The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

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“He Does All Things Well”

Mark 7:31-37

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

It happened in the area of the Ten Cities, the Decapolis: “They brought to Him a [man who was] deaf and [had] a speech impediment and they begged Him to put [His] hand on him” (Mark 7:32).  What, I wonder, is that man thinking?  He can’t hear; he can’t make himself understood.  Does he even know that they’re taking him to see Jesus?  What sign did they make to tell him that?  But it doesn’t really matter, does it?  They brought him to Jesus and Jesus healed him.  It happened again in Bethsaida: “They brought to Him a blind [man] and they begged Him to touch him” (Mark 8:22).  He did, and He healed him.  As we’ve said before, Jesus is not a magician.  He is not a traveling miracle worker, seeking rapt audiences for whom He can perform.  In fact, when He went to the region of Tyre “he entered a house and did not want anyone to know” (Mark 7:24, ESV).  And in both these miracles, Jesus takes the person away from any audience.  Jesus takes the deaf man away from the crowd by himself (7:33), and the blind man He takes by the hand and leads him out of the village (8:23).  And He has compassion on both of them, though neither of them ask to be healed.  They are both brought by others who beg Jesus to heal them.  So He presses His fingers into the ears of the deaf man, and spits on His fingers and puts them on his bound tongue.  “And looking up into heaven, he groaned and said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’ which is, ‘Be opened!’  And immediately his ears were opened and the bond of his tongue was loosed and he spoke rightly” (Mark 7:34-35).  Later, Jesus spits on the eyes of the blind man and lays His hands on him.  But this time the healing is not immediate; there seem to be some technical difficulties: “[W]hen [Jesus] had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, ‘Do you see anything?’  And, looking around, he said, ‘I see people, [but] I see them as trees walking around.’  Then He again laid [His] hand upon his eyes, and [the man] opened his eyes [wide] and he was restored and he saw everything clearly” (Mark 8:23-25).  These men are Jesus’ creation, and He is remaking them.  He brings to each of them individually a sign of His reign over creation.  See!  He has done all things well.  “He even makes the deaf to hear and the unspeaking to speak” (Mark 7:37).

Fingers and hands and spit: opened ears, loosed tongue, clear sight.  In between these miracles, even after the feeding of four thousand more people, it is the disciples whose ears and eyes remain closed: “Do you not yet perceive or understand?  Are your hearts hardened?  Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?” (Mark 8:17-18, ESV).  Jesus is fulfilling Isaiah 35 right in front of them and they are talking about other things, like not having bread (Mark 8:16-17).  They are deaf to the words of Jesus, and half-blind to His works.  Because they are deaf, they are unable to speak of Him; and half-blind, they are unable to call others to see.  Disciples, will you ever learn?  How is it possible to see the signs of Jesus’ reign that you have seen and to hear what you have heard, and still wander around in a fog?  How is it possible to confess Jesus to be the Anointed One of God, and still do the work of Satan (Mark 8:29, 33)?  Opened ears keep closing, tongues keep tightening into silence, and clear sight blurs.  How often my ears close against His Word; how often my tongue keeps silent when it should speak (and vice-versa); and my sight gets clouded by all of my concerns and worries.  Will we ever learn?  How is it possible to see the signs of Jesus’ reign here and hear what Jesus is saying now, and still wander through our lives as if those works and words have nothing to do with us?  How could Jesus have cried the “Ephphatha!” to us with water and the Word and, yet, we keep closing ourselves off to Him?  How could He have touched us with His own Body and Blood, and, yet, we walk around with eyes half-open to His work in and through us?  How is it possible to confess Jesus as the Anointed One of God, and still do the work of Satan?  Do we not yet perceive or understand?

But see the glory of Yahweh!  See the majesty of our God!  Be strong; fear not!  Behold, your God has come with vengeance—not on the deaf and mute and blind, but on the things that close ears and bind tongues and shut eyes.  He has come with vengeance on sin and death and the devil in order to save you.  It is a strange vengeance: He is killed.  He goes with a bound tongue to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7).  The blind and deaf and mute spit on Him and blind Him with His own blood.  But He is not deaf even to them, nor to us: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34, ESV).  He sees clearly why He does what He does: through the pain and the blood and the sweat, He saw the joy set before Him and He endured the cross, despising its shame, and He is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God, resurrected and glorified (Hebrews 12:2).  Let us fix our eyes on that Jesus, the Jesus who did it all so that the eyes of the blind would be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; so the lame man would leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.  “For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water” (Isaiah 35:6-7, ESV).  This is His creation, and He is remaking it.  See!  He has done all things well.

So it is for you.  Have you been deaf to His Word?  Have you been blind to His work in and through you?  Have you failed to sing for joy to the Lord who comes to save?  So have I.  But, beloved, your Lord is merciful: Ephphatha!  Be opened!  He speaks into deaf ears and opens them.  Because “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17, ESV).  He spits on blind eyes and covers them with His hands and they see, because “[Yahweh] opens the eyes of the blind” (Psalm 146:8, ESV).  He touches dry and thirsty tongues with water from His own mouth, and those tongues speak in spite of themselves.  “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Romans 10:10, ESV).  It is contrary to all expectations: He must speak before deaf ears hear Him; He must act before blind eyes see His work; He must touch before mute tongues move in praise of Him.  It is true that ears will again be closed, tongues will again be silenced, and eyes will again be shut in death.  And even now, we must have them opened and loosed again and again by Jesus’ Word and the touch of His hands as He puts His Body and Blood into our mouths.  But, anxious hearts: be strong and do not fear; there will come a day when we will all have our eyes opened wide, our deaf ears unstopped for good, and our tongues will sing for joy forever.  Because you and I are His creation, and He is remaking us today.  See!  He does all things well.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV).  Amen.

— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 9/2/09

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