Mark 9:1-9

December 11, 2019

And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.

Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. Mark 9:1-9

I don’t “time” these readings each morning. I don’t even wake up any more feeling obligated to think aloud about the Bible in writing daily devotions. Some days I do. Some days I don’t. So I find it very timely that these verses are the ones that popped up on a Wednesday morning as we slowly walk through Mark.

Wednesday is hump day. The middle of the week. Like a little chronological mountaintop experience as we move through the calendars of our lives. This story, the story of the transfiguration, is like Wednesday in the story of Jesus.

Some scholars suggest that this is a misplaced “post-resurrection” story. Whatever. I personally think that Mark put this exactly where he thought it should go. And even if that wasn’t a conscious decision, I believe the Holy Spirit thought so too.

Immediately after Jesus’ radical call to discipleship and surrender, and immediately before the clamoring crowds wanted another piece of him, Jesus takes his disciples to the top of a mountain. The view was probably beautiful. It usually is. But what they saw wasn’t just once familiar land off in the distance, they saw the history of God’s presence among people. God mediated through God’s mediators – Moses and Elijah – and now God’s only son as well.

Peter wants to stay. But there is no staying. There is only full speed ahead or beating a hasty retreat. It is a tipping point. They were terrified – not an unknown feeling when we reach the edge of our capabilities and understanding. The unknown is always scary along with interesting.

Then thunders, or whispers, the voice: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

And they do. The story continues. Trembling, they make their way down the mountain. Trembling, we too keep the faith. We keep following. We keep listening. This reminds me of something else Peter has to say in another gospel: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Let us pray: Lord, you give us glimpses of the beauty of your way in the world, often when we can only see the struggle. Still our fears. Speak your encouraging words into our spirits when we falter. You have the words of eternal life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 9:1-9

December 11, 2019

And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.

Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. Mark 9:1-9

I don’t “time” these readings each morning. I don’t even wake up any more feeling obligated to think aloud about the Bible in writing daily devotions. Some days I do. Some days I don’t. So I find it very timely that these verses are the ones that popped up on a Wednesday morning as we slowly walk through Mark.

Wednesday is hump day. The middle of the week. Like a little chronological mountaintop experience as we move through the calendars of our lives. This story, the story of the transfiguration, is like Wednesday in the story of Jesus.

Some scholars suggest that this is a misplaced “post-resurrection” story. Whatever. I personally think that Mark put this exactly where he thought it should go. And even if that wasn’t a conscious decision, I believe the Holy Spirit thought so too.

Immediately after Jesus’ radical call to discipleship and surrender, and immediately before the clamoring crowds wanted another piece of him, Jesus takes his disciples to the top of a mountain. The view was probably beautiful. It usually is. But what they saw wasn’t just once familiar land off in the distance, they saw the history of God’s presence among people. God mediated through God’s mediators – Moses and Elijah – and now God’s only son as well.

Peter wants to stay. But there is no staying. There is only full speed ahead or beating a hasty retreat. It is a tipping point. They were terrified – not an unknown feeling when we reach the edge of our capabilities and understanding. The unknown is always scary along with interesting.

Then thunders, or whispers, the voice: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

And they do. The story continues. Trembling, they make their way down the mountain. Trembling, we too keep the faith. We keep following. We keep listening. This reminds me of something else Peter has to say in another gospel: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Let us pray: Lord, you give us glimpses of the beauty of your way in the world, often when we can only see the struggle. Still our fears. Speak your encouraging words into our spirits when we falter. You have the words of eternal life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 8:34-38

December 10, 2019

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?

Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” Mark 8:34-38

If you want to sell something today, your odds are greatly improved if your widget saves time, saves money, and makes everything easier and more convenient. Even better, give it away free. Everybody loves shortcuts, loopholes, head starts, and getting an edge on everybody else. I don’t think that is a modern invention – in fact, that is precisely the thinking that got us out of caves and into cars and condos. It is the kind of thinking that drives invention and innovation. Like a river, when it stays within its banks it is a blessing.

But it is also the kind of thinking that rings hollow when Jesus shows up with his invitation to a difficult life without shortcuts or an easy way out. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

Yet this is, and always will be, the tension of our lives as we seek to follow Jesus. Most of the time we come to realize that Jesus is far more likely to lead us THROUGH the challenges, difficulties, heartaches, and growth plates of life rather than AROUND them. But then, and only then, do we discover the strangely paradoxical truth that the hard way is not only the right way, it is ultimately the easier way too.

This is also why Christianity is a team sport. We can’t live this life alone. We need help, encouragement, and support. We need a whole lot of reminders that “God is with us” and “we can do it” and “YES, it is worth it!”

As for “gaining the whole world”, it reminds me of that old story about John Rockefeller, then the richest man in the world. When asked how much money he truly wanted and needed, he replied “Just a little bit more.” Great story – I just doubt that Jesus had Rockefeller in mind. Far more likely, at least in my opinion, Jesus puts his finger on how all of us carry in our minds the idea that life will finally be good when we get “this” or when “that happens.” Nothing is ever enough.

Until we take a moment to get quiet. To settle our minds. To truly take stock. To count our blessings. To realize that we are children of God, deployed into the world for good. And then we suddenly realize that it is always enough. That the narrow way is the best way.

Let us pray: Today, dear Lord, we will do the best we can with what we have to be, not only your children, but your witnesses in the world. We will be grateful for your many gifts in our lives and we will be mindful of the opportunities that you give us to be a blessing to others. If that proves difficult, we trust that you will see us through and forgive us when we falter or fail. In Jesus’ name.

December 8, 2019

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Mark 8:27-33.

If you live in Texas, there is no other town quite like Austin. It literally lives “deep in the heart of Texas.” It sits on the edge of the Texas Hill Country. It is naturally beautiful and that beauty only gets better as you head further west. It is the governmental capital of Texas. The economy is strong. It is Austin.

In Jesus’ day, people could say the same things about Caesarea Philippi. It was both an imperial city, a seat of Roman power, and a religious site, with a long history dedicated to the Greek god, Pan. Sitting at the foot of Mount Hermon, the primary source of fresh water in Israel, the headwaters of the River Jordan, it was a very special place. It still is.

That’s where Jesus led his disciples to before asking his million dollar questions. “Who do people say that I am?” “Who do you say that I am?”

As a pastor, I have long learned to be very suspicious when anyone begins a comment with the words, “A lot of people are saying…” Invariably, that needs to be translated into “I am saying…” with the added rhetorical trick of amplifying my own opinion by suggesting it is shared by others. Like that other person in the parking lot who agreed with them…to be polite.

I don’t think that is what Jesus is doing here. There is nothing in the gospels that suggest that Jesus’ intentions were to build a personality cult around himself. Unlike Philip, the local Roman ruler, who built a city in honor of Caesar…and included his own name in its name. And unlike the earlier Greeks, who dedicated the cave out of which the waters from Mount Hermon gushed forth, to the Greek god, Pan. The first question Jesus poses is not a poll or a popularity contest. It is actually a reflection of peoples’ expectations of Jesus.

Was he a fiery populist like John? A miracle worker like Elijah? A social reformer like the prophets? Just who did people expect Jesus to be?

But more importantly, who did his closest followers, his closest friends, understand him to be?

Peter impulsively blurts, “You are the Messiah.” You are the embodiment of God’s promises to Israel. You are the one. The chosen one. Peter has no idea what that means but he has his hopes.

So Jesus tells him. He will suffer. He will be rejected. He will be murdered. He will rise from the dead.

It makes no sense. It seems ludicrous, pointless. You can see the wheels spinning in the minds of the disciples, “Then what is the point of following you? What am I going to get out of this?” Peter takes Jesus aside and maybe asks: “Are you nuts or something?”

Jesus literally puts Peter in his place. Get behind me! Jesus immediately senses that the direction of Peter’s thinking takes him away from the path he wants to walk through life. It will never be about “What do I get out of this?” or “What do I want?” It will only be, and it only remains, “What does following God’s will toward justice and righteousness in the world, always rooted in love, look like?” and “Am I willing to pay the price to doing my part in making that happen?”

Let us pray: Thank you Lord for your courage and love in paving the path for us. Thank you for encouraging us on the journey. Forgive us for the distractions of our self-centeredness and fear and free us to follow willingly. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Mark 8:22-26

December 3, 2019

They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Can you see anything?” And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.”

Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Then he sent him away to his home, saying, “Do not even go into the village.” Mark 8:22-26

There is an old joke (that I can never remember) about how all the people who had been healed by Jesus showed up at a convention. Then began arguing about the correct way to be healed by Jesus since their experiences were each slightly different. The punchline is that this was the beginning of modern denominationalism. Today’s reading features a man who would argue that healing is a two-stage process.

It is a strange reading, isn’t it? The surprise comes when Jesus doesn’t get it right the first time. This is the only time this happens. The rest of the story has all of the elements that we have come to expect – people bringing a friend for healing, Jesus taking time to respond, restoring his sight, sending him home with instructions not to say anything to anyone. But what’s with the two tries before he sees clearly?

I honestly don’t know. But I think the surprise is worth pondering.

The last thing we should do with this story is to get all literal about it. I can well imagine someone in a Bible study asking, “But if the guy was blind, how could he recognize that people look like walking trees, if he had never seen trees or people before?” Then it is off to the speculation races on how the guy might have lost his vision in a childhood accident with an Official Daisy Red Ryder Range Model 1938 Shepherd’s Staff.

Maybe today we should just live with the question. We can ponder ideas like these:

  • There is a difference between looking and seeing, just like the difference between hearing and listening.
  • We don’t always see as clearly as we think we do.
  • No one is as blind as the one who refuses to see.
  • There is always more to learn, more to discover. More meanings emerge over time as we make our way through life.
  • We simply don’t look at things the way we used to…which is a good thing.

Let us pray: Open our eyes, Lord, that we might truly see. Heal the blindness we can’t see. Restore your vision to our eyes. Give us the patience that healing sometimes requires. And thank you for friends who aren’t content to leave us to our struggles but encourage us to get the help we need. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 8:14-21

December 2, 2019

Now the disciples had forgotten to bring any bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out—beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.” They said to one another, “It is because we have no bread.”

And becoming aware of it, Jesus said to them, “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” They said to him, “Twelve.”

“And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” And they said to him, “Seven.” Then he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?” Mark 8:14-21

Sometimes, in reading the gospels, the disciples come off looking pretty clueless. Especially in Mark. Matthew goes out of his way to clean that up. For example, in Mark 10, James and John come forward with an inappropriate request to be given seats of honor in Jesus’ kingdom. Matthew softens that in Matthew 20 where he says it was the mother of the boys who made the request.

But in this passage I think we need to give the disciples a break. Forgetting to pack enough lunch is one thing, understanding what Jesus means in talking about “yeast” is another. What is Jesus saying?

We know something about the Pharisees and Herod and their unholy alliance. The only thing they have in common is mistrust about Jesus and his followers. Herod has already dispatched with John the Baptizer. The Pharisees are countering Jesus at every turn. But what is the deal with “yeast”?

I like the old line, “The shortest distance between two points begins with the first step, hopefully in the right direction.” The right direction is the key. If you head off in the wrong direction, you can walk forever and never get there. Maybe the world of ideas works the same way.

What fuels the Pharisees and Herod are fear, mistrust, self-centeredness, and pride. No doubt they think they are doing the right thing in opposing Jesus but they are blind to their own motivations. And if they aren’t blind, then they are just making a brazenly self-serving political calculation that they can just get rid of him and they’ll be just fine.

Jesus reminds his disciples of his ability to meet the needs of those who follow him. The crowds were fed. Jesus didn’t need the cooperation of the Pharisees or the authority of Herod to do what he had come among them to do. What Jesus wants from his disciples is their trust.

Maybe, when it comes to trusting Jesus, the problem might be more than misunderstanding. Maybe the problem is hedging our bets. We want to follow Jesus but we are fearful of riling up the “Herods and the Pharisees” in our own lives. We want to dip our toe into the water instead of diving in headfirst. In this light, Jesus is doing more than cautioning his disciples. He is inviting them to dive in.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, help us, especially now as we move into this new week and this busy season, to trust the “enoughness” of our lives. To trust that we are enough. To trust that you are enough. Save us from veering off to the many enticing dead-end paths that would take our eyes off of following you in all things. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 8:14-21

December 2, 2019

Now the disciples had forgotten to bring any bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out—beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.” They said to one another, “It is because we have no bread.”

And becoming aware of it, Jesus said to them, “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” They said to him, “Twelve.”

“And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” And they said to him, “Seven.” Then he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?” Mark 8:14-21

Sometimes, in reading the gospels, the disciples come off looking pretty clueless. Especially in Mark. Matthew goes out of his way to clean that up. For example, in Mark 10, James and John come forward with an inappropriate request to be given seats of honor in Jesus’ kingdom. Matthew softens that in Matthew 20 where he says it was the mother of the boys who made the request.

But in this passage I think we need to give the disciples a break. Forgetting to pack enough lunch is one thing, understanding what Jesus means in talking about “yeast” is another. What is Jesus saying?

We know something about the Pharisees and Herod and their unholy alliance. The only thing they have in common is mistrust about Jesus and his followers. Herod has already dispatched with John the Baptizer. The Pharisees are countering Jesus at every turn. But what is the deal with “yeast”?

I like the old line, “The shortest distance between two points begins with the first step, hopefully in the right direction.” The right direction is the key. If you head off in the wrong direction, you can walk forever and never get there. Maybe the world of ideas works the same way.

What fuels the Pharisees and Herod are fear, mistrust, self-centeredness, and pride. No doubt they think they are doing the right thing in opposing Jesus but they are blind to their own motivations. And if they aren’t blind, then they are just making a brazenly self-serving political calculation that they can just get rid of him and they’ll be just fine.

Jesus reminds his disciples of his ability to meet the needs of those who follow him. The crowds were fed. Jesus didn’t need the cooperation of the Pharisees or the authority of Herod to do what he had come among them to do. What Jesus wants from his disciples is their trust.

Maybe, when it comes to trusting Jesus, the problem might be more than misunderstanding. Maybe the problem is hedging our bets. We want to follow Jesus but we are fearful of riling up the “Herods and the Pharisees” in our own lives. We want to dip our toe into the water instead of diving in headfirst. In this light, Jesus is doing more than cautioning his disciples. He is inviting them to dive in.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, help us, especially now as we move into this new week and this busy season, to trust the “enoughness” of our lives. To trust that we are enough. To trust that you are enough. Save us from veering off to the many enticing dead-end paths that would take our eyes off of following you in all things. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 8:11-13

November 21, 2019

The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, asking him for a sign from heaven, to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation.” And he left them, and getting into the boat again, he went across to the other side. Mark 8:11-13

So there is the old joke: Two Pharisees notice Jesus walking across the water and one says to the other, “Look at that. He can’t even swim.”

Jesus is right. There isn’t a sign in the world that can help anyone see that which they refuse to look at. There isn’t enough evidence in the world to convince anyone of that which they refuse to accept.

“The Pharisees came and began to argue with him…”

We’re walking through Mark in these devotions at the same time as the impeachment investigation drones on in the House of Representatives. What is absolutely crystal clear to one side seems utterly preposterous to the other. Talking heads and talking points argue incessantly. Rejecting the message, they attack the messenger. People keep talking. Few are listening. No one seems to hear.

The ultimate sign that Jesus will demonstrate to the world will be his resurrection from the dead. But that can only come on the other side of the cross of his crucifixion. There is no easier way. There is no shortcut. No work around. No loophole. There is a price to be paid and Jesus will pay it.

Still, there will be Pharisees who will remain absolutely steadfastly convinced that Jesus was a charlatan all along, that the resurrection is a fanciful tale, and still they will wait, looking for the messiah – who will shower them with the earthly blessings that they want and think they deserve – that will never come.

But some will see Jesus for who he is. Nicodemus will come around. Saul will become Paul. And they will follow Jesus. Not because of what they get out of him, but because he brings them into a life that makes sense, a life that is grounded in the love of God for all people. Then those who follow Jesus will become themselves signs of who Jesus was and is and will be forever.

This moment ends with Jesus getting into a boat and heading across the water. He walks away. He doesn’t argue and wrestle to convince anyone to trust him, believe in him, or follow him.

The door is wide open. The welcome is warm. But no one is forced to follow Jesus. No one is forced to see what they are blind to, or hear what they refuse to listen to. Jesus’ love is not, and will never be, coercive.

Signs, by the way, are never the point. They are only markers letting you know that you’re heading in the right direction. I realize that, through all the generations, countless people have wanted a “sign” so that they might believe. They don’t realize that believing in signs is idolatry.

The right direction isn’t about acquiring enough evidence, it is about humbly surrendering to the truth, then paying the price that entails.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, whether we like it or not, we argue about so many things, seeking something other than the truth. Like those Pharisees who sought to test you, we also fall victim to the desire to turn you into a manageable, understandable, controllable, god. But you will have none of that and for that we are grateful. In that, you protect us from ourselves. May your love be the only sign we need. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 8:1-10

November 19, 2019

In those days when there was again a great crowd without anything to eat, he called his disciples and said to them, “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way—and some of them have come from a great distance.”

His disciples replied, “How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?” He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.”

Then he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground; and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute; and they distributed them to the crowd. They had also a few small fish; and after blessing them, he ordered that these too should be distributed. They ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full.

Now there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha. Mark 8:1-10

You don’t have to spend much time in a congregation before you notice an interesting dynamic. If you try something new, and it works, people will immediately say “We have to do this again.” So you do. Maybe it works again. Likely it doesn’t. But that never stops you from trying again. And again.

This is the second of the mass feeding stories in Mark. As I said before, the feeding of the 5000 is the only miracle story that appears in all four gospels. Mark (and Matthew) record this second go around with 4000 people. Why? Here is what I found on restlesspilgrim.net (thank you, restlesspilgrim.net):

The feeding of the 4,000 is important because of where it took place. The feeding of the 5,000 took place near Bethsaida, close to the Sea of Galilee. In contrast, the feeding of the 4,000 took place in the region of the Gerasenes, in the region around the Decapolis.

Okay, so the two miracles took place in different regions, so what? It’s important because the first region was Jewish (5,000) and the second region was Gentile (4,000). There are some numerical clues in the text which also point to this distinction (numbers in the Bible are rarely accidental)…

  1. Feeding of the 5,000

In this miracle, Jesus takes five loves and feeds five thousand, which is reminiscent of the five books of the Jewish Law (Genesis, Exodus, …). Not only that, but when everyone had finished eating, twelve baskets of left-overs were collected, which was probably alluding to the twelve tribes of Israel.

  1. Feeding of the 4,000

In this second miracle, seven loaves are used and seven baskets are collected. The number seven is symbolic of completeness (i.e. not just Jews but Gentiles too) and the number seven is evocative of the seven days of creation when God created all humanity.

So, what is the significance of two feedings of the multitudes? Both miracles show the provision of the Lord, His love for all His people, both Jew and Gentile. In these miracles He feeds them with miraculous bread, in preparation for the day when they would be fed sacramentally by His very own Body and Blood in the Eucharist.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, in every age, people are hungry. We are hungry for the food which sustains us, the hope which encourages us, the community which supports us, and the love that gives our lives meaning and purpose. You find us, you feed us, that we might follow you in all things. Thank you for giving us what we need. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 7:31-37

November 18, 2019

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.

Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.” Mark 7:31-37

This text immediately brought to mind for me two very different memories. The first brought me back to my childhood and how cruel we could be to kids who looked or talked “different.” As cruel as it was, we weren’t above picking on such kids or making fun of them. It was then, and is always, despicable. I imagine that deaf man got more than a little bit of that along the way in his lifetime.

Sitting with those memories, the soundtrack in my mind started playing U2’s song, “When Love Comes to Town”:

When love comes to town I’m gonna jump that train.

When love comes to town I’m gonna catch that flame.

Maybe I was wrong to ever let you down

But I did what I did before love came to town.

Everything changes when love comes to town. Love gives us new ears to hear. New eyes to see. New tongues to talk. Love opens the world to us. Love changes the world.

Jesus received the deaf man. It is the sort of thing that Jesus repeatedly does. But he isn’t doing it for himself. He isn’t on a promotional tour. He isn’t hawking a book. He isn’t running for office. He isn’t encouraging the cult of celebrity. He helps people.

So quietly, privately, personally, Jesus touches a hurting man and he is healed.

That is what can happen when love comes to town.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, people can be so cruel to one another, even to the point of picking on people who live with very difficult physical challenges. Forgive us for anything like that that we have done along the way. Thank you for the hopefulness and the grace in this story of a man restored. Restore us. Open our eyes, our ears, our lips, that we might see and tell the story of your love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.