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Give Us Ears That Hear (Isaiah 29.17-24; Mark 7.31-37)

Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

“Give Us Ears That Hear”
Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus 

Isaiah 29.17-24; Mark 7.31-37

04 September 2022


Deafness, like blindness, is a metaphor for spiritual disease that renders a person dead to God. “Blind, dead, and an enemy of God” is the way the Bible describes us [Eph. 2.1; Rom. 8.7; Col. 2.13; Rom. 8.7]. To that list we should add deafness, a condition in which one’s ears don’t work. This deaf man could not hear God with the result that he could not believe nor praise God. Normally, there is no cure for deafness. Certainly in the ancient world those who were deaf could not be cured without God’s intervention. 

The Old Testament prophets foretold that when the Christ came the blind would receive their sight, the deaf would receive their hearing, the lame would walk, and the dead would be raised. The prophet Isaiah said this more than once. In our reading this morning God spoke through Isaiah:

In 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. 

When the messengers sent to Jesus by John the Baptizer asked Jesus if he were indeed the Christ, our Lord replied this way:

“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” [Matthew 11.4-6]

Today we hear the Holy Gospel which tells us of one such proof. Perhaps this man had heard at one time in his life because Mark records that he had a speech impediment, which mean he could not speak plainly because he could not hear plainly. Or perhaps he became progressively deaf through illness or accident.

Deafness is often described in the Bible as having ears that do not hear or having ears that are stopped up. Many of us who wearing hearing aids no longer hear as we did when we were young, owing to repetitive exposure to loud sounds like heavy machinery or simply being in the front row at too many rock concert where decibels reach painful levels. Others have hearing loss due to genetic conditions. The little hairs cells in the inner ear are unable to regenerate themselves and conduct the electrical waves that allow us to hear sound. According to a recent study some 48 million Americans suffer hearing loss. It’s progressive for most people. Those of us who wear hearing aids have been told that hearing aids will not restore hearing to a pristine level. There are no drugs that cure it. But there is a study by the Massachusetts Eye and Ear that highlights research in mice where they have been able to regenerate the damaged cells. Perhaps this could be done in humans they say.

Martin Luther kept most of the Roman rite of Holy Baptism, revising it and cleansing it of false elements. Of importance for us today is this part:

Then he shall take spittle with his finger, touch
the right ear therewith and say:

Ephphatha, that is, Be thou opened [Mark 7:34].

Then the nose and the left ear [and say]:

But thou, devil, flee; for God’s judgment cometh speedily.

Then the child shall be led into the church, and
the priest shall say:

The Lord preserve thy coming in and thy going out now and for evermore. Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 53: Liturgy and Hymns (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.; Vol. 53, p. 99). Fortress Press.

In Holy Baptism you are given the ability to hear God’s Word spiritually so that you may believe it. You are cured of your spiritual deafness. Immediately after that, the child is asked, through his godparents, a series of questions about renouncing the devil and whether he believes in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Now the baptismal candidate can answer in the affirmative. “Yes, I believe.” God the Holy Spirit has opened your ears to faith. Those questions are preserved in the rite from our hymnal [LSB].

Unless God opens our spiritual ears we cannot hear his Word nor believe it. We cannot sing his praises. It is just as Paul writes in today’s EpistleRomans:

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. 

18 But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for 

“Their voice has gone out to all the earth, 

and their words to the ends of the world.”  [Rom. 10:13–18]..

In that last question Paul is answering what happened to the Jews because they had heard the Word of God. 

When Stephen was stoned because he preached the Word about Christ Luke records the reaction of the mob to the Word of God:

But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. [Acts 7:57–58].

This was a self-imposed deafness, like a child running around holding his hands over his ears shouting, “I can’t hear you! I can’t hear you!” It was a deliberate spiritual deafness. 

Unless God the Holy Spirit opens our spiritual ears we cannot truly hear. In speaking in parables our Lord said,

“He who has ears, let him hear.” [Mt 13:9].

Our Lord then quoted Isaiah [Is. 6.9-10] on this matter about the people of Israel:

“ ‘ “You will indeed hear but never understand, 

and you will indeed see but never perceive.” 

15  For this people’s heart has grown dull, 

and with their ears they can barely hear, 

and their eyes they have closed, 

lest they should see with their eyes 

and hear with their ears 

and understand with their heart 

and turn, and I would heal them.’ [Matt. 13.14b-15]

Then Jesus speaks to us:

But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. [Mt 13:16]

If Israel could become deaf, so can we. In some cases it can be a sudden deafness that stems from some traumatic event in which one accuses God of being unjust. It could be the onset of a fatal illness or the loss of a spouse or child. It could be a reversal in life such as the loss of a job, income, or status. In these cases the sense of spiritual hearing is lost because one absents himself from the Divine Service where God continues to speak. He plugs up his ears to God’s Word.

In most cases however, it seems to me, that the deafness is gradual, hardly noticed. One listens less and less to the the Word which saves us and more and more to the voices of the enemy. Through Isaiah God himself diagnoses the sin:

Who is blind but my servant, 

or deaf as my messenger whom I send? 

Who is blind as my dedicated one, 

or blind as the servant of the Lord? 

20  He sees many things, but does not observe them; 

his ears are open, but he does not hear. [Isaiah 42.19-20]

Our spiritual ears get plugged up. One of the first things the doctor does when a patient complains of hearing loss is to look into the ear. One of the things he or she might be looking for is waxy buildup. My father-in-law once thought he was becoming deaf and went to buy hearing aids only to be told that his problem was severe wax buildup. When I was a child my mother would grab me to look into my ears. It was not a good thing when she said, “You could grow potatoes in there!”

Our sin is that we use our ears for the sinful stuff of life. We have ears that are eager to hear the latest gossip or slander even though it may not be spoken at all with the advent of electronic media. We have ears that are quick to listen to lies, and worst of all—and this is very Biblical!—heresy. In a sermon from 1533 Luther remarked:

Our opponents, the papists, are a thousand times worse off than this poor deaf and dumb man, for they have ears that are really stopped up. [Luther’s House Postil, Vol. 3, p. 397]. I

It goes to hearing the Word but not really believing it or doing it. It refers to those who refuse to hear. The Church has yet to recover from Covid. Attendance at Divine Service is still low, with the result that few receive Christ’s forgiveness in Word and Sacrament. Covid has provided a convenient excuse for staying away. Too many ears are open but do not hear.

With deafness one is unable to speak. One is said to be “dumb” or mute. “Dumb,” when used this context means one is unable or unwilling to speak. Thus, one’s lips are unable to praise God or tell others of what he has done for our salvation. Spiritual deafness comes from disobedience. Many have simply plugged their ears for other voices.

In the opening of the Office of Matins the words of Psalm 51.15 are chanted:

“O Lord, open my lips,”

And the congregation responds,

“And my mouth shall declare Your praise.” [LSB, p. 219]

So, the important thing is that the Word of God is placed into your ears. Only with that Word of God—Ephphatha!—can you hear! Only when God the Holy Spirit places his Word into your ears can you continue to hear. Only when God the Holy Spirit places his Word into your ears can your tongue be unlocked to sing the praises of the Triune God who has redeemed you by the precious blood of Christ. 

Let this be our constant prayer, Lord, “Give Us Ears that Hear!” so that we may “declare Your praise!”

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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