September 4, 2022 A+D
St. Mark 7:31-37
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It is not hard to imagine what Alexander the Great, Abraham Lincoln, or even Nelson Mandela would have done if they had Divine power. They would have destroyed their enemies. That is not what Jesus does. He heals and His victory come by His being destroyed. His miracles are not primarily demonstrations of power. To be sure, they do show us Jesus is the Lord of nature, that He has power, but more than that they show us His compassion and His character. His agenda is different than than of mortal kings. He comes to serve and to lay down His life.
Today’s miracle is described as two acts. He puts his fingers into the man’s ears and he hears. He touches his tongue and he speaks. He has become a Man in order to atone for our sins and restore creaton. The unique role that He has established for us in creation is to hear and to speak.
We see this in the garden with Adam’s first task: the naming of the animals. He does this out loud. That act exposed the reality that it was not good that Adam was alone. He needed a companion, a comforting helper with whom he could speak.
Most people tend to value their sight above all their other senses. If you play the child’s game and ask “Would you rather be blind or deaf” almost everyone, except for maybe a few musicians, will say that he would rather be deaf. I have been told that many people fear losing their sight even more than they fear death. I believe it. Those of us gifted with sight can’t imagine being without it and if we haven’t given in much thought, sight seems to be our most important sense.
But imagine this. All you can have for the rest of your life is a magic video screen without sound where you can see your beautiful bride and be seen by her whenever you want, but you will not be able to talk to her or be heard. Or, instead, you can have an old-fashioned but magic phone so that you can talk to her whenever you want, but not see her? What will you choose? Of what does your love subsist? Is it sight or is it conversation? We all answer the same way. This is because our love for our beloved is the inner life of the mind. That inner life only comes out and is shared by some means of communication. Sign language might work as well as audible sounds, but both require words, both are language, hearing and speaking.
When Jesus opens the man’s ears and loosens his tongue, he is restoring him to what humans were created for. This is what Jesus has come for, what He dies for. He doesn’t do this only that the man might love his wife and be loved by her, but also that he would hear God’s Word and respond with prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, that is, that he would receive God’s love and love God in return. Besides the holy angels, only humans worship God with Words. Jesus becomes a Man in order that we might hear Him. He speaks to and for us. His sacrifice restores us to the heavenly conversation and Divine fellowship. He speaks. We listen. So it is that He must rise from the dead. Otherwise the conversation would end. To His gracious speaking, we respond. We say back to Him what He has revealed to us, praising and thanking Him. And He speaks some more. And we respond. On and on it goes. In many ways the best definition of prayer, and maybe of faith itself, is “a conversation with God.”
Once we know what the ideal is, what we were meant for, we can start to see how far from it we are. We have ways to hear and to be heard, but we don’t always use those gifts for good. We have faith and are cleansed in Christ, but don’t always act like it. James tells us that the tongue defiles our whole bodies. No man can tame his own tongue. “It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men even though they have been made in the image of God.” One of the problems with have here is that while the tongue might do the most damage to our neighbor, it often goes unpunished. We have bought the lie of “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” James words come from the Holy Spirit. We must recognize the wickedness of our speech and the damage that we have done. We must, with God’s help, seek some control over our tongues and ask for mercy.
In a similar way, St. Paul admonishes us: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” We always think with words. Sometimes we talk about “thinking out loud,” by which we usually mean talking through things, exploring ideas through a conversation. That phrase suggests there is another way to think. In my experience, most of the time, until it starts to come out, either out loud with other people or at least written down for other people to read, real thinking hasn’t actually taken place. The only real exception I can think of to that is when we plot evil. Then we might go to a secret place in our minds. But that is definitely not what Paul is advocating here. He is advocating that we think and speak about holy things, about what we were meant for, what Christ has done for us.
Here is another thought experiment. If I tell you to not think of pink elephants, what happens? You think of pink elephants. I have put the idea into your mind with words. How can you get rid of it? Trying to force it out by will doesn’t work. The more you try to not think about the pink elephant the more you think about it. It is not unlike the demon that is cast out only to come back with seven more when he finds the house empty. So what to do? Don’t leave the house empty. Instead of trying not to think about the pink elephant, think about Jesus on the cross, praying in the garden, or rising from the dead. Think on the good things of God, on His Word, to fight temptation.
The great creed of the Old Testament also picks this up. This is what we are supposed to be thinking and talking about.
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Dt 6:4–9, NKJ).
You have been bought for a purpose. Your ears are open and your tongue is loosed. So bring Jesus into your conversations around the coffee pot at work and into the stands on Friday nights. Talk about Jesus while you potty train your children and buy groceries. Praise Him at the dinner table, in doctor’s office, and at the BMV. This is what you were made for. This is what our relationship with the Father subsists in, what we have been bought and cleansed for: He speaks, we listen and respond. This is what He does so well.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.