Being Kind While Being Kind

Mark 7:31-37

Have you ever lived through one of those seasons where it seemed like everything you owned broke and needed repairing at the same time? To say that we have lived through that type of month in the Letson home in recent days would be an over exaggeration. But, we have had conversations with several different service folks related to a number of different household items over the last few weeks that have either been on the blink, stopped working or that needed repairing.

What I have noticed in all of this is that a few of these repair people who entered our midst really distinguished themselves from the others by doing one thing and by doing it well. That one thing wasn’t their skill or their ability to fix this or that issue. Instead, it was their kindness. Truth be told, one of these individuals struggled mightily in his attempt to rectify the problem that we had called him to address. He had no luck in trying to fix the issue at hand yet he was courteous, attentive, and again, kind. This is what made him stand out. This is why I remember him more than the others.

In our text for today, Jesus also distinguishes himself not only by what he does, but also by how he goes about doing it. It really is a remarkable passage. It is a section of scripture that I have read a number of times over the years and one that I suspect that many of you have also read, studied and reflected on many times too. Yet, it was my reading of the famous Scottish New Testament commentator William Barclay and his thoughts on this text that helped me to see what I had not seen before. What Barclay points out is that the beauty of this text is not only that Jesus’ is successful in performing a miracle by helping a man who can neither hear nor speak to be able to do both again. But, beyond that, it is the kindness that Jesus shows in the very midst of the miracle itself that really gives one a window into who Jesus was and how he acted.

There are at least three things in the text that lend support to this. First, as he works with the man, Jesus chooses to take him off by himself. Jesus wants to heal the man. He wants to help him. But, he doesn’t want to embarrass him any further than perhaps his physical limitations have already led to embarrassment. In turn, he takes the man off alone so that he can work with him in private. It is an act of kindness.

Second, Jesus chooses to over exaggerate what he is going to do. He sticks his fingers in the man’s ears not because that is a necessary step but so the man will know what he is trying to accomplish. He forms spittle and touches the man’s tongue not because a magic formula was required to restore the man’s speech but again so that the man would understand what was happening. And, Jesus looks clearly toward heaven so the man would recognize that Jesus and his power came from God. Again, these over exaggerated movements and behaviors were not necessary to Jesus’ miraculous powers but they were necessary in Jesus’ attempt to treat the man tenderly and again with kindness.

Finally, going back to Jesus taking his own saliva and touching the man’s tongue there is something else worth noting here. This act was at the time a common remedy that some suggested for curing a person’s inability to speak. Certainly, Jesus didn’t see value or worth in this home remedy for someone who was a deaf-mute. But, he did know that it was a common practice and likely one that the man would have been familiar with. Thus, Barclay suggests that he chooses to use this method again as a way of doing something familiar, understandable and something that would have helped the man to be at ease. Once more it was a way of being extra kind.

For Jesus, this man is not just another person wanting a miracle. He doesn’t represent another task to accomplish or something else for Jesus to do in order to make himself look better or to pad his resume. No, this man is a special creation, a unique person who is just as worthy of Jesus’ care, tenderness and careful treatment as anyone. In turn, it is not just that Jesus performs a miracle, it is the way he does it – taking the man off by himself, over exaggerating his actions so they are understood, and doing something through touching the man’s tongue with saliva which would have been familiar and that may have put the man at ease – these are the things that really set Jesus apart.

It is interesting to read verse 37 and the response of people to what they have seen in Jesus in light of this interpretation of his actions. In verse 37, the people say these words, “he has done everything well”. Perhaps what they mean is not only did he perform a miracle but he did it with such grace, goodness and care. It wasn’t just what he did but how he did it that led to their saying he did all things well. Perhaps it was not just that he had been kind in performing a miracle, but instead perhaps it was the kindness that Jesus had shown to the man himself that truly made the moment memorable. (This interpretation of Mark 7 is gleaned from Daily Devotions with William Barclay, Westminster John Knox, 2008, page 307)

When we lived in the Atlanta suburbs, I remember going to participate in an inner city ministry one Thursday night with a group of guys who went to our church. It was a weekly feeding program for homeless people. The guys in our church wanted me to see it in hopes that we would perhaps choose to be a sponsor congregation. What I remember about that experience is that I went home vowing to never go back. Several things struck me. First, the food was the same each week – it was primarily hot dogs, chips and sweet tea. One will certainly eat whatever they can get when hungry but there was nothing really nutritious about the meal and it bothered me that it was the same menu week after week. Hots dogs, chips and sweet tea every Thursday night.

The other thing that really bothered me was that the people were herded through the line like cattle and the tea was mixed in rubbermaid garbage cans and served straight from the cans to the people. Now, I am not doubting that the cans were sanitized and clean. But, there appeared to me to be nothing dignified about it.

In turn, my feeling that I would never go back nor recommend the ministry to our church was based on my assessment that while this ministry did offer care in its act of feeding hungry, homeless people that the leaders of this ministry were actually not very kind in the way that they went about their work. I could appreciate the ministry but not the way it was carried out.

Here is the big lesson for all of us. Kindness matters. Kindness or the lack of kindness generally overshadows everything else. Kindness elevates and smoothes over rough edges. And, the lack of kindness overpowers even good work when it is not done from the heart.

It is not just that we do the right things, believe the right things or behave in the right ways that matters. But, just as importantly is how we express the right things and and how we carry ourselves and love others in the process that carries the day.

We can never be too kind. And, I feel certain that when others have long forgotten what we have said or what we have accomplished, they will remember the way we carried ourselves and they will remember how the spirit of Christ – compassionate, sensitive, loving – was or was not conveyed in our lives. In many ways, our representation of Christ and the kingdom hinges on the way that the kindness of Christ as demonstrated in this story from Mark’s gospel permeates our beings.

Perhaps one of the most significant honors in all of sports is an award you have likely never heard of before. The International Fair Play Trophy is given to athletes, coaches and teams who demonstrate fairness, sportsmanship and there is that word again, kindness. Winners include a Hungarian Tennis player who pleaded that the officials allow his opponent to recover from cramps before the match continued. Another winner was a US basketball coach from Georgia who forfeited the state championship when he learned that one of his players was ineligible.

The very first winner of the award was named Eugenio Monti who was a bobsledder from Italy. At the 1964 Olympics in Innsbruck, Monti competed in the two man bobsled event. The only team who could beat Monti at the Olympics that year was a team from Great Britian. Just before their final run, the British team realized they had a critical bolt on their sled that had snapped into two pieces. Eugenio Monti in response removed the same bolt from his own sled and gave it to the British so they could fix their sled and compete. The result was that the British sled raced down the track, setting a record at the time, and won the Gold Medal over Monti. Without question, it was a medal that they would have never had the chance to win without Monti’s kindness. (Bits & Pieces, October 15, 1992, pages 4-6)

Kindness matters. It is not what we do or say but how we do it and how we say it that carries the day. Kindness is the Jesus way. Will we follow? Amen.