Throughout the Olympics and Paralympics we are discovering the names of people we never knew a few months ago. Attached to those names are special stories of courage and tenacity and of the will to succeed. Those people are ordinary folk who have found themselves in extraordinary situations, winning gold and silver and bronze medals.
In the Gospels, there are stories of people who, like the Olympians, are ordinary people. Often we don`t know their names and we know little about their backgrounds . . but they are part of the great tapestry of the Gospel proclaimed down the centuries, a tapestry of which you and I are part today.
There are two such people in our Gospel today. The first one is a woman, and more than that, a Gentile, coming from an area avoided by the Jewish people. We don`t know her name or her history. In later writings she is given the name Justa and her daughter had the name Berenice. This anonymous woman comes to Jesus through desperation. She has heard about his healing powers and she longs for him to heal her daughter from a serious disease. She knows that she has disadvantages: she is a woman and a Gentile. Jesus` reply seems harsh as he reminds her of his mission to the Jewish nation. But she perseveres and is rewarded. Her daughter is healed.
This woman came to Jesus, and she persevered in her request. Here is a simple picture of our daily relationship with Jesus. Think of the people for whom you have a concern at this moment: maybe someone who is very ill or someone who is going through a dark tunnel of depression. It may be someone who is finding it hard to climb out of the deep darkness of bereavement. We long to help them, and perhaps we offer words of encouragement or practical help. But how much are we praying for them? How much are we persevering in prayer? Is it daily or weekly – or when we think about it? The Gospels are full of accounts of people who have come to Jesus and asked for his help, and who have gone on asking. Such an attitude puts God in his place as almighty . . and such an attitude enables our faith to grow.
In this Gospel reading there is another anonymous person who meets Jesus, this time from beyond Galilee. It is a man who could neither hear nor easily speak for himself, a man who is brought to Jesus by his friends. It is an unusual account of healing. Jesus takes the man aside. He puts his fingers in the man`s ears. He spits and touches the man`s tongue. And from deep within comes a sigh from Jesus, as though he is groaning at the sadness of this man`s suffering. He can`t speak to him to be understood. Instead he uses signs, signs to touch the man and reach the deepest part of his being to bring healing and wholeness.
We need to be open to the different ways in which Jesus works in our lives. It may be that we are praying about a particular situation which doesn`t seem to change. We need to say to God as we pray: `Lord, help me to be open to what you want to do in this situation, in my life, in our church. What do you want to say to me before I speak to you? How do you want me to pray?`
At the end of this account of the healing of these two people is the account of the watching crowd`s reaction. They were amazed, and their words link to the prophecy in Isaiah 35 of the task of the Messiah: `He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.`
And they say something else about Jesus: `He has done everything well.`
However you feel about yourself this morning: remember that he has done everything well.
However you feel about apparent unanswered prayer, remember that he has done everything well.
When the storms come and you feel you are sinking, remember that he has done everything well.
When you despair of the state of the world, be reminded that God is in control, and that his kingdom is coming. Isaiah 35 again: `Say to those with fearful hearts, `Be strong, do not fear; your God will come . . water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.`
(Revd) Pat Hopkins