Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Faith of Friends

"Jesus took the deaf man away from the crowd. He put his fingers in the man's ears. Then he spit and touched the man's tongue. Jesus looked up to Heaven. With a deep sigh, he said to the man, "Ephphatha!" That means be opened. Immediately the man's ears were opened. His tongue was freed up, and he began to speak clearly."
Mark 7:33-35

Last Sunday's lectionary Gospel reading included this passage. It is a "difficult passage" for deaf people. On one hand it is a blessing that deaf people are even noticed by Jesus and written about by Mark. On the other hand, nobody likes to be "fixed" cuz you have to admit something is "wrong" in the first place. It is "politically correct" in the Deaf Community in the USA to WANT to be deaf. Most of my Deaf friends would say that "Healing deaf people" is offensive. It's paralleled to women wanting to be men or black people wanting to be white. The thinking continues: God made you the way you are for a purpose...and deaf is cool. Why is hearing "right" and deaf "wrong"?
That's the thinking. So generally deaf preachers avoid the Mark 7: 31-37 passage to avoid the "problem" that Jesus made a perfectly normal deaf man...hearing.

When I studied this passage last week in preparation for Sunday's worship, I saw it from a new perspective. It struck me how being deaf in ancient Palestine must have been rough.  I've always resisted that concept that being deaf is something to pity. Deaf is different.  Deaf people are at times excluded because the hearing bulk of society develops a "must have" that deaf people can't use...such as the phone.   Hearing people always think it's tough to be deaf. I really don't think so.  Life is full of interesting variances.   People are unique.  We all adapt.  BUT.... I was thinking about this deaf guy in ancient Palestine. Like Belize, where there are no TTY's, no video relay systems, internet too slow to use Skype, no certified interpreters, few people who sign, no rights for deaf people to have access to anything, employers who are wary of hiring a deaf person because they don't think they will be able to communicate with them. Few deaf people who can read or write so written communication is not an option. Friends and family who don't know ASL and make up gestures...or "guess-tures". I understood why the deaf man in the story wanted to be hearing, and why most people in our deaf church would rather be hearing. Being deaf in Belize where there is no ADA law and zero technical assistive devices, oppression from the working world and everyone thinking you don't have a clue about what's going on can be "tough" for some people. It must have been worse in Palestine.

Like the "friends" who cut a hole in a roof to let a paralyzed man have access to Jesus, this deaf man did not run after Jesus to seek his own healing. He was brought. Some friends had compassion on the difficult life the deaf man must have experienced and brought him to Jesus because they believed Jesus could do anything.

The more I read the story I realized it is not really about making a deaf man hearing, if deaf should be healed, or anything along that difficult political's largely about the faith of the friends. They had so much faith that Jesus could relieve suffering with just a touch, just by laying his hand on the deaf man, that they probably walked miles, skipped meals, left their busy agendas and brought their deaf friend to see this One who was from God. Their sacrifice and complete trust in Jesus' power is contagious. I would have loved to have been there, east of the Sea of Galilee, with rumors in the air that Jesus is 8 miles away. The buzz was that everyone is going to see him. I can imagine walking and walking, in the sun and dry land, expectant and eager to see what this awesome powerful, humble, man will do....filled with hope.

Although we can't walk to see Jesus, we CAN still bring people who are suffering to "sit at Jesus' feet"....if we have the faith of the deaf man's friends.