And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain.
On the Jewish Sabbath, saturday, the service at the synagogue centers upon the reading from the Torah scrolls. Torah is, technically, the first 5 books of our OT, the books given to Moses by God, but it can also refer to our complete OT and even the Oral Torah which is the traditional teachings of rabbis. The word Torah is also used as a summary of what we might call “The Law,” referring to the 613 commandments given to Moses and the entire way of life God wished his people to live.
In the Jewish synagogue on the sabbath day, there is an elaborate liturgy for bringing the Torah out of the Ark, presenting the reading, and then bringing it back to the Ark again. As the scrolls are put back into the Ark, which represents the Ark of the Covenant in the Temple, the congregation chants from Psalm 132: “Return, O Lord, to Your sanctuary, You and Your glorious ark. Let Your priests be clothed in triumph and let Your faithful sing for joy.” The Torah is considered to be Word of God! And then the rabbi closes the door of the ark and then chants from Proverbs 3: “It is a tree of life to those who hold fast to it, and all of its supporters are happy.”
What we see is an incredibly high view of Torah, even recognizing that Torah was life-giving, that it in itself is holy, because it is the Tree of Life and the Word of God.
So then we come to Epistle for today, where we encounter a confusing passage from Paul who is trying to describe the movement from the Old Covenant to the New. First, we must note that Paul never actually names the Law/Torah here in this passage of 2 Cor. He specifically mentions the letter, which was written and engraven in stones. This letter refers, of course, to the tablets of stone that God created and gave to Moses who brought them down from Sinai. In Deuteronomy, Moses refers to these stones as the stones of the Covenant: “And the Lord delivered unto me two tables of stone written with the finger of God; and on them was written according to all the words, which the Lord spake with you in the mount of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly.” We often think (and many images show) that these stones were just the 10 commandments, but in fact they had all the words God spoke to Moses and they signified the special Covenant that God made with His people. They were written, not by Moses, but by the finger of God.
Paul then goes on to admit that ministration signified by these stones was glorious, so glorious in fact that Moses’s physical aspect changed. The Hebrews could not even look at his face which shone so brightly. So how then can Paul still call this ministration one of death?
Here we have to leave 2 Cor and see what Paul says elsewhere about Torah, or commonly translated in Paul as ‘The Law.’ Paul notes in Romans 5:12-21 that the Torah can be said to bring death because it literally prescribes death as the penalty for sin. Second, and here we turn to Galatians 3:21-31, Torah defines and lists all sorts of transgressions, and therefore it increases sin because now all those actions are considered as sins and death is the prescription for sin. Third, the Torah can be followed without the Spirit like Paul says in Romans 3 and Romans 7: “But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.” Service to God cannot be accomplished without the Spirit, and living by the letter of the Law, even though that Law is special, without Spirit does not accomplish anything. Fourth, in connection to the last point, Torah is not the Spirit itself and only the life-giving power of the Spirit can make people righteous.
We might be tempted to say, then, that the Torah itself is bad, that it is a sin. But Paul rejects this clearly in Romans 7 where he states: “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid!” Then skipping down to verse 12: “Wherefore the law is holy and the commandment holy, and just, and good.” For those who are righteous and follow Torah, it is life–it is man that entertains the sin, acts upon it, and receives death. So, for those who reject Torah or turn it into a legalistic system, it is poison.
In the OT, we find many passages where God calls His people to live out the Law in the Spirit, for example when God calls Israel to be circumcised in the heart so that they may follow him! [Deu 10:15-17 KJV] 15 Only the LORD had a delight in thy fathers to love them, and he chose their seed after them, [even] you above all people, as [it is] this day. 16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked. 17 For the LORD your God [is] God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward”
This was all under the Torah! Torah was considered by the Jews as the Word of God, written by his own finger–of course this is a metaphor and Jewish thinkers have many interpretations for it. Some, especially around the first-century such as Philo who considered Torah to be the “Holy Logos” of God.
Let me summarize what we have seen so far. Torah, the Word of God given to Israel through Moses, was a special gift. Following Torah through the Spirit brought life–it meant living in the Covenant of God! But following Torah without the Spirit (not following Torah), which meant following Torah ‘by the letter’ just meant death. Given all of this, therefore, we now move with Paul to consider that if the Torah did have a wonderful glory, what does that mean about the new covenant?
Paul does not consider the OC and the NC to be a zero sum game, but that the OC relates to the NC, even though the relation has a large degree of difference. It is helpful to view the glory of the Old covenant as a shadow compared to that of the new. It is like this: at dawn, when the sun is about to rise, we start to make out the shapes of trees, the outlines of rooflines of houses, and the horizon ahead of us. We can tell that the sun is going to rise as the colors begin to change but we still as of yet do not see the sun nor is anything around us clear. Then, when the sun crests the horizon, everything changes because now it is revealed in fulness. The light permeates the shadows and what we saw as just an outline we can now see as a tree with depth, color, dimension, etc.
The OC was a shadow of the new and the full revelation of God came to us in Jesus Christ.
The Gospel today, at first glance, does not seem to be very connected with the Epistle, but in fact it is the witness that first, Jesus is Messiah, but also that He is God Almighty, the Second person of the Trinity. We know of course, along with Paul, that the Messiah is Jesus Christ who will bring us to His Father and present us as His Bride. That is the trust that we have through Christ towards God. And it is Christ’s incarnation, His work, His mission, His life, His death and resurrection, that now allows for all humanity to be a people set apart for Himself. To be holy.
Mark notes that Jesus has just departed from Tyre and Sidon and is now in the region of Decapolis–a Gentile area. Part of the role of the Messiah clearly stated within the OT is to bring salvation to all nations, and here is Mark’s account of Jesus doing just that. IN addition, this miracle, which does not go unnoticed even by the Gentiles, Jesus literally fulfills other prophecies of the Messianic Age which will come when (according to Isaiah 35:5) ‘the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped’ and (according to Exekiel 24:27) ‘the mouths of the dumb shall speak.
But we also see, now in connection with the Epistle, that Jesus is not just the fulfillment of Torah and the Prophets but that he is Torah, He is the Word of God who now brings the spirit-filled life and healing into the world. This is the fulfillment that Paul is talking about in the Epistle–this is so much the more glorious because now the Torah is not just engraven in stone and ministered by Moses but now the Torah is flesh and that flesh is the Person of Christ Himself. The Torah was written by the finger of God into stone, and now we see the finger of God healing this man. As Christ touches his ears, he now may hear, and as he spits and touches his tongue, the man can now speak plainly. Jesus is opening up that which was wounded, bringing life to that which was dying, and healing that which was sick. As John puts it, the light of the world is the life of men. This is the life you have joined through baptism so that now you are considered to be a son and daughter of God, able to enjoy the divine life itself. This is the fulness of Torah, the fulness of God’s work of redemption and plan for humanity.
Spiritually, we see through this passage how Jesus Christ will open up your inward ear so that you may hear His voice, and He will loosen your tongue so that you might praise Him. And yet, just like in the OC, you may either live in Christ by the Spirit which has been given to you, or you may refuse to live by Spirit–either turning the Christian life into a stale legal system of ‘following the letter’ or outright refusing to receive the gift given to you.
God already knows you perfectly, as the opening Collect says: “unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid…” He has given you His spirit and life in baptism, and he has opened up your ears to hear His voice. Will you listen? You might think, ‘Well, really, how do I actually hear His voice?’
Well, think about all the portions in the Mass that implore you to listen to God’s voice! The Summary of the Law: “Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith.” Or the Prayer of whole state: “To all thy People give thy heavenly grace; and especially to this congregation here present; that, with meek heart and due reverence, they may hear, and receive thy holy Word. . . ” Or “Hear what comfortable words. . .” In all of these instances, God is speaking to you! Having opened up your ears, hear the voice of God! Hear his love for you, His call for you to repent, and His Absolution and Comfortable words, and His words as he gave Himself to be your sustenance.
And then having loosed your tongue, you can take part in the Sanctus where you declare, magnify, and worship His Holy Name, and you then can taste the most precious meal: His Body and Blood. God has given Himself for you in an extraordinary way so that you might live for God Father through His Son by the Holy Ghost. This is the glory Paul is talking about, it is the fulfillment of the Covenants of God, and now it is time for you, personally, to listen attentively, to speak boldly, and to live in the Spirit through Jesus Christ.