Daily Lenten Devotional – March 23, 2020

To the Church in Exile,
The peace of Christ be with you. Our daily lectionary reading is from Mark 7:31-35:

Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 

Mark wants us to know that Jesus is in the region of the Decapolis, which is a group of ten cities east of the Sea of Galilee. It is a gentile dominated region which is odd for Jesus, especially since two verses earlier Jesus has just told a gentile Syrophoenician woman that his ministry is just for the Jews, the “children of Israel.” I wonder if Mark is trying to let the reader know that one can never make assumptions on where Jesus is going to show up. As it turns out, the divine is encountered by that gentile mother looking for scraps from the table and the divine is experienced in the Decapolis. I am wondering if, in this shelter-in-place era we are stuck in, we could dive into this as a very physical Lent and in the starkness of our separation, our exile so to speak, we might be surprised by the one who encounters us.

In our context of social distancing, these words of “touch” and laying on of “hands” jump out to me. One wonders if the deaf man knew who it was who touched him. Are we paying attention when Jesus touches us? And what happens to us when we he does so? What happens to our ears? Our hearing? Our tongues? Our speech?

Mark finishes the story (by the way, Mark’s the only writer who tells us this story) with three terse verbal clauses: his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Three clear actions: two of them in passive voice and one in active voice. The man doesn’t treat his ears or release his tongue; no, that is the grand physician’s task. (Sometimes scholars will use the term “divine passive” where it’s clear the God of mystery is the one creating the action. One thinks of Luke 24 and the story of the two men on the road to Emmaus where “they were kept from recognizing him,” or “he broke bread and gave it to them, and their eyes were opened.”) The man is passive. 

But that is not true with the last phrase, “He spoke plainly.” That is, the man did something: he spoke clearly, spoke truth. What did he say? I wonder. If my tongue had been stuck, I might just unload. Or perhaps I’d say what was most essential in a clear way, with no frills. Direct, heart to heart speech.

Maybe that’s a word for us today, this March 23rd, in a Lent like no other; maybe the divine word today is to let Jesus unstop our ears, loosen our tongues so that we might speak the essential words to a loved one, a child, a friend, someone we hurt, someone we’ve forgiven. Pick up the phone. Reach across the table. Speak plainly. Be opened, Ephphatha.

Lord God, you have brought us in safety to this new day. Preserve us with your mighty power that we may not fall into sin nor be overcome in adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfillment of your purpose through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Peace in Christ,

Doug Kelly, Senior Pastor
Bethany Presbyterian Church
(206) 284-2222, x11

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