Speaking up and being heard

on the woman who Jesus told to “go away” and the man that he told to “be quiet”

About twice a week has been my habit for a while of writing and publishing, of putting fingers to keyboard, of reflecting on sacred texts, on life, on my work as a clinician and spiritual director. But for some reason that I have not yet discerned, I have felt quiet.

And then I encountered the lectionary texts for this week.

It was there, that I found words from James about how “faith without works is dead” and about not showing partiality to those with wealth over those who do not. And there were also these stories from the gospel reading about two people on the margins of their society: one who was a woman who was not allowed to speak or be heard, even though she had a strong voice; the other person that Jesus encounters is a man who physically could not hear or speak.

For this man, there was nothing but quiet.

Imagine your life if there was no sound. Imagine your life if there was no sight. Imagine your life without some of the things that you now enjoy, that you may take for granted at times, those things that add to your life. Imagine your life if you were so very different from everyone around you.

We are all different in some way, but imagine if that difference caused such a barrier between you and everyone else.

Jesus takes this man aside, away from the crowds where only a few people were present for what was to happen next. Jesus places his fingers in the man’s ears, touches the man’s tongue.

Jesus sighs . . . and I can only imagine that he is breathing in and out the years of struggle and pain, the way in which people may have been cruel at times, the ways that people, even quite subtly, without even knowing it, the ways that people had excluded this man.

Jesus sighs . . . and then says, “Eph-phatha,” which means “be opened”.

Then this man who had been nothing but quiet his whole life up until now, Jesus asks him to be quiet . . . but the one who had been healed, who had gained access to society, to communication, he cannot be quiet.

Then there is this Syrophoenician woman. Jesus begins to shoo this woman away . . . the way that we might shoo away a dog who is trying to get at the food that we have prepared, food that is intended for our children, the ones that we are supposed to be feeding in the first place.

It is more than a little bit troubling to read this passage where Jesus compares this woman and her people to dogs, to ones who are not worthy, who do not deserve what Jesus is bringing to the world.

This is Jesus at his most human. This is what you tend to get in the gospel of Mark, a Jesus who is very down to earth, a Jesus who seems to want to keep his ministry a secret, as if he is not quite ready, as if he is still learning what it means to be the Son of God.

So this Jesus that asked the deaf and mute man to be quiet after being healed, this Jesus also says to this Syrophoenician woman that he did not come for her or her daughter who is ill.

“Shoo. Go away.”

And this woman, this Gentile woman, a woman who had the audacity to approach Jesus in the first place in a culture where this was verboten, this woman speaks up.

When Jesus says “no,” this woman does not remain quiet. She speaks. When Jesus tells her to “go away,” this woman does not leave. She confronts Jesus and says, “But even the dogs, the dogs that you have compared me and my people to, even dogs get the crumbs from the table!”

She did not keep quiet. She did not turn quietly away when she was told “no.” There was something about her faith that said to her, “I know that God wants this for my child. I know that I too am a part of God’s world, even though I have been rejected, even though I have been put down. God wants more for me and for my child.”

She could not keep quiet. The man who had been healed could not keep quiet.

The writer of the epistle of James is talking in a different way about the very same thing, about the way that our faith begets works, about how what is inside of us is seen on the outside . . . in our actions and in our lives.

What is inside us will show in our actions. What is inside others will show in their actions. I am reminded again of this quote from Maya Angelou, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

For James, true faith cannot keep quiet.

True faith will flow out of our lives into actions that are just, relationships that provide wholeness and healing, not more brokenness and pain. True faith means including others, all of “the others”, knowing that we too have felt the feeling of difference, of “otherness”.

And as for me and my writing, while reflection and rest are important, I know that I need to remember to speak up, to allow my actions to reflect a faith that is for everyone.

clinical social worker, spiritual director, author, husband, father, son, runner in Georgia, co-author of When Anxiety Strikes from Kregel Publications.

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