Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

Readings: Isaiah 29:17–24 | 2 Corinthians 3:4-11 | Mark 7:31-37

Text: Mark 7:31-37

How are you doing? How have you been feeling?  This is how we greet people we care about.  But how do we answer this question?  We probably have an ideal that we’d judge by, kind of like if a medical professional told us, on a scale of 1 to 10, where you do you think you are?  So, what is the ideal? The 10?  Is that finally overcoming cancer or being pain-free?  How about paying off the credit card?  Is it having a healthy frame and a sound mind?

This ideal is what we arrive at from our own experience, and what we’ve been told by others we should expect.  But God would have us look for more.  In this section of Mark’s Gospel (as I mentioned on the last Sunday in July (Trinity 7)), the Holy Spirit is demonstrating Jesus to be the King of Creation, come to restore—to overcome the evil powers which oppress it, to free those in bondage to decay, and to properly rule as God over His people.  This particular healing takes place in a Gentile area—“the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.”  Pagan influences abound, and that’s important to keep in mind as we see what happens there:

32 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. 33 And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he 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.

Here is a man who’s bondage to the decay of this world shows up in ears that cannot do what they were made to do—hear.  More than that (and perhaps related), his tongue isn’t able to properly do what the mouth is for.  The exhortation at the end of the Psalms shows this: “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!” (Ps. 150:6)  This goes beyond the borders of Israel, because this world’s decay is worldwide.  In mercy, the Lord has also come to this man.

The Lord, recall who formed this man in his mother’s womb (Ps. 139), now takes him anew to set right what sin and death had corrupted.  The Lord Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears, touched his tongue with His spit, and the Son of God looked up to heaven from where all good comes, and commanded this divine creative word (in plain human language): Ephatha, that is, “Be opened.”

When God set out to redeem this world, He did it by the very place through which corruption had come into the world: mankind.  Like we confess weekly in the Creed, “For us men, and for our salvation, He came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, and was made man” (Nicene Creed).  And in His holy body, Jesus touched this man’s ears that He might take deafness on Himself.  By the water of His saliva and at His Word, He touched the man’s tongue to restore his ability to speak.”  And, “Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.” (Ps. 51:14)

And once the man was healed, it resulted in his praise, but also that of the crowd:

36 And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

This charge not to tell others about the healings is often given by Jesus.  It means nothing more than that the Lord did not want the healing to be seen in isolation, a personal miracle for one victim of sin, another there.  (If so, the “Healed by Jesus” club would be pretty small and eventually die out!)  All of His mighty works were aimed forward toward His cross and resurrection, where He gained for us a healing that is far more expansive than repairing this jalopy of a body we now know.

This is where we must look into the greater salvific meaning behind this healing.  This isn’t to allegorize and thereby diminish the miracle which Jesus did, but to show that it means so much more than “Jesus healed this man; He will heal your body too.”

And this salvific meaning is all over the Scriptures, especially highlighted by the inspired poetry of the Psalms and Prophets.  One such example is the Old Testament lesson,

17Is it not yet a very little while until Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field, and the fruitful field shall be regarded as a forest? 18In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see…23For when he sees his children, the work of my hands, in his midst, they will sanctify my name; they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob and will stand in awe of the God of Israel. 24And those who go astray in spirit will come to understanding, and those who murmur will accept instruction.”” (Isaiah 29:17-18, 23–24)

It’s not just the deafness that audiologists treat, but the deafness to God’s Word of sin which silences the voice of the Creator in the hearts of His human creatures.  That takes a far greater restoration, which will be demonstrated in the days of Messiah.  This is what the Lord is demonstrating here in Mark 7.  And this hearing of the words of a book—the Word of God—sets right what was crooked.  In ears that did not hear the Word of God, hearts that were indifferent both to the call to turn from wickedness and slow to trust in the Lord as Savior, the Word has done its work: “They will sanctify My Name…and stand in awe of the God of Israel.”  Even those who go astray will come to understanding and those who murmur will be catechized.

And this transformation St. Paul marvels at in the Epistle, when he discusses the veil that is over those hearers of Moses.  The very Words of the Book of the Law are read in their hearing, but a covering is over their hearts.  Though they have the powerful Word of God in their midst, that by itself isn’t enough to accomplish the renewal.  Christ and His Holy Spirit must be added, or all is in vain.  That is its own reaching of Christ into our ears to open them to rightly hear, and Him touching our tongue to declare His praise. “O Lord, open my lips; and my mouth will declare Your praise.” (Ps. 51:15)

Something also to note about this spiritual restoration is that it does not first take place in the body.  It takes place in the soul—where the hearing in faith is, of keeping the Name of God holy, of melting the opposition to God’s instruction.  And that is where God is most concerned, because “man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Sam. 16:7)  This is why faith-healers are hacks, because they confuse this.  They say God gives sudden bodily healing, but then if the healing doesn’t “work,” they blame the person’s insufficient faith.

Christ has come to reverse the course of the world as we experience it.  When we are asked about how we are doing, we usually answer according to our earthly conditions, those things which are subject to chance and change.  Our God, however, is working salvation on our hearts, the inner life of the soul, with the promise that the physical will follow—perhaps here in time, but for certain in the resurrection.

This healing begins on the soul, but it, mysteriously, it takes place here in our bodies.  This is why the Lord chose to deliver this healing in Baptism.  With water made holy in accord with His saving Word, He does all things well.  Water washes the body, but it purifies the soul (1 Pet. 3:21-22).  The old, dying flesh is touched by water infused with the words and promises of God.  “I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” [Matt. 28:19]  This washing, because it has the Word of Jesus, is effective at what it does:

”he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:5-7)

Ears restored to hear the Word of God, tongues loosed to sing of His salvation, hearts that submit to His rebuke and accept His instruction.  These mighty works and more He accomplishes in Holy Baptism.  The mighty Lord of Creation came to declare His victory over the devil and the breaking of the unchallenged rule of sin and death.  He has come into your life with this same mighty Word, to rescue and restore you from all that His enemies have done to you.  He has sent His Spirit to you, who opens your ears, who looses your tongue to sing His praise.

So, ponder how the Lord has healed you by your Baptism in His Name.  See how He continues to heal you from your soul outward.  In this present life, you and I know the weakness of our bodies, the smallness of our faith.  But there is peace for us in the life-giving Words of Jesus.  Our faith is renewed by hearing His Word [Rom. 10:17]; our bodies and souls are fed by His Body and Blood for us with His authoritative word: “for the forgiveness of [your] sins.”  He who speaks to us is truly God and truly faithful [1 Thess. 5:24].

His praise will ring out from you not just here, but before the nations, before those who are disobedient, who murmur against God, for He is able to reach them and save them, too.  Alleluia! Praise the Lord!  In the Name + of Jesus. 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