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Twelfth Sunday after Trinity
“The Holy Spirit Blesses Our Open Ears”
Seminarian Paul Norris, Vicar
St. Mark 7.31-37
22 August 2021
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
There has been a commercial recently on YouTube that asks the question, “Will you miss the mute button when we’re meeting in person again?” Over the past year, many people have gotten used to Zoom meetings or conference calls. One of the great features of such meetings is that if you are wearing your pajamas, you can turn your camera off. Or, if you do not want others to hear you as you eat your potato chips during the weekly strategy meeting, you can mute your microphone. Or if you do not like what someone is saying you can mute them. But once people start returning to work or school in person, when they will have to interact face to face, they cannot mute themselves or other people. Face-to-face interaction is something a lot of people are going to have to get used to again. This pandemic has caused people to fear face-to-face interactions with their friends. Even worse it has caused them to fear being present in person for the Divine Service where God speaks his Word and gives you the real presence of God’s Word incarnate, Jesus’ body and blood. These gifts can be received only in the flesh, not through a Zoom meeting or a YouTube video.
In our Gospel reading, we hear of the face-to-face ministry of Jesus among the Gentiles. Jesus is traveling from Lebanon and into the region of the Decapolis, the ten cities, which is a predominately Greek region. This travel among the gentile cities is a foreshadowing of the spread of Christianity throughout the gentile world. The prophet Isaiah writes, “Is 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?” (Is 29:17). The Gospel of Jesus is not just for Israel, Jesus Christ came and died for all people.
Jesus is well known among the people as one who can heal. So well-known is Jesus for his healing that the crowds bring the sick and lame to him to be healed. The people begged and pleaded with Jesus to lay his hand on this man who could not hear or speak and heal him. The crowd asks for the healing of this man, but Jesus takes him aside and privately deals with him face-to-face.
Then Jesus does something that we might find odd. He places his fingers into the deaf and mute man’s ears and then spits (on his fingers) and touches the man’s tongue. Certainly, today we might find this unsanitary, or even prohibited as we are told we must douse our bodies in sanitizer if we even look at someone too long. But Jesus is not afraid. He touches this man. Specifically, he places his fingers into his ears and on his tongue perhaps as a sign to signal and communicate with the man, “I understand there is a problem with your ears and tongue”.
Jesus then looked up to heaven. I suppose we could say this too was non-verbal communication to the sick man. Jesus is not a magician or sorcerer, but the only begotten Son of the Heavenly Father, the Holy One of Israel (Is 29:19), and he does his Father’s will. The miracle that is about to happen is from divine power. Jesus has compassion for the man and groans. Jesus again uses non-verbal communication to convey that he understands the miserable plight of this man who cannot hear the Word of God, nor proclaim it. Jesus is showing this man, a man bound in sin, His perfect compassion.
Then, Jesus speaks to the man who cannot hear or speak. Jesus speaks the word “Eph-pha-tha”. St. Mark records this word in the Aramaic exactly as Jesus spoke it so that we might hear the sound of the word of Jesus for ourselves. St. Mark translates it for the gentile audience and us as well, “Be Opened”. Today we hear the word of Jesus just as it would have sounded as he spoke it, “Ephphatha”! Jesus says this out loud and commands that this man’s hearing and speech be restored.
The text says that at the utterance of this word, the deaf man’s ears were opened, and immediately he was able to speak clearly. Today some people who have been deaf from birth are given the sense of hearing through cochlear implants. But if they have been deaf since birth or for a long time their speech is impaired. They have never heard words through their ears, how could they know how to speak clearly? This formerly deaf and mute man was not just making somewhat coherent sounds, he was speaking clearly, and distinctly in full and complete sentences. St. Mark does not record for us exactly what this man was saying, but he does say that he was speaking clearly. I imagine that this included many thank-you’s to Jesus, praising God, and telling others what God had done for him.
The time for Jesus to go to the cross had not yet come and even though Jesus told them to not tell anyone about it, they proclaimed this great miracle. This man who was deaf, and mute, who was cut off from the world was healed and was now part of his society, proclaiming the works of Jesus and praising God. The Gospel tells us that the more Jesus implored them not to say anything, the more they proclaimed it! They just could not help themselves, they had to tell the world about Jesus!
It was not the touch or the spittle of Jesus which healed this man, but it was the spoken Word of Jesus. Our Epistle reading makes it quite clear. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ”. (Rom 10:17). It is the spoken word of Christ that heals this man. Jesus touches the ears and the tongue of this man because the kingdom of God is based upon the Word. God’s Word cannot be grasped or understood except through the ears. The ears hear the Word of God, faith takes hold of it in the heart, and the tongue confesses.
Scripture gives us another example of the power of the spoken word of God. In Acts chapter 8 an Ethiopian Eunuch was reading out loud from the prophet Isaiah. Philip hears him reading the scripture, and the Eunuch asked Philip to help him understand it. Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus (Acts 8:35). The Holy Spirit used the out-loud reading of the Word of God to open the Eunuch’s ears to hear the Gospel and the Eunuch was baptized that hour!
In the ancient church, the touching of the ears and the spitting on the fingers, and touching the tongue were part of the baptismal rite. After the priest would touch the child’s ears and tongue he would say, “Be thou opened…”. This practice may seem strange to us, but in baptism, the Holy Spirit opens your ears and mouths as God’s Word combines with the water. The Word of God has the power to create faith. Just as Jesus was communicating with the deaf and mute man, “I am going to heal your ears and tongue”, by touching them, so too in the water of baptism your ears were opened to receive the Word of God, and your tongues confess the Gospel of Christ.
We live in a world that is hostile to the Word of God. It may not openly attack our congregation today, but the world is secretly, and sometimes not so secretly, hostile to God and it despises God’s Word. The world, and its prince Satan, would rather that you all sit at home and never go to Divine Service. Satan will use any means to scare you and convince you that you should not be present to hear the Word of God or receive His life-giving gifts at the altar. Satan would like nothing more than to press the mute button on the Word of God. Satan will distract you and tempt you to become complacent and progressively ignore the word of God. You will become like a child who does not want to listen to his parents by sticking his fingers in his ears. Eventually, you will become the deaf and mute man.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our Lord, Jesus Christ, would never have us do anything that would cause harm to us or our neighbor. The Word of God can never harm you, instead, it is the power that gives you faith to trust in Christ. Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, the Word made flesh, by whom all things were created, and these are the words you hear with your ears today.
This morning our liturgy has been filled with the Word of God. You heard with your ears the Word of God as you received absolution for your sins. The bible was read aloud and you chanted the psalm. You will hear the words of Christ as he gives us the gifts of His body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. Soon we will sing the words, “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world…”. On the cross, Christ the crucified one, the Holy, innocent Lamb of God won for you eternal life and salvation. Jesus’ death on the cross paid the complete debt of sin and by his resurrection has conquered sin, death, and the devil forever!
The deaf and mute man is a graphic image of what it means to be a sinner. As sinners our ears were closed, we did not have faith, and we were dead. The prophet Isaiah wrote of Jesus, “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”. (Is 29:18). Jesus Christ has broken the curse of sin which afflicts mankind. By the Word God made flesh, your ears have been opened and you have faith and believe. God the Holy Spirit blesses our opened ears as we continue to hear the Word of Christ, and our tongues bless the Lord at all times, with His praise continually in our mouths.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.