Mark 7:31-37; 2 Corinthians 3:4-11; Isaiah 29:17-24
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.” These words of King David from Psalm 51, the Christian Church has spoken, sung, and chanted in the liturgies of Matins and Vespers since at least the sixth century. For centuries, Christians have prayed these words in the morning and in the evening and so have book-ended their daily lives with the confession that, unless the Lord opens our lips, not to mention our ears and our eyes, they are, and they will remain, utterly closed and unable to sing His praise, to confess His Name, or even to hear His life-giving and faith-creating Word at all. For, apart from the Lord’s gracious action, that is our state: spiritually deaf, dumb, blind, and dead towards God – just like Adam before God breathed His living breath into him; just like the blind man begging by the roadside; just like Lazarus before Jesus’ creative and life-giving Word called him to life; and just like the deaf-mute man in today’s Gospel. However, when the Lord opens our lips, our ears, and our eyes, then we will most certainly praise Him, not only in our direct and intentional prayers and praise, but also in our casual and day to day conversations with our families, with our neighbors, and with our co-workers, just as branches joined to the life-giving vine most certainly produce good fruit.
Yet, opening our ears and our eyes and our lips to speak, sing, and chant His Father’s praise is not all that our Lord does or can do. No. But, by His Word, He makes the lame to walk and lepers to be clean; He makes barren lands and barren wombs to be fruitful even as He once spoke light into the darkness and brought forth everything out of nothing, by the power of His life-giving and creative Word, His Word of life which is life, apart from which is only death. Thus, even now, by His same life-giving and creative Word He opens your ears to hear His Word and He creates faith within you through the preaching of His Word, He raises you from death to life in Holy Baptism, He forgives you and makes you clean through His Holy Absolution, and He feeds and nourishes you, His life communes with you, in the Holy Supper of His body and blood with the promise that He who has begun this good work in you will see it to completion in the Day of the Lord, and Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
Therefore, as your mouth has been opened by the Lord to speak and sing His praise, you must not keep it closed and remain silent. For, your Lord has promised that He who confesses Him before men, He will confess before His Father in heaven, but He who denies Him before men, He will deny before His Father in heaven. Indeed, the Holy Spirit is working in you and with you to make of you bubbling spring and a fruitful vine of His prayer and praise, mercy, and compassion. You can no more “tell no one” than could Jesus’ disciples and the crowds after witnessing the healing of the deaf-mute. And, yet, you do not, but you remain silent, just like the women at Jesus’ empty tomb, because you are afraid. Like St. Paul, you know what you want to do, but you do not do it, and the things that you do not want to do, that is what you continually find yourself doing, for indeed, your spirit is willing, but your flesh is weak.
Therefore, you must not listen to your flesh. You must not obey your flesh. Rather, you must, as Jesus teaches, die to yourself and live to Christ in His righteousness. And, this is the fruit, not of the Law of God, but of the Law of God fulfilled, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Because He has done all things well, making even the deaf to hear and the mute to speak, He has fulfilled the Law’s demands and has set you free to do it without fear of condemnation, to do it, not to earn salvation, but to do it because you have been saved. Where the Law of God, because of your sin, left you deaf, dumb, blind, and dead, a barren wasteland and a fruitless field, the Gospel has given you a confidence and a sufficiency, not from yourselves, but from God. It is precisely because your righteousness comes from outside of you, not from inside of you, and because your righteousness is found in Jesus’ works, not in your works, that you can be confident and without fear, that you can stand before God and receive His gifts, open your lips and sing His praise, and tell everyone what He has done. Apart from Jesus, your words and your deeds are nothing, even filthy rags, but because of Jesus, in His Holy Spirit, that which once had no glory – your works – has been made to be glorious in His sight.
Jesus did some rather strange things in the healing of the deaf-mute. While His Word was sufficient to open his ears and to loosen his tongue, Jesus also accompanied His Word with symbolic actions: He put His fingers into the man’s ears, and after spitting His touched his tongue. Then, looking up to heaven, He sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” Was this all for show, to draw attention to Himself? No, not at all, for, indeed, Jesus first took the man aside from the crowd privately. Further, even after healing the man, Jesus told him, His disciples, and the crowds not to tell anyone. No, Jesus never seeks to glorify Himself. But then, what was the purpose of His actions? Truly, it may have been only compassion. Jesus often utilized touch in connection with His Word of forgiveness and healing. However, St. Mark’s use of the specific word “finger” brings to mind the Old Testament usage of “the Finger of God” which Pharaoh’s magicians recognized was at work through Moses and Aaron. Jesus Himself used this figure in St. Luke’s Gospel saying, “But if it is by the Finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Perhaps Jesus placed His fingers into the deaf-mute’s ears to communicate that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.” Additionally, the use of spit and touching the man’s tongue may have a symbolic connection to Holy Baptism where common water is sanctified by the Word of Jesus’ mouth so that it becomes a lavish washing for the forgiveness of sins and the bestowal of the Holy Spirit. Now, some may say that this is allegorizing, and perhaps it is. However, following these actions, Jesus looked up to heaven, sighed, and said to the man, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened,” making a clear connection between His actions and the blessing of His Father, that the deaf-mute would know the source of His healing through the Word of Jesus.
When you and I sigh, it is usually because of a sense of exasperation, futility, hopelessness, or despair. That is because we are sinners. We know that our best efforts fail and are soiled by our sin, and we daily suffer the effects of other sinners directly and indirectly. But, this is not why Jesus sighs. When Jesus sighs He breathes in our curse and He breathes out our cure, the blessing of His Word, the impartation of His Spirit, which gives life. For looking up to heaven, Jesus sighed and said “It is finished.” He breathed His last and handed over His Spirit. He gave His life into death so that you will live. He took the curse into Himself, your sin into Himself, He suffered in your place, died in your stead and was raised from death, out of the tomb so that you who trust in Him are forgiven your sins, rescued from death, have eternal salvation. And now He gives you His Body and His Blood. He gives you Himself, the embodiment of His Father’s Word, to make it embodied in yours, taking away your sin and giving you His righteousness, His holiness, His purity, His life. Indeed, He does all things well. And in Him, so do you.
Pray that the Father will continue to open your ears and to loosen your tongues by the Holy Spirit delivered through His proclaimed Word again and again. And, do not remain silent, but sing His praise in word and deed; tell everyone what He has done! For, you were deaf, and now you hear; you were blind, and now you see; you were mute, and now your lips have been opened, your tongue has been loosed; you were dead, but now you are alive in Christ. For you, to live is Christ, to die is gain. Therefore, die to yourself and live to Christ by laying down your life for your brother and sister, for your neighbor, for the Lord. Your sufficiency is not in yourself, but in the Lord. It is not of the letter, but of the Spirit. The Law indeed was, and is, glorious, therefore, how much more glorious will be ministry of the Spirit be?
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.