Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Finger of God in the Life of Man

The Finger of God in the Life of Man

Twelfth after Trinity

Gospel Lesson: Mark 7:31-37 (KJV)
31 And again, departing from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, he came unto the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis.
32 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.
33 And he took him aside from the multitude, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue;
34 And looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened.
35 And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain.
36 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;
37 And were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.

We are sensitive to people who lose their sight. We understand they have a disability and are not to blame. Not so with people who are losing their hearing. Somehow we blame them. It irritates us to repeat things or to have the radio or TV blaring.  

Jesus encountered a man who had two disabilities that often go together. He was deaf, and he had a speech impediment.

1. The Circumstances

1.1 This incident is the second of two stories in a row that take place in predominantly Gentile area. North of Israel along the Mediterranean Coast Jesus cast a demon out of a little girl whose Gentile mother begged him to do so.

Then he traveled around the Sea of Galilee to region southeast of the Sea, called the Decapolis because it contained ten city-states. While Jesus spent most of his time inside Israel ministering to Jews, the salvation he came to accomplish was for the whole world, and these trips previewed the worldwide mission of his church.

Jesus had been in this region once before and met a man possessed with many demons, who was so demented and dangerous that he lived among the tombs where he went naked and shrieked and bruised himself with stones. When townspeople tried to bind him with chains, he too strong and broke the chains. But Jesus set him free. Soon he was clothed and in his right mind.

When Jesus, left he told the man, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”  So the man “went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.” If Jesus has done something for you, there is no greater gratitude than to tell others. Don’t get up on your moral high horse, but just say, “I was bound by the guilt of my sins and fear of condemnation, and Jesus set me free.”

1.2 Some in the Decapolis knew about Jesus saving the demon possessed man from the torments of the devil.  When they heard Jesus was back in the area, they thought of their friend who was deaf probably from childhood. Childhood illnesses like ear infections, measles, and chickenpox can lead to hearing loss. Hearing loss then causes speech problem because the child is not able to hear and reproduce sounds. Inability to hear and speak is very frustrating for both the sufferer and those who try to communicate with him.

The friends brought the man to Jesus and begged Jesus to lay his hand on the man to heal him. We can minister to people in many ways, but there is nothing more important we can do for others than to bring them to Jesus and to pray to him on their behalf. As important as this is for those with physical problems, it is far more important for those whose ears cannot hear the saving word of the Lord in Scripture and sermons and whose tongues cannot speak his praise.  

2. The Miracle

2.1 Jesus took the man away from the crowd of people. Sometimes Jesus did miracles before many, as when he fed the feed 5000 from 5 loaves and two small fish. But Jesus never put on a show the way magicians and modern faith-healers do. His purpose was not for people to say, “Wow! Did you see that? ” There was reason and purpose in Jesus’s miracles, but never just to create a spectacle.

2.2 Jesus had the man alone; he put his fingers into the man’s ear. I had an ear infection recently. I could barely hear in that ear, and it felt like it was stopped up and felt like it need to pop. I kept putting my finger in the ear canal and moving it around as though I might open it up. Jesus put his fingers in the ears where the man needed healing.

Then Jesus spit onto his finger and touched the man’s tongue. This is one of three miracles when Jesus used spit. (Please don’t get angry as did a woman who thought I said too much about spit when I preached on one such miracle.) In the next chapter Jesus spits into a blind man’s eyes before restoring his sight. In John 9 Jesus spits on the ground, makes a mudpack, and puts it on a blind man's eyes before healing him. I don’t know why Jesus did this. I do know that my mother was a great believer in the use of saliva. It was good for removing smudges and patting down cowlicks. For some reason, Jesus used spit in dealing with the man’s impediment. It may be he accommodated himself to beliefs that saliva could have healing effects, and so said in effect, “I am going to heal your tongue.”

2.3 Then Jesus sighed. Why?  Yesterday Fr. Rich told several of us to move some wood from one place to another. We sighed, and said to ourselves, “We really have to do that?” When I got home, I sighed both because I was tired and disappointed that so little work caused so much tiredness.  When I work on homilies I sigh in frustration as I try to form thoughts. When we got word of the deaths of two friends in recent weeks we sighed in sadness.

Deafness and speech impediments are just two of the things we suffer in this world because of the sin of Adam and God’s judgment on the human race. We sigh beneath the heavy load of suffering brought into the world by sin. Jesus is not indifferent to us but is touched with our weakness and infirmity. He identifies with us and tells us he shares our disappointment, weariness, frustration and sadness in this fallen world.

2.4 He not only cares, but he means to do something about it. He said, “Ephphatha,” which means, “Be opened.” That’s all it takes - a word from Jesus. He says to this man’s ears, “Be opened,” and they were, even as God said, ‘Let there be light, and there was light,” and even as Jesus stood at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, already dead for four days, and said, “Lazarus come out,” and out walked Lazarus. Immediately the man could hear. He could speak plainly as though a string tied to his tongue had been cut.

Jesus worked miracles in more than one way. This time he used his fingers and saliva. But putting his fingers in the man’s ears was not a magical action, nor did his saliva have magical powers. Similarly the sacramental elements and actions are not magical. The two essential things in all  works of grace are the will and the word of Jesus. “He speaks and, listening to his voice, new life the dead receive.”

3. Aftermath

3.1 Jesus told those who saw this miracle not to tell anyone. Why?  Jesus knew two things: (1) He knew there was the danger of people hearing about his miracles and following him just to see miracles without any real understanding of his ministry or commitment to him.  (2) He also knew that hostility toward him was growing with the scribes and Pharisees in Israel, and King Herod Antipas had already killed John the Baptist. He knew the time for completing his work by dying for our sins had not yet come.

3.2 The people who saw that the man could hear and speak, they “were beyond all measure astonished” and they said, “He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak.”

The prophet Isaiah foresaw when God would intervene in the world and overturn the works of the devil and relieve the consequences of sin. The Messiah would come and establish God’s kingdom of salvation. Isaiah wrote:

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
   and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
   and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
Isaiah 35:5,6

All of Jesus's miracles point to him as the Messiah. The kingdom of God is breaking in to this world to set in irreversible motion God’s plan of salvation and deliverance. Jesus does not heal just to heal. He heals to show us that he is God in the the flesh - his finger is the finger of God at work to accomplish God’s salvation. Whether Jesus calms a raging sea, or cures the leper, or makes the blind to see and the crippled to walk, Jesus is saying, “I am the Messiah and Bringer of God’s salvation.”

What the world did not understand and we can forget it that the whole plan of deliverance meant that he would take responsibility for our sins and redeem us by dying in our place. “By his stripes we are healed.”
Jesus will not stop till he frees us from all sin’s ills. What Jesus did for a few during his ministry on earth, he will do for all his people at the Last Day. We will hear his voice and rise to bodily life without any sickness, suffering, or sorrow. Jesus will command, and instantly we will be truly, fully, and eternally alive.

Hear him ye deaf; his praise, ye dumb
your loosened tongues employ,
ye blind behold your Savior come,
and leap ye lame for joy.

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