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Healing the Deaf and Dumb

I’m not a regular churchgoer these days. The world seems so broken that political activism strikes me as a more necessary, effective way to do good. But last Sunday I heard a sermon that hit home, hard. I quote it here in part to show that conservative politics do not have a monopoly among clergy members.

The sermon explicates a Bible passage in which Jesus feels offended by someone and responds with, well, offensiveness right back. (This unsettles us; we like to think him unfailingly kind and supportive.) In this case the person who has approached him is both female and foreign--two strikes against her!--and what she wants is for Jesus to heal her daughter, another female: strike 3.

I pricked up my ears when my pastor said, “These days, if someone said something like [Jesus’s rebuke] to one of us, the word ‘racist’ would probably come to mind.” But then he pointed out that instead of getting offended in return, and walking away in anger or insulting Jesus back, the woman replies with humility. (And humor, added a family member of mine who heard the same Bible passage sermonized in a church hundreds of miles away.)

Humility and humor are great traits to exhibit in tense situations. So is listening, my pastor pointed out. In this Bible story, the woman’s daughter ends up being healed--and Jesus goes on to heal another supplicant, a man who was deaf and dumb.

Deaf and dumb (both senses of the word) is how people with opposing views appear to each other these days. Only by talking and listening to each other, preferably with humility and a sense of humor, will we ever get past our differences.

Then again, if all we do--if all we want to do--is spout off with our own opinions, we'll remain stuck where we are.

You can read the whole sermon here, and the passage on which it is based here. The part of the sermon that impressed me most is as follows:

"The challenge with great historical truths,

Like the barriers that divide people groups,

And the racism that results from those divisions,

is that they are so great, and so historical ...

we can easily distance ourselves from them,

And say “that’s not me, I didn’t do that,”

When in reality, so much of who we are,

And how we live, and what we have,

Comes from those who went before us.


"We can also get too close to the history,

And end up feeling like we are guilty of everything,

And be paralyzed in our guilt.

These are equal and opposite errors,

That make us unable to make a difference.

"Rather than fall into either trap

we can strive to follow Jesus,

who as a human being,

had the grace to stop in his tracks,

and share his gifts with the woman who offended him."

(quoted with permission of the Rev. Rob Travis, Episcopal pastor of the Chapel of St. John the Divine, Saunderstown, and the Church of the Ascension, Wakefield)


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