August 22, 2021 A+D
St. Mark 7: 31-37
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Once Jesus healed the deaf-mute, he began to speak rightly. Our text translates it as “plainly,” but that is a bit of a paraphrase based on context. Mark used the word “rightly” in order to hint at a greater reality. This reality is shown negatively in the crowd’s refusal to be quiet about what happened. It is only when we hear with understanding that we can speak correctly, purely, rightly. When we do not listen and do not discern what is significant from what is trivial or ignore it, then we cannot speak rightly.
The crowd does not speak rightly because they do not recognize Jesus according to His Messianic Office, His Divinity, or His mission. They cannot see in Him what they should have heard in the prophets. To them Jesus is only a miracle worker. They are fascinated by Him and find Him interesting and amusing. They want to tell others. Jesus commands them not to. When they do it anyway, He commands them to stop. They ignore Him. They view Him as a useful technician at best and a circus performer at worst. Either way He has no authority over them. They think they are doing no harm and that He is being foolish. They think they are helping Him with His career. After all what they say about Him is accurate and positive. They are praising Him and His ability to make the deaf hear and the mute speak.
But harm is done by this. They are misleading others about the Person and Work of the Messiah. This happens because they do not listen to Jesus or to the prophets. The significant thing was not the temporary physical healing of the deaf-mute. Death would again stop both his ears and his mouth. The significant thing was the compassion of Jesus that was driving Him to the cross to die and rise again for the sins of the world and the eternal healing of the deaf-mute bestowed by Divine forgiveness. It is Jesus’ sacrificial grace and love for the world that was undoing the brokenness and damage of sin, including deafness and muteness. The healing wasn’t the cause. It was the symptom. It wasn’t the point. It was the consequence. It wasn’t the end. It was the beginning.
Thus cliche number 1: they didn’t merely get the cart before the horse. They were so thrilled with the cart, they forgot they needed a horse at all, and that the cart drove itself.
Earlier in this same chapter, Jesus said to the Pharisees:
Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:
This people honors Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me.
And in vain they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.
The Pharisees did not recognize the God they claimed to worship even as He stood right in front of them. Jesus is the One foretold by the prophets, who fulfilled the longing of Israel. He had come to redeem and save them, but they did not know what made for peace. They would not accept His visitation. They saw only a Man who was interfering with their traditions and threatening their positions. They loved darkness rather than light. The crowd that brought the deaf mute was much the same. They did not recognize Jesus as God in the Flesh. They did not praise Jesus; they flattered Him. Their hearts were far from Him.
Cliche number 2: they lost the forest for the trees. They focused on the purple robe instead of the cross, fixated on the crowing cock they missed the Resurrection. They stood in front of the glory of Niagara Falls or the beauty of a laughing baby but never looked up from their phones. They were so blinded by their own passions, so deliberately uneducated and vain in their own tastes, so secure that they knew what mattered most and that was their health and on-going physical lives, that they could not distinguish between the significant and the trivial, the eternal and the temporal.
How did the Pharisees and the crowd both get into this sad state? By not reading deeply and listening carefully to the prophets. They had Moses and the prophets. But Moses and the prophets require work and a willingness to be bored. If you will not listen to them, it will not matter even if someone rises from the dead.
The Pharisees and the crowds are examples for us. Our society is post-literate. We don’t read. We scan for information from what Google and Facebook spoon feed us to keep us clicking. We have failed to train our attention and focus, refused to delay gratification, and demanded to be entertained at every step of the way. Nowhere is this more evident than in American schools full of I-Pads and churches full of screens and music that imitate Youtube’s most popular videos. But it doesn’t stop there. It is in our homes and in our cars. We are dependent upon the GPS. We do not know how to maneuver in our own city! We do not know or read history. We have handed over our birthrights as Americans for a bowl of steaming stimulus and unemployment checks. We have cried “Safety First” at the top of our lungs without recognizing that we might as well yell “Hail me! My body and my health are what I love most.” We have not put in the time with the prophets and apostles. We have not been disciples, seeking wisdom, but have been narcissistic philanderers fleeing from boredom.
I am not talking about political issues. These are moral issues, but they have political ramifications. Sometimes we will hear some wag decrying the attempt to legislate morality. But what else would we legislate? Immorality? It seems that in many cases we have.
We might disagree about policies, even legislation, and the best way to proceed is this evil and broken world, but we should not disagree about whether or not it is OK to kill babies in their mother’s wombs. We should not disagree about whether or not it is right for an able-bodied man to refuse honest work. We should not disagree about whether education, moral and intellectual, is a deliberate act of discipline and a slow learning of self-control and care for others. Nor should we disagree about whether or not we should have compassion on the poor and disabled, whether labor is dignified and God-pleasing, whether bringing up children in the fear of the Lord is the purpose of society and worth sacrifice.
We must all agree that all men are a single race. We are all descended from Adam and made in God’s image. We have all been bought by the Blood of Christ and are offered salvation for free by faith. We must all agree that the Bible is inspired and inerrant, that it is the sole source and norm for all of doctrine and life. If we don’t agree on these things, we don’t have actual unity and we shouldn’t commune together or call one another brother and sister.
The Pharisees and the crowd are examples for us. They were not far from the Kingdom. By grace, some were saved. It is not too late for us. Repent. Do the work. Read the Bible. Say your prayers. Commit the Catechism to memory. Come to church. Not simply because of the threat of damnation, but for the promise of life and that of life abundant. Come for true wisdom, for the peace that passes all understanding, for forgiveness and fellowship and love.
We can’t know the moral reality, recognizing what is good, what God has given and blessed and demands, if we ignore the commands and prohibitions written in the Bible where they don’t make sense to our modern sensibilities. Before we can speak rightly about anything, we must first hear rightly. Natural law and human reason can reveal much. But they cannot reveal everything that we need and fallen reason is easily corrupted. In the end, that which really matters and matters for eternity, is revealed in Holy Scripture.
In the Holy Scriptures the Spirit reveals the compassion of the Holy Trinity that has caused the Father to send the Son as a sacrifice to redeem us, body and soul, out of death and Hell. With Him there is forgiveness, that He may be feared. Therein also He shows the temporary character of what we now endure, even if it is the brokenness of being disabled or poor or hated by our neighbors and family. That is the wisdom that we seek, the fear of the Lord in which we walk, and the joy that enables us to rejoice in all things and at all times..
History is drawing to a conclusion. Ephphatha. That is, listen up. Pay attention. Be opened. Jesus, risen from the dead, who died for your sins, will come again in glory. He loves you. He wants you. He has paid for you.
He who has ears to hear, let Him hear. Cliche number 3: Let’s be all ears. This is what Jesus does well. He welcomes sinners. He makes a Church out of Gentiles. He sets the solitary into families.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.