The Oscar winning film Good Will Hunting is not only one of my favorite movies, but it alsohas one of the most powerful and moving scenes in all of cinema. Sean Maguire, a counselor played by Robin Williams, has been working with Will Hunting, a young math genius, played by Matt Damon. Will has been sentenced to court-required therapy. Over the course of the movie, the two develop a close friendship where both are able to push and challenge one another. In one of their final scenes together, standing in Sean’s office, both reveal that they were victims of child abuse. Both had drunken fathers stumble up the stairs at night and use them as a punching bag. Sean said the interesting nights were when Dad wore his rings. But then standing there, in this vulnerable and quiet moment, with the audience wondering what’s going to happen… Sean takes a step toward Will and says, “Hey Will. It’s not your fault.” To which Will replies, “Yeah, I know.” Sean takes another step and says “Look in my eyes, it’s not your fault.” Will looks at him a little strangely and says, “Yeah, I know.” Stepping a little closer, Sean says, “No you don’t. It’s not your fault.” They do this back and forth until the tenth time when Sean is right in front of Will’s face. “It’s not your fault,” he says and Will finally collapses into Sean’s arms with tears and cries of a broken soul.
Will Hunting, an abused child, could not hear. He couldn’t hear the words of his friend, Sean. His life history had plugged his ears with messages of guilt, shame, and worthlessness. It’s like he was deaf. And it took ten times of hearing this same message before it broke through and sunk deep into his soul and began to bring forth healing and new life.
And the men standing around Jesus were astounded and said, “He has done everything well. He even makes the deaf to hear.”
In our reading today from the Gospel of Mark, we have two stories. The first is the big and familiar story of Jesus and the woman from Syrophoenicia. It is an important story because Jesus isn’t very nice in it and many of us aren’t too comfortable with that. But too often this story over shadows the second one.
The second story is a relatively simple one: A group of men bring a man to Jesus and beg him to lay his hands upon him, because the man could not hear and he could not speak. So Jesus pulls the man aside, in private. He sticks his fingers into the man’s ear; he spits and touches the man’s tongue. Finally, he gazes heavenward breathes out, “Be opened.” Immediately, this man’s ears become unplugged and his new life begins. And the people standing around Jesus were astounded and said, “He has done everything well. He even makes the deaf to hear.”
Now, by itself, this story – while strange – is a relatively tame and ordinary healing story from Jesus. It is only seven verses. But this is not a story that stands by itself. It is a story that is tacked on to the end of that first familiar story. The two cannot be taken separately. They are companion stories and when held up together, one just might by the key that unlocks the other.
In the first story, Jesus has just arrived into Gentile territory. It is like he has gone on vacation and has entered a house in order to escape the crowds and to hide out. He does not want to preach, he does not want to teach, he does not want to heal. But even Jesus can’t keep his presence a secret and he is discovered. A Syropheonician woman, a Gentile, immediately goes after Jesus and falls at his feet. By entering the house where Jesus is, this woman violates many boundaries. Gender boundaries, religious boundaries. Men and women were not allowed to talk in this way; Jews and Gentiles were not allowed to talk this way. Yet, here rests a woman at the feet of Jesus, risking the consequences of breaking these boundaries, so she can beg this man, Jesus, to remove the demon from her daughter’s body.
And then, out of Jesus’ mouth, we hear the nasty response that makes us cringe. Jesus says, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs. Not only does Jesus say “no” to this woman and her daughter, but he calls her a dog. He belittles her. He says his ministry belongs to the children of Israel and that it would not be fair to give it to the Gentiles, the dogs.
What happened to Jesus? Where is the Jesus we thought we knew? The caring and gentle Jesus that removed evil spirits, stilled storms, and fed five thousand people. What happened to him? Jesus is so rude to her, it is almost as if he doesn’t care that her daughter is sick. It is almost as if he isn’t even listening to what she is saying. It is almost as if he is deaf to her words.
But then weary woman will not budge. She says, “Yes, but even the dogs under the table get some crumbs,” and suddenly the whole world shifts. Suddenly, Jesus’ ear were unplugged and even his understanding of who was worthy of the kingdom of God was challenged and changed.
Can you see it? Jesus heals a deaf man because Jesus was deaf man. Deaf to the cries a desperate mother because she was different from him. He unplugs the man’s ear because he knew the healing that can come from having your ears opened to the voices you’ve shut out. The woman’s daughter wasn’t the only one healed that day. Jesus was healed. Healed of his own prejudice and preference. All because someone unplugged his ears. And so he then goes around unplugging the ears of others.
And that was just the beginning. Like a little snowball rolled down the side of the hill, this thing just gets bigger and bigger and bigger. Those boundaries all but evaporate for Jesus. Jesus heals the Gentile woman’s daughter, than he cures the gentile deaf and mute man, and then he feeds 4,000 gentile people- the people he had previously seen as dogs. Jesus ears were opened and the kingdom of God was stretched wider.
When hearing is restored, when ears are opened to the voices that have been shut out, healing happens. Will Hunting couldn’t hear. But then along comes someone who will not be dismissed. Sean persists until Will’s ears are unplugged and opened and he finally hear those words of pure gospel – it’s not your fault. When hearing is restored, when ears are opened to the voices that have been shut out, healing happens.
Last week, a group of us began a book study called Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White. With the help of Adam Hamilton, we are trying to have our ears opened to one another. We are trying to hear the words and concerns of those who believe differently than ourselves. Because, let’s be honest, if Jesus can get it wrong, Lord knows we can too. Some congregations in the area have heard about this book study, and they have said, “We could never do that. It would be too risky. It might tear us apart.” And they are right, it is risky. But the risk isn’t the possibility of being in conflict; the risk is the possibility of being changed. The risk is the possibility of walking away some how different than when you walked in – perhaps with bigger ears and a bigger heart.
Too often we are told messages about ourselves and others that seek to limit God’s love for the people of the world. Sometimes, we’re told that God’s love is too specialized and too specific that it could never include someone like us – because of the things we’ve done in our life or the way we treat people. But other times, we view ourselves as the worthy ones who have everything together, and thus like to point fingers at those who need to watch out.
These messages plug up our ears. But the good news is that God is at work, unplugging our ears to hear the voices we’ve stopped listening, or never tried listening to, or or never had that chance to listen to. For some, like Will Hunting, it will be voices of long awaited affirmation and love. Other, like for Jesus, will be voices of disruption, challenging what you’ve always thought to be true. Which ever it is, what we can be sure of is when hearing is restored, healing is not far behind.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, God’s loves is very, very big. And very, very wide. Big enough for you, big enough for me, big enough for the world. The question is: can you hear it?
And the men standing around Jesus were astounded and said, “He has done everything well. He even makes the deaf to hear.” AMEN