In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This all happened in the region of the Decapolis, which is to say in territory that had once belonged to Israel but which was then Gentile, pagan territory.
When they beg Our Lord to lay His hand upon a deaf man with a speech impediment, the Lord takes him aside privately, performs an elaborate ceremony, and heals the man. Just before He begins, He sighs. That, anyway, is what the ESV says. I think “groan” better gets the idea. Whatever it is, the Lord makes a noise that indicates He is weary or frustrated or perhaps in pain.
Some commentators have suggested that miracle working was hard, that it cost Him something, and so He groans as He considers what this will take out of Him. It could be, also, that He is simply weary of the sorrow, of the sin and pain and brokenness, even if it is in pagans, that is all around Him.
Now, there is some temptation in us, some stupid orthodoxy, that doesn’t like that idea. It wants to say, “But Jesus is God therefore nothing is hard for Him. Miracle working is easy. He can do it with a word.”
This is what I hate about orthodox Lutherans, what I hate about myself. We think we know things that we don’t. Our systematic doctrine is a blessing, a gift in the tradition of Thomas Aquinas, but it is subject to abuse and any piece of it, taken apart from the whole, is heresy. It is easy to take up orthodoxy in a shallow way, with a list of answers, and to fail to contemplate the mysteries of the Incarnation and the Holy Trinity.
It is this tendency that can cause us to give the right answer, in the completely wrong way, on a host of issues, but here are few dangerous questions, questions that shouldn’t be answered too quickly: Is war just? Can a Christian be a soldier? Is suicide an unforgivable sin? Could blocking conception within marriage ever be wrong? The right answer to those questions – given without thought or nuance – can be the wrong answer. Sometimes the Lutherans know too little because they know so much.
In any case, we do not know if miracle working was hard for the Christ or not. But we do know that Our Lord’s humility allowed Him to suffer pain and die. So perhaps, His humility also made the miracles a painful or a taxing effort and that is indicated here by His groan. If that is the case, it makes the miracles even more compassionate, more costly to the Christ, and also might help us begin to better understand why He didn’t simply wave His hand over the city from afar and heal everyone inside.
I find the idea that the miracles were costly to the Lord, that they were part of His suffering, at least a bit appealing even though my gut reaction was to reject it. It certainly doesn’t violate the Holy Scriptures or our confessions. It is harmonious with the mission of the Messiah and His giving character. Since sin forgiving is so costly, it makes a kind of sense that healing would be also. It is not as though the Lord simply speaks the world forgiven even though that would have made more sense to us. No, the Lord takes up our flesh in order to take our sin and punishment into Himself. He gets rid of our sin through His own pain. Perhaps there is something similar going on when Our Lord heals. This is the Christ in His humility. He agonized in the garden. His sweat fell like blood. He periodically withdrew from the crowds for prayer because He was weary, and He wept over Jerusalem. Whether or not He groans here from some pain or expenditure, we don’t know. Whether it cost Him something right then or not, we don’t know. But we do know that in the end, in order to have pagans as well as Jews, it cost Him His life.
We should also notice this. After talking with the Samaritan woman at the well, the Lord, who had sent His disciples for food, was no longer hungry. He said, “My food is to do the will of My Father who sent Me.” He found nourishment in fulfilling His mission, in serving this woman, in welcoming a Gentile to look upon the Face that Moses beheld in the burning bush. So even though this might have been costly, He counted as worthy.
His love is stronger than His wrath. He pays for the sins of all the world that no one would be lost even though He knows full well that many will reject Him out of hand. He pays every last penny and more, more than is needed, that you would be spared Hell’s fire, that you would not answer for your sins, that your heart and conscience, soul and body, would be healed and cleansed. And painful though it is, He counts it a joy, it is food for Him, because by it He gains you. Imagine this! You are worth it and He is not angry, holds no grudge, but is full, even satisfied, because you have been spared and belong to Him. You are the cause of Divine delight.
Love is too small a word for this act, this constant character of the God of Abraham. The Scriptures, of course, don’t confine themselves merely to the word love. This is love, mercy, pity, compassion, atonement, grace, the giving of food, reconciliation, healing, recreation and rest to the weary, the setting of the solitary into families, expiation, propitiation, salvation, and justification. It is the whole counsel of God, what He has revealed of Himself to us. It is His Names: Immanuel, Jesus, Prince of Peace, Lion of Judah, the Christ.
We could go on and on, but we have to get to the allegory. For we need to see the deaf-mute man healed here as more than merely a historical figure. He is not just one person that Jesus happened to heal. Rather, he is typical of the Lord’s interaction with fallen men. Let us see ourselves as suffering deafness of various sorts and being impeded in speech. We are filled with pride and laziness that has made us deaf to the Law and to reason. We are so arrogant as to think ourselves incapable of error. We have a system. We went to Lutheran grade schools. We must be geniuses of extraordinary theology! We can answer every question. God save us from ourselves, we were too weak for that. So also, our prayers have been impeded by these and other sins. In a strange twist of our pride, we have even hardened our consciences in vain attempts to pretend we did not know things we do. Repent. Wretched men are we.
But the allegory is not done. May the Lord, in His mercy, take us aside in the waters of Holy Baptism, that the old man be again drowned and die in us along with all evil desires, and a new man emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever by His unexpected and undeserved grace. May He unclog our ears that we would hear and keep His Word. May He loosen our tongues that we might speak not only the orthodox answers, but the orthodox answers contextually nuanced, with a proper distinction of Law and Gospel, with humility and joy, with compassion and mercy, and so also give us proper, right praise and prayers that are pleasing to Him while also being good for us and for our neighbors, that we might throw ourselves upon His mercy and that we that we might dare to kneel before Him with clean lips to eat His Body and drink His blood, to join Him at His Table.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed yet, but today’s hymns are all praise hymns, real praise hymns, not shallow repetitions that might be sung to any deity, or to a teen-age boyfriend, but explicit, Christian praise that rejoices in Christ crucified, the Savior, with tunes sturdy enough to carry that kind of hefty praise. The emphasis on praise comes today because of the last line in the Gospel: They were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.” This day is a terrible anniversary for us. There is a temptation to nationalism and for vengeance, as well as to fear and anger. May we, with those pagans from the Decapolis, remember this simple truth: “He has done all things well.” He has not abandoned us nor forgotten us. His ways are not our ways, but He is good. His mercy endureth forever. He has caused us, in His mercy, to hear His Word. He has saved us. Now let that same Spirit loose our tongues to overcome the temptations all around us, that rather than cries for vengeance or deluded, fearful visions of apocalyptic collapse, let us say, “He has done all things well” and praise the Lord.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.