healing, which follows the pattern of healings in Mark, is intended to be read as one more indication of the arrival and nature of the messianic times. Each healing and each miracle is like a pointer to one more aspect of Jesus as ‘the Christ’.

At the end of the healing, the crowd’s reaction and amazement is a direct allusion to the reaction described in Isa 35:5-6; and for Mark, the healing taken with the reaction is an indication that the glorious future, which was long awaited, is already a reality in Jesus. But there is still the ‘messianic secret’ when Jesus orders them to tell no one of the miracle, yet the more he tells them this, the more they ignore him. Mark is anxious that no one should think of Jesus just as a healer: the messiah only becomes truly visible in the cross and resurrection.
Since this miracle is only found in a much cut-down form in Matthew (15:29-31), this is a very good place to see just what a distinctive theological voice Mark had. Moreover, the details of the Ephphatha, which has had such a profound impact on the liturgy of baptism, is only found here.

Homily Notes
the Jesus touch
1. Better than just a homily today is to have a little ceremony of ephphatha, and then perhaps say a few words. However, if that is not possible, then here are some notes.
2. There is a little ritual in the rite of baptism — alas it is often omitted — whose name and form is taken from today’s gospel: ‘The Ephphatha’. The celebrant touches the ears and then the lips of the one to be baptised saying: ‘The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. May he soon touch your ear to receive his word and your mouth to proclaim his faith …’ This simple ceremony captures not only what is the kernel of today’s gospel, but a most profound aspect of our faith: its ‘giftedness’.
3. In the first reading we hear the prophet describing the people in terms of their disabilities: stumbling, hard of hearing, with poor sight — the sad reality of the human condition. But holding out the promise of God’s help, and aid, and mercy: the gift of the Promised One will be the gift of new sight, new hearing, and new lips. And the miracle in today’s gospel is a demonstration that this time has come: Jesus is the gift of the Father to us.
4. The gift of new sight shows us the true nature of the creation: the universe exists in dependence on God’s will; we human creatures exist because of his love, and our destiny is not within the creation, but in union with God.
5. The gift of new hearing allows us to hear the word of God in our gatherings, in the situations and ups and downs of life, and in our consciences. We can come to know that God loves us, cares for us, and calls us to be his ministers and his witnesses.
6. The gift of new speech allows us to praise him in prayer, to proclaim the truth to sisters and brothers, and to announce the good news of Jesus.
7. God’s gift to us is the gift of receiving and the gift of transmitting. We are enabled to hear the word of God, and we are empowered to communicate the word of God. In opening our ears and lips, Jesus gathers us up into his own divine life.
What we are

Sean GoanGospel
This week stories of conflict are left behind as we are treated to further evidence of what Jesus’ ministry of proclaiming the kingdom of God is all about. The story begins with a rather flawed geography lesson. The sequence mentioned by Mark makes no sense but it may be that he is making a theological point because the places he mentions are the gentile surroundings of Galilee where the kingdom has been first proclaimed. The man brought to Jesus cannot hear or speak and is therefore cut off from the good news, but through Jesus’ healing touch he is restored and the response to this action is one of unrestrained praise and wonder. The people realise that in Jesus all that the prophets had spoken of so long ago is being fulfilled and Mark is also making the point that this ministry embraces Jew and Gentile alike.

By the time of Jesus many religious traditions were in place which served to differentiate between those who were on the inside and those who were outsiders. This led to divisions, inequality and oppression — the very things that the covenant was supposed to eradicate. So when Jesus reached out to the poor, to sinners and those on the margins he was bringing into focus once again the kind of world God wanted. His was a love that included everyone and which could not be bought. In commanding that the ears of the deaf man be opened there is a message to us all, especially those who think that their hearing is perfect. Our ability to really hear the good news can be limited by many things, especially closed minds and hearts. Perhaps as individuals and as a community our prayer during this Sunday Eucharist might be that we would be opened to all the transformation that God wants to work in us.

opening heartsFrom the Connections:

Ephphatha “Be opened!”
Isaiah’s vision of a Messiah who would come with hope and healing (today’s first reading) is realized in this episode from Mark’s Gospel: the deaf hear, the silent are given voice, the lame “leap like a stag.”  The exhortation Ephphatha! is not only addressed to the man born deaf but to his disciples both then and now who fail to hear and see and speak the presence of God in their very midst.
The Aramaic phrase ephphatha literally means “be released” – Jesus “releases” the man not only from his disability but from his sins, his isolation from the community, his alienation from God.
Jesus’ curing of the deaf man with spittle (which, in Jesus’ time, was considered curative) is an act of re-creation.  God’s reign is present in human history in the extraordinary ministry of Jesus.  Throughout Mark’s Gospel, Jesus insists that his healings be kept quiet in order that his full identity be revealed and understood only in the light of his cross and resurrection.

Jesus restores the deaf man’s hearing with the word Ephphatha – “Be opened!”  We, too, can bring healing and life to those who need the support, the affirmation, the sense of loving and being loved that the simple act of listening can give.
In times of grief, despair and failure, we can be “deaf” to the presence of God in the love and compassion of others; or we can become so preoccupied with the noise and clamor of the marketplace that we are unable to hear the voices of those we love and who love us.
Jesus not just cures the man with a fleeting word but, by his touch, he enters into the grit and grime, the struggle and pain of the man’s life and, in doing so, brings hope and healing to the man.

Listening ‘funny’ . . .
A mother was planning a birthday party for her six-year-old son.  She wanted to protect him from the social consequences of inviting Jason, an unpopular child, to the party.  Jason stuttered, so he was constantly teased, often cruelly.
But Mom realized that her son had to make the decision on his own.
Mom was pleasantly surprised to discover that her son not only could take care of himself but also stick up for his friend.
When other boys at the party started making fun of Jason, her son confronted them, saying:  “He doesn't talk funny.  You listen funny.”
[Kathleen Chesto.]
We often listen "funny."  Fear and ignorance often distort our ability not only to hear but also to see the good in the midst of bad, the reasons to hope in the midst of despair.  The words Jesus speaks to the deaf man in today's Gospel – “Ephphatha” -- are spoken to us, as well: that our hearts and spirits be “opened” to accepting God's love from those who are “different” and “uncool”; that our hearts and spirits be “opened” to realizing God's presence in times and places that make us squirm; that our hearts and spirits be “opened” to realizing God's grace despite our difficulty to trust, to accept, to understand.


We have come to associate the good news of salvation with something that is going to take place in the distant future, as something purely spiritual. But Scripture pictures salvation in more realistic and physical terms. In today's first reading Isaiah reminds the people that God will save them and they will experience tangible signs of his power and loving care for them. The message of the prophet is loud and clear to all who believe in God. We may be living in difficult times, we may be faced with uncertainty. What is God saying to us? His promise is not something for the distant future but will be realized right now. He is coming to save us and He will give us signs of his presence. Are we open to His touch? Can we believe that His hand is there in all that is happening to us today? "Be open!"

She was both deaf and blind

We all know Helen Keller, whose story we read or watched in the play or movie 'The Miracle Worker'. Helen wrote in her autobiography the key experience in her life: "The most important day I remember in all my life is the one in which my teacher, Annie Mansfield Sullivan, came to me. I stretched out my hand as I supposed it to be my mother. But someone took it, and I was caught up and held close in the arms of someone who had come to reveal all things to me, and more than all else to love me." Annie Sullivan did give the child enormous love, but she also gave her firm and, at times, violent discipline. Annie's combination of very tender and warm love and very stern and uncompromising discipline touched this child deeply and made her into a human being and a very great one at that. Even a cynical soul as Mark Twain, who got to know Helen Keller, reckoned her as one of the most interesting figures in the nineteenth century, because she had conquered her own physical limitations to become a beautiful and noble lady.
William Bausch in 'Telling Stories, Compelling Stories'

In today's Gospel we see Jesus dealing with the man who was deaf and dumb and we can receive many insights for our own life from contemplating the scene. Firstly, we are reminded that the man was brought to Jesus by others who implored Jesus to lay his hand on him. There are times when we cannot help ourselves and we need others to bring us to Jesus. When we come across people who are hurting and helpless, we need to bring them to Jesus. Secondly, we are told that the man was deaf and also had an impediment in his speech. We might say that we have no such problem, we can hear well and we have no problem speaking. But have we no problem? Can we really hear? Can we hear what people are trying to say to us? Can we hear what the situation we are in, is saying to us? Can we hear what God is saying to us? In Jesus' response to the man who was brought for healing, we see the compassionate love and care of Jesus for him and for all who need his healing touch. The gospel tells us that Jesus took him aside from the crowd. He deals with him on a personal level on a one-to-one basis. Jesus spends time alone with him, and touches him putting his fingers into his ears and spittle on his tongue. Jesus could have healed him from a distance but he draws close to him and gets involved with him and touches him and looking up to heaven, as if to remind all that His power comes from on high, He says: "Be opened!", and the man was healed and he could hear and speak. He ordered the crowd to tell no one about it because he does not want them to come to him just to witness miracles but to come with faith for the touch of love, the touch of the Master's Hand, that is often felt in hidden, unobtrusive yet loving ways.

The Touch of the Master's Hand

There is a poem by Myra Brook Welch called 'Touch of the Master’s Hand'. In this poem she tells the story of an old dusty violin being auctioned. The violin is about to be sold for a mere $3 when a grey-haired man steps forward, picks it up, dusts it off and begins to play. The man plays such sweet music on the violin that when he finishes, the bidding jumps into thousands of dollars. What changed its value? What transformed the dusty old violin into a precious instrument? -the Touch of the Master's Hand. 'And many a man with life out of tune, and battered and scarred with sin, is auctioned cheap, to the thoughtless crowd, much like the old violin. But the Master comes and the foolish crowd never can understand the worth of a soul, and the change that's wrought by the Touch of the Master's Hand.'
Albert Cylwicki in 'His Word Resounds'

Be very careful of what you speak

A woman went to confession and confessed that she had been gossiping about others. As her penance, the priest told her to go to the market, buy an unplucked hen, and, on her way home, she was to pluck the hen, feather by feather, and let each feather be carried off by the wind. She did that, and returned to the priest. He praised her for her obedience, and he said "Now, there's one more thing to do. I want you to go back along the road, and pick up every feather belonging to that hen." The woman was dumb founded. The task was impossible. By now, the wind had scattered those feathers miles away, out across the country. "Exactly", said the priest. "Now you see what happens as a result of your gossiping. It is impossible to call the words back, once you sent them on their way. Be very very careful what you speak, and especially what you gossip. It is almost impossible to repair the damage."
Jack McArdle in 'And that's the Gospel truth!'

When Jesus enters…

A working man was strongly drawn towards a beautiful vase he saw in a stall down in the town market. He bought the vase and brought it home. The vase was so beautiful that it made his front room look drab, dull, and indeed plain ugly. So he got bright paints and transformed the whole house. He got colourful curtains to match the paint, a brightly patterned carpet, and he even stripped down and varnished the furniture. Because of the beauty of the vase the whole room was transformed. - When Jesus enters my heart, the areas in need of attention become, oh, so obvious. Holiness consists in discovering that I am a much bigger sinner than I ever thought I was! The closer I come to God the more obvious the contrast!  When Jesus comes, his touch, his presence makes all the difference!
Jack McArdle in 'More stories for Preachers and Teachers'


1)    "I want to be alone."

 That was the famous declaration made by the early Swedish film star and glamour girl Greta Garbo (1905-1990). But it was that declaration that jinxed her search for solitude. A vast cast of has-been, over-the-hill actors and actresses struggled to stay in focus but swiftly faded out of the limelight and into obscurity. But Garbo, by her very insistence on alone-time, was hounded by media hangers-on until her death in 1990. To get a picture of Greta Garbo remained a paparazzi "holy grail" throughout her life.

We are more alone and less alone these days than ever before. Humans have always lived in communities, in tribes, in families - for protection, for food, for companionship, for love. In the twenty-first century urban living is the norm, with large populations of people gathered around a commercial/communal core. But even as we live lives more closely packed, we are more solitary. Education and economics have made it possible for more people to "make it" on their own. What for centuries had been the culturally and economically determined "norm" - to marry and produce a family in order to survive - is no longer viewed as a necessity. In America, the new norm is singledom. Half of all adults are unmarried, and 15% of those singles live by themselves. In Scandinavia it is estimated that by 2020 half of all "households" will be occupied by only one individual.

But singledom does not mean we are alone...
 2)    Persistent Attention

 In Keeping Pace, Ernest Fitzgerald relayed the true story of a magazine company which several years ago purchased a new computer. Its function was to compile data and send out subscription notices to customers whose subscriptions had lapsed. One day something went wrong with the machine, and before the error was discovered (about a month later), a certain rancher in Colorado had received 9,374 notices that his subscription had expired. Someone in the magazine office posted the letter the company received from him. Inside was a check for one year's subscription along with a handwritten note saying: "I give up! Send me the magazine." He was won over by their consistent, persistent attention.

That's what still wins people over to Christ. It's the consistent witness we live before them: the kindness and gentility that are consistently evident, the willingness to listen without judging and to help without expecting something in return, the smile that's always there, the warm hug or handshake that we can count on, the friendship that doesn't blow hot and cold, the faith that is evident in good times and other times, as well. We articulate Christ's presence and power most effectively not with eloquent words but rather with a steady, faithful Christian life that others can see and believe in.

 Michael B. Brown, Be All That You Can Be, CSS Publishing Company

 3)    A Model of Faith

 It may come as a shock to most Christians today, but we would do better to use this woman as a model of faith even more than the disciples. After all, we are neither Jewish nor Galilean; we have no familial claim or geographical claim to Jesus.

While the woman learns that the power of faith lies internally, the disciples learn that faith can't be measured by proximity to Jesus. They are right next to the Lord and yet they see the woman as a bother. They don't lead her to Jesus or attempt to heal her daughter, her faith does that. They are too blinded by their social and religious prejudice to offer miracles to anyone.

Jesus words are obviously not meant to cut down the woman (her compassion runs too deep to care if she is insulted). The words of Christ are meant to reprimand the disciples-and us-when our politics and religious agenda blind us to compassion.

Which faith most resembles mine? Am I like the cocksure disciples steeped in religious and cultural prejudice, deeply self-assured of my proximity to Jesus? Or, am I like the outcast woman of Lebanon, indentured by compassion and uncaring of insults if I can just save one soul?

Jerry Goebel, Even the Dogs


4)    Miraculous Healing

 I have a friend who is a surgeon and a committed Christian. He is the physician who took care of me when I had a snow blower accident and needed surgery on two fingers. During one of the surgeries (all done with local anesthetic), I asked, "Don, do you believe in divine healing?"  "Is there any other kind?" he responded.

 Good point, but what I really wanted to know was whether he believed in what we would call miraculous healing, so I asked, "Actually, I wanted to know if you believe in miraculous healing."  "Yes," he answered in a matter of fact way, "Why do you ask? Do you want me to stop the surgery?"  John Jewell, What About Healing?


5)    The Buzzard, the Bat, and the Bumblebee

 If you put a buzzard in a pen that is 6 feet by 8 feet and is entirely open at the top, the bird, in spite of its ability to fly, will be an absolute prisoner. The reason is that a buzzard always begins a flight from the ground with a run of 10 to 12 feet. Without space to run, as is its habit, it will not even attempt to fly, but will remain a prisoner for life in a small jail with no top.   The ordinary bat that flies around at night, a remarkable nimble creature in the air, cannot take off from a level place. If it is placed on the floor or flat ground, all it can do is shuffle about helplessly and, no doubt, painfully, until it reaches some slight elevation from which it can throw itself into the air. Then, at once, it takes off like a flash.

A bumblebee, if dropped into an open tumbler, will be there until it dies, unless it is taken out. It never sees the means of escape at the top, but persists in trying to find some way out through the sides near the bottom. It will seek a way where none exists, until it completely destroys itself.

In many ways, we are like the buzzard, the bat, and the bumblebee. We struggle about with all our problems and frustrations, never realizing that all we have to do is look up! That's the answer, the escape route and the solution to any problem! Just look up.

 Source Unknown


 6)    Quiet Time Is for Listening

 There was a fifth grade teacher who decided that she would use this listening process with her children. Every morning for five minutes she required them to be totally quiet. That's hard for any of us to do, much less a fifth grader. She discovered that a great deal of good came from the experience of silence. After one of these quiet times she asked the students if they had heard anything. One boy said: Yes, I heard something say that I should be more obedient to my parents. Another said: I heard something say that you should always be fair: When you are tagged and nobody sees it you are still out. There is no substitute for listening.



 7)    The Friendship Mirror

A psychologist friend of mine once developed a personal growth seminar entitled, The Friendship Mirror. It began with an exercise in which you were asked to write down the names of ten people you consider to be friends - people you enjoy being with ... people you like ... people you feel most comfortable relating to. Then he'd ask you to describe them in terms of their age, race, height, weight, education, views, whether they're married or single, with children or not. When you finished, what you found was a striking similarity between the people you like the best and ... are you ready for this? Yourself!

 Surprise! We tend to identify most easily with those people who are like us. "Birds of a feather flock together," they say. Which is nothing new, of course, but it's something we do well to be reminded of, from time to time, for to grow up is to grow out and to mature in faith is to widen your circle to include those who don't just mirror your image, but challenge you to think and act in new ways.

 Philip W. McLarty, The Boundaries of the Kingdom


8)    Believing in Jesus: Erasing Boundaries

 If we believe in Jesus, we know the boundaries are erased inside and out, life's for us all. Fred Craddock tells the story of a missionary sent to preach the gospel in India near the end of World War II. After many months the time came for a furlough back home. His church wired him the money to book passage on a steamer but when he got to the port city he discovered a boat load of Jews had just been allowed to land temporarily. These were the days when European Jews were sailing all over the world literally looking for a place to live, and these particular Jews were staying in attics and warehouses and basements all over that port city.

It happened to be Christmas, and on Christmas morning, this missionary went to one of the attics where scores of Jews were staying. He walked in and said, "Merry Christmas." The people looked at him like he was crazy and responded, "We're Jews." "I know that," said the missionary, "What would you like for Christmas?" In utter amazement the Jews responded, "Why we'd like pastries, good pastries like the ones we used to have in Germany." So the missionary went out and used the money for his ticket home to buy pastries for all the Jews he could find staying in the port. Of course, then he had to wire home asking for more money to book his passage back to the States.

As you might expect, his superiors wired back asking what happened to the money they had already sent. He wired that he had used it to buy Christmas pastries for some Jews. His superiors wired back, "Why did you do that? They don't even believe in Jesus." He wired back: "Yes, but I do."

David Reynolds, Crossing Boundaries


 9)    The Sermon Title

 Generations of preachers at Princeton Seminary were schooled in their homiletical skills by Dr. Donald Macleod. Among the points Dr. Macleod would make during the semester was the importance of choosing a compelling sermon title. In fact, he asked students to give their sermon title before beginning each sermon.

He used to tell of Mrs. O'Leary who would hop on the Fifth Avenue bus on Sunday morning in Manhattan and pass the great churches along that thoroughfare. As the bus would approach each church, she would eye the sign in front with the sermon title and decided, on the basis of what she read, whether to get off the bus and attend that church. Dr. Macleod's constant refrain was, "Pick a title that will make Mrs. O'Leary get off the bus."
10)  Ice Skating

 Once upon a time there was a lake which usually froze over in the winter. It was a great place to skate and very safe as long as the weather remained cold. Normally parents began to worry about the lake only after March 15 because the lake was in the Middle West where winter lasts till, like May, sometimes. Anyway, this one winter was quite warm (for the middle west) and little pools of water often appeared in the lake at the end of a day, though they froze again over night. The police warned everyone who lived near the Lake to be careful because the ice might be very thin in some places. Parents in turn warned their children, who, like kids often do, skillfully tuned out everything their parents said. So a lot of parents ordered the kids to stay away from the lake. Well, one week in late February there was a fierce cold spell and the Lake seemed to have returned to its old, icy self. The kids all wanted to skate. Teachers told them not to. Their parents told them not to. The kids listened and nodded dutifully.

How, they said, could there be thin ice when it was so cold. Most of the kids, more because of fear of being punished then fear of the lake, stood on the shore and watched as five of them, three boys and two girls, shouting that the others were “chicken” skated all around the lake and had a grand old time. Then all five of them were for just a moment in the same place and, well . . . You know what happened.

 There was a sound like someone had fired a gun. The ice cracked all around them and they were suddenly on an ice island in the middle of the lake at least twenty feet from any other ice – which was still cracking and breaking up. Then the little ice island looked like it was going to sink.

Then one little boy, the worst chicken of all because he was smart, ran into a house and called 911. In ten minutes a police helicopter arrived and lifted the five kids off the ice island.

Do I have to tell you what the cops said to them? Or their parents? Or how long they were grounded from skating?


11)   “Little  monk  who  opened blind  eyes:   

At  the Annual National Prayer Breakfast on February 2, 1984, Ronald Reagan, the former  president of the United  States, told  the old story of "the little monk," Telemachus,  a  martyr   whose  self-sacrificing  commitment  to  Christian ideals opened the blind  eyes and  deaf ears of the Romans and  their fifth century  Christian  emperor  Honorius.  According  to  the  story,  this  Turkish monk  was led by an inner voice to go  to Rome in order  to stop the  cruel and  inhuman gladiatorial fights between slaves. He followed the  crowds to the  Coliseum where  two  gladiators were  fighting.  He jumped into  the arena and  tried to stop them,  shouting "In the name of Christ, hold  back!" The gladiators stopped, but  the spectators became indignant.   A group of them  rushed into the arena and  beat Telemachus to death. When the crowd saw the  brave little monk  lying  dead in a pool  of blood, they  fell silent, leaving the stadium, one by one. Three days later, because of Telemachus' heroic sacrifice of his own  life, the Emperor decreed an end to the  games. In today's Gospel, which describes the  miraculous healing of  a  deaf mute,  we  are  invited  to  open our  ears  and  eyes,  loosen  our tongues and  pray  for the courage of our Christian convictions to become the voice of the voiceless.

12)  "The  Touch  of  the  Masters  Hand":
In  the  poem The  Touch  of  the Masters Hand, Myra  Brooks Welch tells the  story of the  auctioning of an old  dusty  violin.  The  violin  was  about to  be  sold  for a  mere  $3 when  a grey-haired man  stepped forward, picked it up, dusted it off, tuned it and began to play.  The man  played such sweet music that,  when  he finished, the  bidding jumped into  the  thousands of dollars. What  transformed the dusty  old  violin  into  a  precious  instrument?  The  touch of  the  Masters hand. The same touch of the Masters hand continues to transform our lives today. By Gods touch we become His instruments to accomplish the marvelous works described in todays Psalm 146: to secure justice for the oppressed, give food to the hungry  and  set the captives free.

 13)  "Five  past  two."  
Two  older   men  were   talking.   One   of  them   was bragging just a little bit. "I just purchased the most expensive hearing aid ever made," he said. "It is imported and  is guaranteed for life." The second man  asked: "What  kind is it?" The first man  answered, "Five past two."  We can laugh  about the  hearing  loss  that  comes  with  aging.  It  is  a  minor problem that  will affect most of us sooner or later.  In fact, experts predict that  years of rock music, leaf  blowers, and  noise pollution in general  will result in millions of baby boomers with hearing loss. According to a recent study  by  the  National  Institutes of  Health,  there  has  been a  stunning  26 percent increase in those suffering permanent hearing loss between the ages of 35 and  60, compared to 15 years earlier. (With Adam Hanft, Dictionary  of  the  Future  (New  York, NY: Hyperion,   2001), p.  3. Todays gospel passage tells us how Jesus healed a deaf man  who was mute.