St. Mark 7:31-37
September 7, 2014 A+D
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The word for groaning is found only seven times in the New Testament. Four different things groan in these seven uses: creation groans (Rom 8:18-22), believers groan (Rom 8: 23-25; 2 Cor 5:2; James 5:9), the Holy Spirit groans (vv. 25-30), and Jesus groans twice in Mark’s Gospel including today’s Gospel (Mk 7:34; Mk 8:12). Unfortunately the ESV, following again the KJV, translates this as sighing. Sighing is not a good translation. Sighing is a deliberate response and usually means frustration or weariness. The groaning in Mark 7 is an involuntary grunt or exclamation that escapes from a wounded person.
Creation groans as in the pains of childbirth because it is waiting for release. Mothers giving birth don’t sigh, they groan. Our sins have placed the rest of creation, which was morally innocent, into the bondage of corruption. We and our sins are the reason that cats eat mice and dogs get cancer and volcanoes erupt. Creation is eager for the time of the new creation and it groans now, as in the pains of childbirth, waiting for that release and fulfillment.
The believers groan in a similar way. They are hurting and eager for the new creation, to be free of their sins and the sins of their neighbors. In James the word is turned in a negative way. It is not groaning toward God that this suffering would end but it is groaning toward one another. We are to groan to God. We are not to groan and complain to one another.
The Holy Spirit groans out prayers that words cannot express on behalf of believers who are too overwhelmed by the sorrows of sin to know what they should pray for.
In Mark 8, not long after today’s Gospel, the Pharisees came and began to argue with Jesus. They sought a sign from Him. They were tempting Him though it is usually translated that they were “testing” Him. And then He groaned deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” The word there is our word “groan” with a prefix. The prefix intensifies it so that it means to groan deeply or strongly or emphatically. It is the only time that word shows up in that particular form in the New Testament. This groan comes from distress. Jesus is being tempted to doing something that His Father has not sent Him to do and it is perfectly parallel to the satanic temptations that He suffered in the desert. The Pharisees don’t want Jesus to heal people or forgive sins. They want a sign from heaven. What they mean is that they want some fireworks, something fun and extravagant and outside of nature. In response, Jesus groans and rebukes them and withdraws.
In all six of those cases the groaning of creation, of believers, and of Jesus comes from sorrow or suffering because of sin. This should inform our understanding of what Jesus is doing when a deaf man is brought to Him in Mark chapter 7 and He is asked to lay hands on the man. Jesus takes the man aside from the crowd. He then puts His fingers into the man’s ears, spits, and touches his tongue. Looking up to heaven, he then groans and says to the man: “Ephphatha,” that is, be opened.
The groan comes because the deaf man’s deafness hurts Jesus. I suspect that the healing of the deaf man also costs Him something. It is not cheap or easy. We tend to think that Jesus heals without effort. He says the Word and it is done, as easy as pie. That is part of why we struggle with how little healing there is. Why doesn’t Jesus just speak the whole world healed and be done with it? It is easy for Him, costs Him nothing, so why not get on with it? Why go to all the trouble of taking up flesh, of being betrayed and tortured and killed? Why allow anyone to reject Him while we’re at it? It seems like Jesus could just invoke His Divine power and make everything right and it wouldn’t, or at least it shouldn’t, cost Him anything. We forget that He rested on the 7th Day of creation.
I don’t know that we have the wisdom to answer these questions in a way that will ever satisfy our fallen intellects, but we do know what Jesus has done. He has chosen the costly way. He has borne our sins in His body. It wouldn’t really be Grace if it was cheap, even as it wouldn’t be grace if it was forced upon us.
The miracles that Jesus performs – healing the deaf, blind, and lame, cleansing lepers, and providing miraculous wine and bread – are all costly. He doesn’t just send the devil away. He suffers his abuse and attacks. He gets hungry and thirsty and is capable of dying as He ultimately does. He comes into our broken world, breathes our poisoned air, suffers our backbiting, ingratitude, and greed. He fights our enemies for us with nothing more than is given to us: the Word of God that proceeds from the Mouth of God. And part of the problem is that it is like trying to remove a thorn from the paw of a pit-bull. He means it for good but we misperceive it as an attack and we don’t recognize our real enemies.
Despite our biting and scratching and loud protests, Jesus proves Himself faithful where we have been unfaithful and faithless and full of lust. He is steadfast and generous where we have been cowardly and self-absorbed. He is merciful and kind where we have been selfish and vengeful.
And rather than be disgusted and angry over our rebellion, He has pity. We are all guilty of some version of road rage. We think most of the world is full of idiots. No one knows how to drive. No one understands what we do, has common sense like we do, or is as clever and street smart and capable as we are. Why do you think the gift shop sells mugs that say “I see stupid people?” Everyone thinks he is surrounded by stupid people. They didn’t make that mug just for you. They made it for everyone. Yet few recognize that they are one of the stupid people themselves.
Of course, we are surrounded by stupid people and by bad drivers. Our blindness is in thinking that we are different from our own people. O Lord, I am a man of stupidity, and I dwell among a stupid people. We ought to laugh at Garrison Keilor’s tag-line description of Lake Wobegone because he has rightly seen and named our pride: we do think that our children, our loved ones, and our communities are somehow special or unique.
Besides not simply recognizing ourselves as bad drivers – we can’t all be above average – besides realizing that we are stupid and have done lots of stupid things – whose life isn’t full of regret? – we’ve gone ten steps further and added unrighteous indignation to our pride. How dare we, who have pulled out in front of others without looking, been outraged when the same has happened to us? Repent. We have no right to outrage. Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord. We should never call anyone stupid or idiot or fool.
Do not think that Jesus did not mean this. He said: “Everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Mt. 5:22)” Repent.
Where we grow angry and frustrated by the stupidity around us, Jesus has pity. He groans in sympathetic pain at our stupidity. He doesn’t look at the driver who just pulled out in front of you as a selfish idiot who is endangering others, but as a lost lamb with all sorts of baggage and sorrow, who doesn’t realize that he is in a hurry without reason or who is living in fear of things that can’t kill the soul, and the Lord desires to help and save that poor person. You endanger the world every time you get behind the wheel, yet you give it very little thought. You are mainly unaware. That, by the way, is the definition of an idiot.
But the Lord has compassion. He looks at us as He looked at the deaf man, the way that we look at children in a special ed classroom. He sees us as having weaknesses and disabilities, as needing help. This does not make Him angry, but it does hurt and move Him. It causes Him to act on our behalf, to intervene, even to send His holy angels.
The last three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer are specifically ordered. While this can be done for any besetting sin, it goes like this: “Forgive us for thinking other people are idiots. Teach us to forgive those who rightly, but ungraciously, think that we are idiots. Lead us not into the temptation of thinking that we are better than other people, that we are smarter or better or drivers or are more practical. And finally, in summary, deliver us from the evil that the devil plans for us now through our sins and the evil that we deserve in the end.”
Pull us out of the crowd, Jesus. Unclog our ears to hear your Word, to receive your love. And loose our tongues to sing your praise. You have done all things well, even loving and forgiving and saving us.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.