Can You Hear Me Now?
Text: Mark 7: entire chapter
It seems to me that we live in particularly turbulent times at the moment and many of us have quit listening to the other. We have all developed selective deafness. Hate crimes are on the rise, our political polarization has grown to extreme proportions. We now hear on the news about shootings in synagogues or direct mail campaigns that include pipe bombs. Just this past week there was an article in the Tribune about how we have lost our unity and respect for anyone who doesn’t think like we do. So in light of our current political climate and state of our country I thought it might be a good time to check out if Jesus had anything to say about our current situation.
We all remember this guy, right? Strolling all over the world, all the remote locations – floating ice bergs, forgotten waterfalls, deserted islands – he always asked the same question: “Can you hear me now?” And apparently, he always seemed to get the right response, because he always said “good.” I don’t know about you, but I have never had that kind of luck with a cell phone; my experience is usually just about the opposite. The call is dropped before you even have an opportunity to ask the question!
In spite of the pitfalls of cell phones and the general phoniness (pun intended) of this marketing campaign, what the character in the ads does do for us is remind us of a very valid question; “can you hear me now”, is a very valid question. It is valid because of the many forms of hearing there are and the many types of deafness there are as well. It is my opinion that the 7th chapter of Mark deals with some of the many kinds of hearing and the many kinds of non-hearing or deafness we may encounter in our lives. We need to be reminded sometimes to ask the question of ourselves and of others; can you hear me now?
It isn’t often that my scripture for a sermon is an entire chapter, so allow me to explain this a little bit. We will not be reading the entire chapter, but I would encourage you to look it up and read for yourself perhaps this afternoon, it is a short chapter and it might take you five minutes. What we will be doing this morning is working our way through the chapter and dealing with the three different stories we find in chapter seven. In my Bible each individual story, or pericope as they are called in theological circles, is given a sub-title. So the pages in my Bible that are Mark 7 look a little like this: Chapter 7, The Tradition of the Elders, The Syrophoenician Woman’s Faith, and Jesus Cures a Deaf Man. Those are the three stories we find in the 7th chapter.
When I was in Seminary, one of the things we were taught to pay attention to when interpreting scripture was something my professor called “structural context”. In other words, is there a structure or a pattern present in the other stories that surround the one you are looking at that impact the story in some way, or at least inform it with a deeper meaning. If we look at chapter seven in Mark as an entire unit, rather than three individual stories not relevant to one another, we can find some interesting overlap. I believe this overlap has to do with the art of hearing and the art of non-hearing, or what I called “selective deafness” earlier. That being said, let’s take a look at the first story, which is called the tradition of the elders.
In this story, the Pharisees and the scribes are beginning to get on Jesus because he and his disciples have failed to follow some of the traditions and customs set forth in ancient Judaism. They were eating some of the food without a proper ceremonious washing and perhaps even some of the food was considered forbidden as well. The disciples were also guilty of not washing their hands properly according to the custom. So the scribes and the Pharisees confronted Jesus about this; in verse 5 they ask him why this is so. In verse 8 Jesus offers a very pointed answer: “You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” In verse 13 Jesus repeats this indictment, with perhaps even stronger language saying: “…you make void the word of God through the tradition that you have handed on.”
Consider these two verses for just a minute in the context of hearing. Could they not be paraphrased into something like “you can’t even hear the Word of God, when it is spoken to you, because your adherence to tradition has made you deaf.” You see the scribes and the Pharisees we so certain of their position, so certain that they were right, they could not hear any other ideas. Do we not encounter that same level of deafness in the church today? Is not the word of God one of compassion and inclusiveness and of love and yet in our deafness of certainty do we not betray those mandates every day? Of course we do. I might also point out that this also happens in political circles as well, it is not just the church; this is one of the ways we have become so polarized in this country. By clinging to traditions or clinging to hard party lines or clinging to political rhetoric we make void the word of God.
The second story in chapter seven is equally as interesting because it gives us an example of just the opposite circumstance. In this story a Gentile woman, a person not of the Jewish tradition, asks Jesus for help with her daughter. At first Jesus responds negatively; verse 27 is very harsh. In that verse Jesus says: “…it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Jesus was convinced that his ministry was exclusive to the children of Israel; he was here to minister to the Jews and that was all, and he was going to stick with that position. He was certain he was right about that.
Then in verse 28 the woman says to Jesus; “…even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Here the woman was challenging Jesus’ position that he could only help the Jews. She was saying that she didn’t need his full attention, but just a crumb of his attention. She was saying that he didn’t have to choose one over the other, but both could be fed.
Unlike the scribes and the Pharisees in the first story that could not hear because of their tradition and their need to be right, Jesus actually hears the woman. Not only does he hear her, but he ponders the words and changes his mind! Verse 29 says that Jesus told the woman; “for saying that, you may go-the demon has left your daughter.” This story is a great example of hearing the word of God, even when it challenges your original position. Something the scribes and Pharisees could not do. It is also something that you seldom hear about in political circles. With the ability to choose our conversations through social media and choose our news through cable TV we can surround ourselves with only those individuals who think just like we do. We are never challenged or asked to think outside of the box by anyone. We live in silos surrounded by the messages that only confirm what we already believe and never challenge what we believe. This woman challenged Jesus and it had a positive result.
The third story in chapter seven is actually about a deaf man that Jesus heals. But there are a couple of interesting things to point out. The first thing I noticed in reading this story is that there was a great crowd, but Jesus removed the man from the crowd before ministering to him. Verse 33 says “he took him aside in private, away from the crowd.” Then Jesus did something I think is somewhat unusual, the scripture says he stuck his fingers in the man’s ears.
I think most of us are familiar with many other stories where Jesus was able to heal with just the spoken word or if someone touched the hem of his garment. Jesus did not need to stick his fingers in this man’s ears to heal him; so perhaps the fingers in the ears are symbolic of something else. I have the thought that a finger in the ears is an almost universal sign of not listening to the outside world. If you don’t want to hear what someone has to say, you stick your finger in your ear. Or you at least cover your ears.
What Jesus does next is also quite interesting; with his finger in the man’s ears, he then says “be opened” and they were. But the phrase “be open” is packed with metaphor; particularly when you consider that Jesus’ fingers were directed not only at the man’s ears, but his mind as well. Be open to the inner voice, be open to your feelings, be open to what your gut is telling you – and pay less attention to the outside world. Being open to an inner voice is yet another type of hearing.
The chapter ends with an example of another kind of deafness. What is implied in the story is that Jesus and the man return to the crowd and the man can hear and speak. The crowd is amazed and awe struck. Verse 36 pretty much sums up what happened next; “Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.” The crowd was deaf to the words of Jesus. There is another form of deafness that is often found and it is simply the mob mentality. When everyone in a crowd gets the same idea, for some reason, even if the idea is preposterous, the crowd mentality will prevail.
To re-cap the entire chapter, we have deafness by certainty of position or political platform and tradition, making void the word of God. We have true hearing, even when being challenged on our own assumptions, and based on that true hearing, being able to change our minds. We have hearing and being open to the inner voice, with open ears and open minds, sometimes shutting out the outside world. And finally we have deafness through mob mentality; unable to hear a voice of reason because the crowd is too loud. Two examples of deafness and two examples of hearing all in the same chapter; what a remarkable chapter it is.
Go in peace, go with God and go with a new awareness of hearing, and perhaps a renewed sense of understanding how to listen to one another.