St. Mark 7:31-37
August 19, 2018 A+D
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.,
A man, deaf and mute, is brought to the Lord as He sojourns amongst the heathens. They are the ancient enemies of God’s people and therefore they know that God has power. They have been smited in the past. He comes in peace and they beg Him for a miracle of mercy. He takes the man aside, privately, and engages in a strange ritual. He puts his fingers into his ears. He spits and touches the man’s tongue. He looks to heaven and groans and says “Ephphatha.” Ephphatha is an Aramaic word. Mark translates it for us. It means “be opened.” The man was deaf. He couldn’t hear what the Lord said and if he could have heard it, he would not have understood. They didn’t speak Aramaic in the region of Tyre and Sidon.
To whom did Jesus speak? To the ears and the tongue themselves. They were blocked or tied and needed to be opened. He spoke to other inanimate objects in His earthly ministry. He spoke to the raging sea: “Be quiet. Be still.” He spoke to the fig tree. “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” Most notably, perhaps, in the beginning, He spoke to the light. He said, “Be light.”
Here He speaks to ears and a tongue. And the ears and tongue can no more resist Him than the sea or the fig tree or the stars and moon. The ears are open. The tongue is released. The man is healed and he speaks rightly.
Then the Lord charges them, the people of Tyre and Sidon, to tell no one. Again, He is in pagan country. What tongues and ears and seas, what fig trees and lions and flames, cannot resist is easily resisted by the defiled hearts of men. The more He tells them to stop, they more zealously they disobey. What does He know? Surely He doesn’t mean it. How could it not be good for us to tell others?
They are so sure of their own wisdom, and so accustomed to ignoring God’s Word, that they simply can’t control themselves. They are not filled with joy. They are filled with pleasure. They have been entertained and amused. They received a good gift and want to tell others. Despite their disobedience, and arrogance, their confession is ironically accurate. Jesus does do all things well. He does make the deaf to hear and the mute to speak. But they, of course, do not know what they say. The region is not evangelized because evangelism requires doctrine.
Lest we be like them, let us consider how it is that the Lord does all things well and then consider the deafness that He heals and the words He gives loosed tongues to sing.
There are many statements in the Scripture that express the reality that God does all things well. The most pointed, in my mind, are the words of Job that we use at funerals: “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord.” Early in the Ministry, I struggled with those words. I did not like reading them out loud. It seemed insensitive to me to insist at that moment that the Lord’s taking away of someone was good when the people were in such pain.
Now I love them reading them. I have come to realize this is precisely how Christians mourn. Rather than be offended by this, Christians love it even while they are hurting. The statement doesn’t say that we shouldn’t be sad. Job was sad when he said them. It says the Lord gave us a lovely person. He was a gift. Now the Lord has taken him away and it hurts. But the Lord’s Name is still to blessed because He is good and He will not fail us. The One who gave us this person did not do it to hurt us but in love. He will reunite us again. The Lord doesn’t only take away. He also gives. He will give again. He knows what He is doing and He does all things well. Blessed be His Name. If this is not so, then there is no hope. This is the rock to which we cling in our mourning and grief.
This is the great advantage of submitting to the wisdom of the fathers in the liturgy. If I’d written my own funeral liturgy I would have had something much more shallow and sappy. I would have underestimated my members. By doing what I was told to do instead of what I thought would be better, I was able to grow into it and eventually begin to perceive their wisdom. The fathers knew more than I did. By using what I didn’t fully understand the people were ministered to better than they would have been if I’d have done my own thing. And, of course, I was also better ministered to. Part of reverence is humility. It looks at God or our fathers or the congregation and says, “They probably know more than I do. I’d better go along with it until I understand.”
In any case, the way the Lord does well is by speaking. We’ve already touched upon the creative force of His speaking. He speaks creation into being, “Let there be light.” In the miracle before us we see something of His Word as recreative. He speaks the ears unblocked and healed, restoring them. So also He speaks Lazarus out of the grave.
This is the way He does well among us. He speaks us into His family by declaring His Name into us in Baptism. He speaks us forgiven and righteous in the Absolution. He speaks us into Himself, and into the whole company of heaven, in the Holy Communion. He speaks us into the way of righteousness, guiding us along the path, by instruction in His Word. His Word in Scripture, in preaching, in the mutual consolation of the brethren, in liturgy and hymn, does more than impart knowledge. It imparts knowledge and it strengthens and encourages faith. It brings us closer to Him.
This is the real opening of ears. It can happen to people who are physically deaf because hearing the Word of God can come through the eye or in some other way. So also what cannot fail to stop raging storms or raising the dead, can fail in stubborn sinners who insist on their own way even if they have perfect ears. The real deaf aren’t those with physical limitations. The real deaf are those with blocked hearts. So were we all and so are we all tempted at times to become again. The Lord overcomes this by His Word. He enables us to hear Him, opening ears and hearts to know Him.
Our tongues are loosed for praise – not the shallow praise of Tyre and Sidon that simply marvels at God’s bigness or niceness or power. But the praise of Israel that confesses we are sinners and God is the Prince of Peace come to redeem us. The praise that confesses in joy that Jesus is Lord, God the Creator is God the Redeemer alive out of the grave for us, the praise of those who were lost and are found, were deaf and now hear, who were dead and are now alive.
He has done all things well, not merely better than we deserved but better than we could have ever expected. Let us then hear His Word and sing His praise.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.