September 3, 2017 A+D
St. Mark 7:31-37; Psalm 34
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The deaf-mute man’s ears were opened in the region of the Decapolis to hear the Gospel and his tongue was loosed to praise God. There were all astonished and in awe of God at the miracle.
Psalm 34:1-2 is the Gradual today.
“I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad.” (Psalm 34:1–2, ESV)
The healing of the deaf-mute is an incident of praise that the Church would have us allegorize in this way: our ears were stopped with sin. The Lord Jesus spoke the Gospel to us, that is, He told us that He loves and forgives us. He declared us to be His children and gave us His Name. His command that we believe and trust in Him as children look to their Father opened our ears and caused us to believe. What we cannot believe by our own reason or strength, that Jesus Christ is our Lord, we now believe by grace. Having been given faith and been freed from sin, we now praise Him and confess His goodness to the world and to each other. “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak” and sinners to have faith and to do good works.
“I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad.”
The title to Psalm 34 reads thus: A Psalm of David, when he changed his behaviour before Abimelech; who drove him away, and he departed.
You will remember that David had feigned insanity to keep Abimelech from killing him. The title tells us that David wrote this Psalm in response to that event. But there is nothing in the Psalm itself that seems to indicate that. It is simply a Psalm of thanksgiving and praise for the Lord’s deliverance and salvation.
The fathers saw something typological in this. Even as David feigned insanity before Abimelech, whose name means “the father, the king,” so that he would be dismissed and delivered, the true David, David’s greater Son, feigned the insanity of sin before His Father, the true King. This unexpected and humiliating act turned His Father’s wrath away from us so that we are delivered and saved.
David is much more interested in that reality than he is the particulars of his own life. He is not Odysseus the king who is proud of his clever ploy. He is a sinner, a shepherd boy, who escaped more than death. He escaped damnation. He sees himself not as clever but as undeserving and weak, a beggar who was rescued unexpectedly by the benevolent grace of a true King.
He sings: O magnify the Lord with me, And let us exalt his name together. I sought the Lord, and he heard me, And delivered me from all my fears.
This Psalm also foreshows the Sacrament of the Altar in a marvelous way. The Angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him. He is not a created angel. He who encamps around those who fear the Lord is the Messenger of the Father. It is a strange scene. The Father Himself loves us and sends the Son to buy us out of bondage, to suffer His wrath in our place, as our scapegoat and peace offering. And yet there is a sense in which, at the Father’s bidding, the Son stands against the Father for us. He is more than our Advocate. He is also our Protector. He protects us not only from sin, death, and the devil, but He also protects us from the Father’s righteous wrath and justice. Our ransom, the Blood of Christ Himself, is not paid to the devil. It is paid to the Father. David only feigned insanity. Judged in the ways and economies of men, the love of the Holy Trinity for us who break His commands is insane through and through, but it is not actual insanity. Rather it is perfect love.
As David contemplates this great mystery and joy he exclaims: O taste and see that the Lord is good: Blessed is the man that trusteth in him. He does not say, “O taste and see that what the Lord has given for it is good.” Rather he calls on us to taste the Lord. Then he continues “Blessed is the man that trusteth in Him.”
It is a hard thing to believe that God gives His risen Body and Blood, once offered up in the holocaust of the cross, for us to eat and to drink, to taste and to see, and yet He does. The tongues loosed for praise aid in the chewing of God’s Body and the swallowing of God’s Truth. Blessed is the one who does not shrink from this revelation and grace, but who trusts in the Lord to be and do what He says, who approaches the altar with holy fear.
This trust, fed in the Holy Supper, satisfies the needs of His saints, gives and encourages faith, even as it satisfies and completes the wrath of the Father. Again: the insanity feigned by David before Abimelech pales in comparison to the seeming insanity of grace that buys back sinners at the life of the Son, then raises that Son from the dead and gives His Blood to them to drink in seeming contradiction to the Old Testament prohibition against the consumption of blood. Indeed, the Lord seems to turn this on its head and prohibits abstaining from the consumption of Blood, His Blood, when He declares: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:53, ESV)
David asks: What man is he that desireth life, And loveth many days, that he may see good? If you desire life drink the Blood for life is in the blood. If you would see good taste the Lord’s Body and see that He is good.
David is not done. Hearts filled with awe and joy at God’s insane love and mercy still know sorrow in this life. Not every deaf-mute gets healed before the Last Day. Nor do many of the dead come back to us before then. Cancer takes more than it leaves. So David says: The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.
“The Lord is near” is the language that St. John the Baptist uses to announce the beginning of Our Lord’s public ministry. No one in the history of the universe has been as brokenhearted or as crushed as Our Lord on the cross. And yet, even when He was forsaken by His Father, in some mysterious way of the Trinity, the Father was near to the Son and the Spirit consoled Him. We don’t know how that was but we know that the Holy Trinity was not divided. We know that the Son clung in faith to the promise of the resurrection. He did not give up hope or give in to despair even though He was forsaken by the Father and suffered the full horror of Hell.
For us, in a sense, the Lord is even nearer to us than the Father was to the Son on the cross. For though we think at times we are in Hell, though our hearts do break and our spirits are crushed, though we bury those that we love, we are not in Hell. We never will be and we are never forsaken. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted even if they are largely unaware of it and desperate for relief.
The Lord is near to us. He comes to us as He came to the Jordan river and to the Upper Room. He speaks peace to us in His Word and the preaching of the Church. He cleanses us in the Absolution and restores us again to the purity of our baptisms into Him. He feeds us in the Holy Communion and He sets us into His family that we might be filled with praise.
There is a time to weep and to complain. It is now. Death seems to reign. Abimelech claims to be the father, the king. The world pronounces us insane at best and bigots at worst and is ready to murder us for convenience. But we do not weep as those who have no joy. Abimelech is a liar. God is our Father. So even now, indeed at all times, most certainly including the bad and uncertain times, we will bless the Lord and his praise shall continually be in our mouths. He does all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak and us, poor sinners, to be His children and His saints.
David is not insane, nor is he dead. He was saved, and he closes his Psalm thus:
“The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.”
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.