During our Tuesday Bible Study we got on the subject of church attendance. Someone came up with the idea that we should have a “Welcome Back Sunday” to encourage people to come back to worship. There were lots of thoughts expressed and good ideas flowed freely. Then I said something like, “I thought folks would be anxious to come back to worship after having been cooped up at home for so long, but we’re not seeing the people return like I’d hoped.”
We talked about how the different messages and signals we are getting on TV, the internet, in the papers, in visiting with people, are so confusing. We don’t know what to do, who to believe, or how to act. So, many are choosing to stay home and be safe at home. To have a welcome back party in the midst of the confusion might not be successful. We may not reach the people we are intending to welcome back to worship.
Our Gospel today is about people bringing other people to Jesus. Jesus had been northwest of the Sea of Galilee in Tyre. Tyre is not in Jewish Territory, so Jesus is in Gentile territory. Apparently even the Gentiles along the Mediterranean Sea had heard about Jesus. He is reaching out to areas that the Jews would not have gone. Is Jesus going there to get away from crowds, or to reach the non-Jewish population? We can’t be totally sure. But Mark makes an interesting comment, “He entered a house and did not want anyone to know He was there.” Jesus needed a break from the crowds and the demands on Him personally. He must have been tired and needed rest.
But, that didn’t happen. There was a woman who saw Him and came to find help for her daughter. The woman begged Jesus to heal her daughter from an unclean spirit—a demon. Jesus challenged the woman by commenting that He first came for the children of Israel. He told her that it wasn’t right to take the food (grace of God) and give it to dogs (the Gentiles were considered less than people by the Jews).
But the woman retorted, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” [That’s quite a statement! At our house, when we’re eating, the dogs in our extended family congregate around the grandkids, knowing there will be things falling from the highchairs or table!]
The Gentile woman was more than willing to get just the ‘crumbs’ or leftovers of Jesus’ power and grace. Jesus recognized her faith and healed her daughter on the spot.
Later, in another location, Jesus was met by some people who brought a deaf man to Him for healing. His friends begged Jesus to lay His hands on the man and heal him. Jesus uttered that curious word “Ephphatha,” which caused the man’s ears to be opened and healed. The man required no therapy, as Jesus healed both the hearing and his speech impediment.
These two miracle stories are powerful in their own right, but as we talked at text study this week, we wondered why they were offered together in the Gospel for today. We reasoned that Mark must have put them together to teach us that sharing the faith is one of the most important parts of living the faith. Evangelism is bringing others to faith, and telling or showing others the life-changing power of following Jesus. The woman’s daughter and the deaf man were healed because someone else brought them to Jesus.
What could all this mean for us? Well, as I mentioned, we are in a very confusing time in our nation, and as individuals. It is hard to know if it is okay to do the things we want to do, need to do, or should do as regards our emotional and physical health. Is it safe to come to church for worship, or for fellowship times? Is it safe to go to events where there might be many other people in close proximity?
Sometimes anxiety or indecision can cause us to do nothing. Do we invite someone to our house for a visit or a meal? Do we stay home rather than attend a school sporting event, or a church worship service? Can we invite someone along with us to one of those events?
Bringing someone to Jesus can bring healing in ways that only Jesus knows. Inviting someone to come to worship might open someone up to finding the courage to gather in public. It might open a relationship with Jesus that has been strained, put on hold, or is non-existent. Maybe someone from church has not been to church since the pandemic and needs an encouraging word, or even some help watching the service on the website. It might be the difference between inner healing, a life of faith, growth in faith, knowing that someone cares about them, or more isolation and fear.
And maybe someone is not ready to step out in public, because of health concerns or fear of the unknown. But a caring word, an invite, or a concerned individual’s reaching out can let someone know they’re not forgotten. Maybe it will help someone reach out for help from a counselor to make the first step.
It’s hard to know just what to do in these times. These two stories can help us see that it is important for others to be brought to Jesus in certain circumstances. The woman who came to Jesus to heal her daughter, and the folks who brought the deaf man to Jesus, came to Him in faith. Sometimes it’s the faith of others who bring people to faith in Jesus Christ. Parents bring their children for baptism. They follow up by bringing their children to Sunday School, youth group, confirmation, and by teaching them at home. A spouse can bring their loved one to faith. A friend can do the same. Sometimes complete strangers can share the faith and bring others to faith.
There is so much to these two stories that Mark shares with us this morning. An often overlooked part of them is the fact that someone cared and brought them to Jesus. We are not responsible for the healing, the salvation of others, or another person’s relationship with Jesus. Our role as Jesus’ followers is to invite and share Jesus in ways that the Holy Spirit leads us.
Ephphatha, be opened, can apply to our being open to sharing the Good News of Jesus with someone, or helping someone move out of the pandemic isolation.