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  • Rev. Diane Curtis

I Have a Voice!

Mark 7:31-37

New Revised Standard Version

31 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. 32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

She grew up in a large family – one of 9 children. The importance of making a difference in the world was instilled in each of the children. For her, providing opportunities for children with intellectual disabilities became her passion.

In 1963, she started a day camp at her home in Maryland so these children, who had nowhere else to play, could participate in organized athletic events. Following the success of her camp, it became an annual event. The foundation she headed up provided grants to create similar camps. With her continued advocacy and the support of many others, that first day camp grew to become the Special Olympics.

To date, almost 6 million athletes have participated in nearly 115,000 competitions representing over 200 countries and jurisdictions.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver made a difference! She gave a voice to a forgotten group – children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

The voice is one important we of communication. We use it in speaking, singing, and sharing our thoughts. The dictionary defines the voice as “the sound produced in vertebrates by means of the lungs and larynx; the expiration of air with vocal cords drawn close so as to vibrate audibly.” If we thought about the process as we spoke, we wouldn’t be able to get the words we want to say out!

The voice – the ability to communicate – gives people the right to express a wish, a choice, or an opinion. It provides an opportunity to be heard whether thoughts are spoken verbally, through sign language, written word, email, text, or pictures. Voice is a means of giving someone or a group of people the opportunity to be included.

You have heard the phrase, “your opinion matters” usually in the context of a survey of some type. Does it really, though? Do you really feel as though someone cares about your views? Maybe or maybe not.

It is important to pay attention to how and when you express your opinions. Others hear what you say even when you don’t think they do. You may have been driving with a child in the backseat of the car when someone cuts you off, goes too slow or too fast, or is an obnoxious driver. You make a comment about the driver (usually a negative one). The next thing you know, a small voice repeats the comment – not what you want to hear from the backseat!

People judge who you are by your communication. They decide what is important to you, how you view others and the world, and who you are on the inside. So, makes sense to pay attention to how you express what you are thinking.

Consider the ways voice is used in today’s text from Mark. The man who was deaf and had a speech impediment didn’t have a voice. Not only could he not communicate, but he was also ignored as if he didn’t even exist. In his day, it was thought that someone who had a physical impairment either sinned or had parents who had sinned. The disability was a punishment for that sin. Therefore, the person had no status and was barred from social and religious institutions. He or she had been ostracized from the community. They didn’t belong and didn’t deserve to belong.

The friends who brought the man to Jesus chose to use their voice to help the man even at the risk of being cut off from the community for aligning themselves with this sinful man.

Jesus spoke and acted to bring relief. To change the man’s circumstances. He spoke the word, “Ephaphatha” meaning “be opened” and then touched the man to heal him. Jesus’ voice restored the man to the community by eliminating what had separated him.

The healed man spoke plainly, finally able to express himself so he could be heard by others. The others, seeing the miracle, proclaimed what they had seen far and wide.

Mark describes how Jesus’ turned the tables on those who imposed their judgement on others of what was acceptable or not. Jesus challenges them to rethink who is included, who has a voice, who has a seat at the table.

The friends who brought the man to Jesus accepted a man others thought of as unacceptable. They took the man into the midst of the crowd who were all clamoring to see Jesus. They chose to do whatever it took to help their friend reclaim his own voice.

Imagine how the deaf and mute man felt as he was led through the crowd. He could see the reactions of the people and feel the pushing and shoving as others sought to be seen and heard. He was probably uncomfortable with others looking at him and afraid of what they might do. At the same time, he may have felt supported and encouraged by the friends who risked leading him through the crowd.

As we would expect with our knowledge of who Jesus is, a miracle occurred. The friends hoped for one based on what they had heard about Jesus.

According to religious laws and acceptable behavior of the time, Jesus crossed the line by not only speaking to the man but by touching him. Even more, Jesus put his fingers in the man’s ears and put his own spit on the man’s tongue – a sign that the healing went beyond what could be seen on the outside. Jesus used his own voice, the voice of compassion, love, and power to give the man a voice.

Note that Jesus took the man away from the crowd. He didn’t want to create a spectacle that others would use to their own advantage – the “I was there and saw with my own eyes” response. Instead, Jesus’ focus was on the deaf and mute man. On the needs of the man rather than the crowd. Jesus demonstrated understanding and compassion in that private moment.

Hearing and speaking are linked. Hearing and speaking may be via verbal voice, sight, or touch. So, it is important to pay attention to how we communicate to others. To recognize how another hears and speaks. Looking directly at a person, lowering your mask so someone can read your lips, or writing out what you want to say so it can be read are ways that help another know your thoughts.

In the past, understanding was often expressed verbally. We recited lessons and times tables in class. Oral exams were, and are, used to evaluate knowledge. Coupled with written assignments and exams, teachers determined whether we had learned what we were supposed to. The computer and closed captioning are two examples of how technology has opened communication with many who didn’t have a means of showing their knowledge before.

Communication provides a means of sharing a deeper level of understanding, beyond the intellectual. Voice also expresses emotions, desires, dreams, belonging, faith, and the heart. Those things that share who we are on the inside. Voice isn’t dependent on the words others say or our ability to verbally share out thoughts. Touch, facial expression, pictures, and the written word are a few of the ways our inner voice can be heard.

Mark’s account of the healing of the deaf and mute man centers on his physical healing. His ears were opened, and his tongue released so he could communicate and share his voice. Underneath this physical healing, Jesus also gives him emotional healing and relational healing. The man is restored to the community.

Healing takes many forms. Although we usually focus on physical healing – we pray for others to get well, there is also a need for emotional and relational healing. Those on the fringes of society have often been beaten down, told they don’t belong, been mistreated, and attacked. Some have tried to silence their voice. Yet others, like the friends of the man in today’s text, have listened and taken action to help these have a voice. To be restored to community, to have a seat at the table so that all can be enriched by their voices.

What can we do to help others speak? We can listen! Listen fully by focusing on the person speaking rather than forming a response in our minds while they share. Show we understand by confirming what we thought we heard, read, or felt. Affirm the other person for sharing, for voicing what is in the minds and hearts.

You may have heard or read, usually in the context of a news report, that information used comes from “an anonymous source not authorized to speak publicly.” An anonymous person doesn’t really have a voice. Voice belongs to a known person or group who want to be heard.

We are not anonymous. We are part of a faith community, followers of Jesus, who have been given a voice to share understanding, compassion, and love with others. Individually we each have a voice that belongs to us. As a group we have a collective voice that can speak God’s truth, bring reconciliation and healing to those who are being left out. We can be the friends who are willing to work our way through the crowd to bring another to Jesus. Not necessarily by preaching in the street, but by following Jesus’ lead.

Who is outside of the community? Who feels like they don’t belong, are ignored, and/or persecuted? We can seek to listen to their voice. To hear what they have to say. To offer a place in the community and a seat at the table. To be those who give a voice to a person or group that deserves to be heard.


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