(Jesus heals the deaf and mute man, artist unknown, from the Ottheinreich Bible, roughly 1430, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)
Daily Office Readings for Friday, August 2, 2019:
In the story of Jesus healing the deaf man with a speech impediment, I’ve always wondered why Jesus sighed when looked heavenward prior to healing him. Was he weary? Tired of the incessant demands people made upon him? Bored? It didn’t make sense. Some translations use “deep sigh”, or “groaned.” The Greek word used is stenazo, which can be used to groan, sigh, or “sigh inwardly,” the implication being there are feelings behind it. Not as helpful as we might like. Why would he sigh inwardly over something as marvelous as this?
It wasn’t until I started doing a little background study before another possible reason became apparent. Healing the mute, or giving speech to someone whose speech was hindered, was considered something reserved to God. If we go back to Exodus 4:11, when Moses is trying to wiggle out of the role God has planned for him by mentioning his speech impediment, God says to Moses, “Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” Isaiah goes on to say in Isaiah 35:5 that this is going to be one of the signs that a redeemed Israel will recognize in Zion: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped…”
Through these passages another possible reason emerges. People are going to recognize this healing as from God. People are going to put two and two together…healing the man’s speech impediment = healing from God. Jesus doing the healing = Jesus has agency through God, as in “Oh! Maybe he’s the Messiah!” “Oh, we think this guy over here is the Messiah” = trouble with Rome, who likes their empire to be nice and quiet without a lot of religious kerfuffle stirring up folks, because religious kerfuffle usually leads to uprisings, and then Rome has to get mean.
I could be wrong, of course, but I’ve come to see this passage through that lens, with Jesus looking up to Heaven and silently saying, “Dad, you know when I go and do this…oooo….there’s gonna be trouble.,” and that sigh could very well be Jesus recognizing where that trouble is going to lead for him.
What’s important, though, is that Jesus is not running from this trouble, but instead is going ahead and doing what is asked of him. He’s doing the right thing, in spite of what grief is going to come down on his head, on account of it.
Yeah, there’s gonna be trouble…and Jesus does it anyway, because it’s the right thing to do.
We live in a time where expressing the basic instructions Jesus gave his followers–give food and water to the hungry and thirsty, be present at the beds of the sick, welcome the stranger, release the captive, and free the oppressed–are going to cause trouble…somewhere. People get arrested these days in certain locales for feeding homeless people or leaving water in the desert. It isn’t always popular to welcome strangers instead of calling for their incarceration or deportation. Throughout the country, we are seeing the acts that Jesus illustrated and passed on as directives to his followers derided as “political.”
Yep, there’s gonna be trouble…and more trouble. Yet Jesus was pretty explicit that the Christian life is about caring for the marginalized of society. Each of us is called to do something to address suffering in the world, and we have no control of how those around us will view it, or even if they will understand that it comes from the loving relationship we have with our Savior, rather than from a partisan or political playbook. However, it is precisely what has kept Christianity going for over 2000 years, as empires have risen and fallen throughout the course of history. Enough people have recognized that there are times one is called simply to do the right thing, and let the chips fall where they may. Are we always going to be able to do that? Of course not; we’re human. We fail. We fear. At the same time, though, we need to recognize the tension, and it is true spiritual growth when we can find ourselves acting on Jesus’ call more than we used to do, and learning to live in the discomfort by following that call more willingly.
Where might Jesus be calling you to cause trouble simply because it’s the right thing to do?
Maria Evans splits her week between being a pathologist and laboratory director in Kirksville, MO, and gratefully serving in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri , as the Interim Pastor at Christ Episcopal Church, Rolla, MO.