(Isaiah 35:4-7a, Psalm 146, James 2:1-17)
(watch here: http://youtu.be/Lu5Aga26Q-4)
24From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
31Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
There is a story entitled, “The Red Fish,” about a kind fisherman who once caught a bright shining red fish. The fish was so lovely that the fisherman took pity on it and instead of cooking it or selling it, he decided to take the fish home as a pet. He dug a hole in the floor of his house, filled it with water, and put the fish safely within it. From that day onwards, the fisherman had very good luck. One day, he came home early, and discovered the source of his good fortune. It was the fish. He saw it leap from the hole, shed its fish skin and turn into a beautiful young woman. She was a fish fairy and she promised to live with him.
Soon the King, who was a greedy man, heard about the fish fairy and wanted to marry her himself. The fisherman begged the King to let him keep the fish fairy. The clever King said, “Build me a gold palace in the sea in four days and you can keep her!” When the fisherman returned home, there was a gold palace on an island in the sea. You see, the fish fairy had called upon the fish to build it. The King called for the fisherman again and demanded, “If you want to keep the fish fairy then make me a crystal bridge that stretches from the shore to the palace in two days!” Again when the fisherman returned home, the crystal bridge had been built.
The King grew angry. “If you and your fish fairy are so clever, then bring me an egg with a flying donkey inside by tomorrow morning. When the fisherman told the fish fairy, she gave him an ordinary egg and told him to throw it into the sea. He did and a huge white egg flew out of the waves into his arms. He took it to the King. Out jumped a flying donkey. It leapt onto the King’s back and rode him around the palace screeching, “Hee-haw, hee-haw, hee-haw!” The King screamed, “Get this donkey off my back.” Then the King threatened the fisherman, “If you do not bring me a one-hour-old baby that is wiser than the wisest person in the world in two hours, I will cut off your head and take the fish fairy.”
Hardly was the fisherman back in the door of his house, when the fish fairy said, “My sister has just given birth to a baby. Go to the sea and call for him.” The fisherman went to the sea where the waves churned and up rose a one-minute-old baby. The baby stamped its little feet on the ground and demanded to be taken to the King. Once in the palace, the baby jumped on the King’s knees and smacked the King again and again saying, “How dare you have a baby taken away from its mother before it is two minutes old. And how dare you ask for impossible and greedy things.” The baby smacked the king again and again saying, “I am wiser than the wisest person and I know you are a fool.” Finally, the King begged the fisherman to keep the fish fairy. So the baby returned to the sea and the fisherman married the fish fairy and they lived happily ever after.
An absurd story with an absurd premise, yes? A man catches a fish that is actually a fairy and together they manage to outsmart a greedy king, right? How could such an absurd little story have anything to do with our assigned readings for this week? Well, there are striking similarities between this story and the scripture passages that we’ve lifted up this morning. First ask yourself, how did the story make you feel? In particular, were you all that concerned about the legitimacy of the story? Very early on, we find out that the fish is actually a fairy. Did we immediately lose interest in the story, proclaiming, “yeah right, as if a fish could be a fairy!”? Of course not, we went with the story, curious to hear were it took us. And what a ride it took us on! A gold palace, a crystal bridge, a donkey in an egg…an hour-old baby wiser than anyone else in the world! Complete absurdity! We hear its sheer absurdity is too much for even the king to believe and he wants nothing to do with it. He wants nothing to do with the fisherman and his fish fairy! Yet we love to hear the story. It fans our imaginations and it ends with true love conquering evil and greed. We long to hear stories like this one to help get our minds off our own worries and anxiety. This is because for those brief few moments we are captivated by the story, caught up in the story. More importantly, we long to hear stories about love and loyalty conquering the evil of this world. Love and loyalty can create some pretty unbelievable events; events that defy and humble the evil of this world.
Just look at our readings assigned for this week. Isaiah comforts those who are of fearful heart by declaring, “Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.” How does God come and save? Isaiah explains, “The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped.” What powerful acts of love and mercy! To give sight back to the blind and hearing back to the deaf…what gracious acts of kindness! Our God wants us to see and hear the love He has for us! God wants us to know His deep and abiding love for us! God makes the impossible happen so that we might come to realize His awesome glory! As David sang out in today’s psalm, “The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous.” God doesn’t want us to live in darkness and silence. God loves us too much to abandon us to the darkness and silence of this world. God breaks into the darkness and silence of this world and frees us from living blind and deaf.
How does He free us? By bringing light into the world…by bringing THE light into our world! Again, God does another seemingly impossible act of love and loyalty—God comes into the world as a mere man. Our eternal, everlasting God chose to limit Himself by coming to us as a man constrained by time and space. God is beyond the limits of time and space. God is before everything, during everything, and will be after everything. God is everywhere, known and unknown. Yet God came to us as a man in a specific time and place. Jesus lived and died just like the rest of us. In his lifetime, Jesus performed many small acts of mercy, many impossible acts of love and loyalty like those of the fish fairy.
Our gospel reading illustrated two such acts of love and loyalty. The Syrophoenician woman, a Gentile woman, begged Jesus to rid her daughter of an unclean spirit and it was cast out. The crowd then brought a deaf man and begged Jesus for his regained hearing as well. Again, Jesus performs an impossible act of healing and gives the man his hearing. Two impossible acts yet two acts that illustrated God’s love. Nothing is impossible for God. God continually finds ways to shower us with His love and compassion. God wants us to get rid of whatever keeps us from realizing His love for us. He’ll even help get rid of the obstructions that we can’t. God opens our eyes and ears to receive His sure and steadfast love.
Jesus comes to us as the true light of the world. Jesus comes not only to the righteous among us but also to the sick, the blind, and the deaf…anyone who, for one reason or another, are having a hard time sensing God’s love in their lives. Earlier in the book of Mark we heard Jesus proclaim, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but the sinners.” And who are the sinners among us? We are ALL sinners. We are ALL sick, in need of the great physician that is Jesus. Like the fish fairy, Jesus always meets the clever demands of sin and evilness in this world. Let us give praise and thanksgiving for God bringing both love for all…and healing for all.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.