A Sermon by Sean McDermott
“JESUS, departing from the region of Tyre, came through Sidon unto the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the region of Decapolis. And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech: and they beseech him to put his hand upon him. And he took him aside from the multitude, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat, and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain. And he charged them that they should tell no man: but the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it; and were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well; he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.”
Every detail in Mark develops a rich image of Jesus Christ. Like a painter who adds unordinary colors to highlight and brings greater depth to his painting, Mark adds in unique and often quirky details to give us a penetrating image of the Son of God. But we must be willing to slow down, be on the look out, spy the details, and reflect upon Mark’s purposeful use of composition to show us deep spiritual truths. The miracle in the Gospel brings us in, it amazes us–wow, those ears work now, that man can talk well–but we must not stop there. The healing is a good in and of itself, but Mark is not writing a Gospel of Miracles; he is writing the Gospel of the Son of God. Therefore we can ponder the miracle itself (and the healing and restoration it brings) and we must also examine what it teaches us about the nature of Christ, the miracle worker. As one commentator put it:
“St. Peter fell down at Christ’s feet, overcome at the draught of fishes; and why? It was the smallness of the miracle, combined with the greatness of the power and love; it was as if he said, Boats and nets full of fishes! Oh! What is this, if only Thou, our God, art with us? What are these things, for which we toil, to us? From that moment he turned his back for ever on his trade, and on all this abundance”
Let us be attentive and ponder the greatness that Mark is placing before us: the greatness of Christ. So the question we are asking this morning is: What does miracle teach us about the person of Jesus? In chapter 7, Jesus is on a roundabout journey through an autonomous Roman city-state called Decapolis when he heals the deaf and dumb man. Immediately, a light should go on in our heads–this is a gentile area. This was a group of ten cities, loosely connected politically, established by the Romans to bring Roman civilization to a Semitic land. It is the same area where Jesus cast the legion of demons into the herd of pigs. Knowing this will help us understand Mark’s emphasis.
Mark starts relating the story and mentions that the man brought to Jesus is deaf and mute.Interestingly, the Greek term used to describe this man’s dumbness is quite rare, and refers to a speech impediment, like stuttering, rather than a total mute. This word is also used in the Greek version of the OT, the Septuagint, in Isaiah 35:4-6 (God will come and save you.Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.Then shall the lame man leap as a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing). A very astute reader might also think of Moses when he tries to escape leading the Hebrews from Egypt because of his stuttering. God replies:
“Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the LORD?”
This claim by God is repeated throughout the OT, like in Psalm 94 or Proverbs 20. The emphasis is clear: God is the maker of eyes, ears, and mouths. Jesus’s actions, therefore, by healing this man’s ears and mouth, proclaim that God has come, in the person of Christ. But there is even even more–remember where this miracle occurs, in Gentile land: God’s plan of redemption is coming to all nations because Jesus performed this miracle in gentile land.
We have learned all of this, but we have not even examined the miracle! The friends or relations of the deaf/dumb man ask Jesus to lay their hands on him–they are obviously coming to Jesus in humility, they know his power. At this point, Jesus takes the man away from the crowd, an unusual choice for Jesus. Christ drew the man away from the crowds and performed the miracle in secret. Even as the son of God, he does not attempt to draw attention to Himself. He does not try to prove his ministry legitimate by showing the crowds marvelous acts. Jesus also looks up to heaven right before the healing, signifying that He is doing the work of his Father. During his ministry, Jesus sought to bring glory to God the Father. We are witnessing the tremendous humility of Christ–think about this! Jesus whom we worship as God did not seek recognition from the people around him but sought to give glory to his Father in heaven. While he is perfectly worthy of praise, Jesus teaches us by example that our goal is to honor the Father.
A second peculiar detail is Christ’s sighing before he looks up to heaven to heal this man. There are many interpretations of this action, but one of the more compelling ones is that Christ groans in anguish over this man’s misery. Christ, as the eternal Word made everything–without him nothing was made that was made. He knows how the ear should work and how the tongue should speak. He also knows this man’s misery: the communal shame, the inability to express ones thoughts and emotions, and the physical pain. We are now witnessing the tremendous compassion of Christ. He reaches out to this man in his own spirit, recognizes another’s pain and suffering. This compassion matches the description of God found in the collect for this week:
“Almighty God who art always more ready to hear than we are to pray, and art wont to give more than we desire or deserve: Pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy; forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask, but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord. Amen.”
The most peculiar part of the miracle is Christ’s use of his body to heal the man. He pushes his fingers into his ears, he then uses spit and touches the man’s tongue. To us, this sounds disgusting, unreasonable, definitely unsanitary, and a bit silly. Our Church Fathers, though, loved this passage–they found great comfort knowing that Christ used this method. One father writes: ” He puts His fingers into his ears, when He might have cured him with a word, to shew that His body, being united to Deity, was consecrated by Divine virtue, with all that He did.” Another: “[Christ did this] that He might shew that all the members of His sacred body are divine and holy, even the spittle which loosed the string of the tongue. For the spittle is only the superfluous moisture of the body, but in the Lord, all things are divine.” The Fathers realized the physicalness of this miracle highlights the great mystery of Christ: the hypostatic union, the union of his divine and human nature in one person. Christ’s fully human nature (the use of spit, touching with fingers) is woven perfectly together with his divine nature (the healing) in one person full of compassion and humility.
This is a great example for us of what Fr. Glenn continually says: Grace perfects Nature. Use this miracle as an image to reflect on the depth of this phrase. Christ came to this man and healed him. When he did, he did not overrule the man’s humanity, but brought wholeness to his body. The deaf/dumb man received the touch of the divine. That phrase should sound non-sensical — the touch of the divine?! how can the ethereal touch, how can the almighty divine power of all that was and is and is to come touch? And yet, the divine touched this man, and the touch did not destroy his humanity. The flesh of Jesus Christ brought healing, wholeness, and restoration to him. Likewise, the flesh of Jesus Christ, his Body and Blood brings healing, wholeness, and restoration to all of creation, including you and your family. Each time we taste his Body and drink his Blood, we are receiving Christ’s body, in which all things are divine. Divine! The fingers of Jesus restored a man’s hearing, his spit restored his speech. May his Body and Blood now bring the divine to us: to be incorporated in the mystical body of Jesus, the Church, to be be heirs of his everlasting kingdom, and to live as Christ lived: to walk in virtue in honor of the Father.
“And they were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well; he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.”