Life and Death in the Power of the Tongue
When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. He said to them, “Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” From 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, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He 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.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go– the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. 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.”
I had the privilege of hearing confessions (by way of Zoom) on Ash Wednesday. I could have stayed online for 12 hours, as the need was so great. Confessors logged on from all over the country. These intimate conversations were hallowed for me. The depth of the guilt, shame and pain broke my heart. In today’s scripture, Jesus teaches that evil intentions flow from our minds, hearts, and tongues. We know how a tongue-lashing can cut us to the quick, how there is life and death in the power of the tongue, don’t we? I was reminded, though, that when one feels safe in the context of a pastoral meeting or even when making amends, what can come from the heart and off the tongue can also be healing. I would often remark to my confessors that “God has put away your sins and now you need to do the same and forgive yourself.”
And it is also an important reminder that when the Syrophoenician women is desperate for Jesus to heal her daughter, she uses her voice to speak up for what she needs. The same thing happens when the friends of the deaf man come to Jesus to plead for healing. Jesus, looking up to heaven, uses his voice to demand that the man’s ears be opened and his tongue released. Friends, it is as simple as this: we can, we must, use our voices to heal and be healed.
Gracious God, I pray that you would give me the courage to use my voice for healing and to proclaim justice in this world. Teach me to pray with expectant faith, boldness and confidence. May I trust your Holy Spirit to be my mouthpiece for your will to advocate for those who have no voice. Help us always to hear your powerful voice above all the ungodly voices in the world, in the name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.