12th Sunday after Trinity (Mark 7:31-37)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Twelfth Sunday after Trinity + September 8, 2019

Text: Mark 7:31-37

Jesus performed many healings in His ministry.  He raised Peter’s mother-in-law when she was sick with a fever, He healed lepers, cured lame and swollen limbs, and made the blind to see.  What the people say is true: “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”  But among the healings He did, this is one of the strangest: He puts his fingers in the man’s ears, spits and touches his tongue, and speaks a word in Aramaic (which the Evangelist does the favor of translating for Christians of following generations).

We can relate with the desire for miraculous healing.  We often expect that from the doctors, with mixed results.  Sometimes they get it right and a new medicine will really alleviate your rheumatoid arthritis.  But as many of you know, there are times when the doctors either can’t do anything, or make mistakes.  Test after test, scan after scan, but no relief.  Like the woman with the flow of blood in Mark 5, “who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, 26 and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.” (Mark 5:25-26)

I’m sure somewhere in history there has been someone crazy enough to emulate what Jesus did here, as if it were a magic formula.  How gross that would be, and I suspect the only result was copious amounts of ear wax and sprayed spittle.  But the key is not found in what Jesus did, as if He were a wonderworker.  The key lies in who this man has been brought to.

Jesus says, “Ephatha! Be opened!”  He is the Creator, of Whom “all things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3).  He speaks, and it happens.  He who formed the ear and the tongue [Ps. 94:9] has the ability to reform what was malformed by sin and death.

But how He restores His broken creation is not just with a word (although He does say to the leper in Mark 1:41, “Be clean,” this is not all it takes).  It takes the Creator Himself coming in the flesh of man, into the wretched and sin-filled world.  As Matthew mentions, “This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.’” (Matt. 8:17)  He not only took them, but He took our trespasses and shed His blood as the one sacrifice for the sins of the world.  The Creator Himself lay in the grave, and thereby overcame the sway that sin and death have over each of us.

We wish that God would enable doctors to take away our cancer, give us relief from our chronic aches, and undo our foolish mistake that landed us in physical therapy.  And sometimes He does, but our hope must not be in healing in this life.  Jesus says in the next chapter of Mark, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:34-36)  If we follow Him, let us deny ourselves the physical healing we would wish, and accept each cross that He has laid upon us—the cross of memory loss, of arthritis, of seizures, of physical pain—and follow Him.  He is able if He wills to give us relief at the proper time.

We live in hope, because this is the same One who stood at Lazarus’ tomb:

32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”…38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:32, 38-44)

This is what He is going to do for the bodies of us all, when we are nothing but breathless dust.  He will say to us at our tombs, “Come out,” and the dead will be raised imperishable, immortal—no aches, no aging, no wrinkles, no defects—for eternity.

But even while we live in hope of the Last Day, our hope is in the Word He speaks now, for He does speak powerful Words of life to us.  He speaks in the words, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Together with the water, these are the words of rebirth, birth from above.

He speaks in the words of the absolution on His servant, the pastor’s, lips: “Peace be with you, I forgive you all your sins.”

He speaks in His Word to you, which His Spirit carries into your heart, “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12-14)  It convicts you and puts your sinful flesh and all its desires to death, and raises you with Christ to new and eternal life.

Even if He doesn’t take away the ailments in this life, He has healed you with a healing that will last through death.  That is the Christian’s hope, in which we are saved. Amen.

Twelfth Sunday after Trinity (Mark 7:31-37)

Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR

Twelfth Sunday after Trinity + August 19, 2018

Text: Mark 7:31-37

This was not the first time that Jesus had been to Tyre, Sidon, and the region of the Decapolis.  The first time Mark records that Jesus visited Tyre and Sidon chapter 3, it says, “When the great crowd heard all that Jesus was doing, they came to him. And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him.”[1]  Later on, Jesus cast out a legion of demons from the man living among the tombs and cutting himself.  Having been healed, Mark tells us “he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.”[2]

It’s worth noting out how remarkable the crowd’s response is to Jesus.  This was a Gentile area.  Tyre and Sidon were great cities of commerce along the Mediterranean coast, and thought themselves doing just fine without the true God.  The Decapolis was a league of ten cities that were thoroughly Hellenized.  They wanted nothing to do with Jewish influence.  So, it is amazing that such large crowds gather around the True God and Jewish Messiah.  This was surely what the Prophet Ezekiel foretold: “Behold, I am against you, O Sidon, and I will manifest my glory in your midst.”[3]

Now Jesus is back this second time.  There’s been time for the report to spread about him—especially to some friends of a man who was deaf and could not speak clearly.  “He returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.”  His arrival brings more healings, exorcisms, and feedings, but the work is by no means complete.  “And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him.”  Here is yet one more sick, hurting person who is brought before Jesus.  And we can relate with each one of them because we know suffering in this body.  We would very much like Jesus to come and work his miracles on us—take away our hurts, our weakness, and free us from bondage.

But first, we must learn to see our present afflictions in the light of God’s Word.  St. Paul writes very clearly, “The wages of sin is death.”[4]  That means that every cancer is more than cell replication gone wild; it is because of sin.  It means that every infection, down to the annoying summer cold, is the result of sin.  Every ache and pain is a reminder that we are the sinful offspring of Adam and Eve.  Our illnesses and hurts preach God’s Law to us.  They remind us that we deserve no better than suffering and we deserve to be forsaken by God.  In fact, it’s very common for us in our suffering to think that God has abandoned us.

But Jesus has been here before—not just to Tyre and Sidon, but to this world that groans under the weight of sin.  His coming was to meet our need before God, to answer for the sins of all—even ours.  Every healing was made possible not just because He is God.  It was made possible because He suffered and died.  God restores our dying flesh through the death of His Son.

The Gospel continues:

33 And taking him aside from the crowd privately, [Jesus] put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. 34 And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.

In this healing, Jesus sighed (literally, groaned).  He groaned because opening this man’s ears and unbinding his tongue was more than a magic trick.  One commentator says, “his use of spittle ironically foreshadows the way in which his enemies will later spit at him (14:65, 15:19). This connection may suggest that Jesus’ curative power is somehow related to the salvific effect of his suffering.”[5]  And indeed the cures He gives are connected to his suffering.  The author of Hebrews writes, “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.”[6]  Without Jesus’ passion, there is no healing of bodies and souls damaged and destroyed by sin.  Without forgiveness, the sentence of death upon sinners cannot be reversed.  And unless death is destroyed, healings are only like bailing water out of a sinking ship.

            Jesus came once to cleanse a sinful human race with His sinless Body and the shedding of His holy blood.  In this miracle, Jesus places His fingers in the man’s ears and spits.  Now, in our daily life, we watch out for bodily fluids because it’s through them—snotty noses, coughs, and others that diseases are transmitted.   But, if the spit of another person can spread death, how much greater can the spit of the Son of God cleanse and save from death!

            When we read of these miraculous healings in the Bible, we wish that it had been us.  Why couldn’t I have been this deaf and tongue-tied man?  Why couldn’t I have been the woman with the discharge of blood, whom no doctor but Jesus could heal?[7]  We long for God to bring us a better life, free from disease and suffering, free from hunger and drought, and free from hatred and violence.  Our Lord teaches us to pray, “deliver us from evil”[8] and so He does, but not always in the here and now.

Our hopes are not misplaced if we look for this in Jesus, because these things and more will surely be ours because God does not lie.  We believe that Jesus came once when He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, and that He was crucified, died, was buried, and rose on the Third Day.  Just as surely as that is true, so it is true that He is coming soon to deliver you from all the evils of body and soul from which you now suffer.  Eternal life has been opened by His death and resurrection.

So we might ask, what does this mean for our lives?  It’s application is twofold.

First and foremost is the spiritual truth of deafness and inability to speak.  This man was deaf and unable to speak, and not all people are.  But the Word of God makes known a spiritual deafness to the Word and an inability to pray, praise, or give thanks to God.  Faith comes by hearing (Rom. 10:17).  The Gospel reached this man and Jesus was the one who opened his ears.    Then having heard this good news for our salvation, He opens our lips to declare His praise.  A Christian who does not overflow in sharing the good things the Lord has done is as unnatural as an ear that does not hear or a mouth that cannot speak.

Second is the physical.  We must understand the physical through the spiritual.  Our physical lives are only a part of the picture, and yet it’s what we are immersed in on a daily basis.  We go to the doctor and they troubleshoot our body, but say nothing of our soul.  We go about our daily errands, and perhaps are hindered in some of them because of physical limitations.  However, if all we know is the physical, we could only lament our broken bodies and long for a “fix.”

The spiritual opening of the ears and loosing of the tongue sheds light on the physical.  We are not just sentient animals, but creatures of God.  We are made for fellowship with Him, to live according to His good will for us.  The reason our bodies are broken and dying is because of the curse of sin.  It is a curse which Jesus came to remove.  So for the Christian, the one whose ears are open and tongue is loosed, we await that perfect body in confident hope.  We are not where we ought to be, and never will be this side of the Last Day.  The curses of sin will be with us to our dying day or the Lord’s return—thorns and thistles will come up where we labored hard, cancer cells will reproduce where normal cells should be, infections will seem to overtake all man-made cures, aches and pains will limit us from our full potential.

But just as Jesus gave a preview of the perfect in the healings during His ministry, so we wait for our perfect restoration of body and soul.  We await the day when sin and death will be no more, and when the devil will be cast into hell forever.

Yet even as we await the perfect, we have a foretaste of it with Jesus’ own Body and Blood given for us this day.  It is medicine for body and soul, a healing for our weary bones.  Just as the spit of Jesus spread not death but life, so the crucified and risen Body and shed blood of the Son of God give you renewed strength of spirit and body!

While your healing may not be as night-and-day visibly as the man in the Gospel, you surely have the fullness of God’s salvation and the joyful expectation of the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. Amen.

[1] Mark 3:8-9

[2] Mark 5:20

[3] Ezekiel 28:22

[4] Romans 6:23

[5] Joel Marcus, Anchor Bible Commentary on Mark 1-8, p. 475

[6] Hebrews 9;22

[7] Mark 5:25-34

[8] Matthew 6:13