The Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost
September 6, 2009
Text: Mark 7:31-37
Dear Friends in Christ,
The first permanent colony in what would become the U.S. was in fact the Spanish colony at St. Augustine, Florida in 1565. The first Christian service in the future U.S. was a Roman Mass celebrated there. But St. Augustine was not primarily a religious colony. In 1606, the English settled in Jamestown, Virginia. Again one of the first thing they did was celebrate the Divine Service, this time according to the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. But again Jamestown was not primarily a religious colony. That would come in 1620 with the Plymouth colony in Massachusetts. But Plymouth was small and never really grew all that much. In 1630 the Massachusetts Bay colony was formed. They established several settlements including Boston and Salem. This was a religious colony on a grand scale. It is also the place where universal public education has it’s roots. Each community was required to provide land for a school house and money for a teacher so that the children would all learn how to read. Why was this important? So that they could read the Word the God. New England Puritanism was a very intellectualized form of Calvinism. It was believed that young minds had be made open to God’s Word. Lutheranism has likewise valued education for similar reasons. However, in Puritan New England the purpose for studying the scriptures was to create the perfect Christian nation. In Lutheranism, the Scriptures are studied so that people know God’s plan of salvation.
The text before us seems straight forward. But it is not so simple as one might expect. On one level the story is that a man came to Jesus who was deaf and Jesus healed him. But on another level, there is more happening than it would first appear.
Jesus takes the man aside. He doesn’t command that he begin to hear or to speak. He commands him to be open. Mark even gives us the actually Aramaic word that Jesus used - Ephphatha. Now Mark was teen during Christ’s ministry and was an eyewitness to some of the events he records. He also received a great deal of additional information from Peter. So some have said that Mark is really Peter’s Gospel. In this case, as in much of the Gospel, we don’t know which is the source for this. But the detail suggests that either Mark or Peter was a direct eyewitness to this.
Now, I think everyone would agree that it was nice that Jesus healed people. The healing miracles, in general, teach us how Christ undoes sin and the effects of sin. Because of sin we live in a corrupted world - a world where there is disease, infirmity, and death. But there is often more to each specific type of healing.
The Jews of the first century did not make any images. Because the Roman emperor’s image was on common coins they could not be used in the temple. They had to have special coins that only had words inscribed upon them. In the synagogue the Word of God was read each week. The Word was considered so holy that one had wash their hands before and after handling the sacred text. Would that we treat our Bibles so reverently! But a deaf man could not hear the word read. And very likely, a deaf man could not be taught to read either. This was not because of incapacity, but because instruction was normally done orally. They didn’t have the special ways to teach the deaf that we have today. Today of course Lou Feregno was a successful body builder and played the Incredible Hulk on television. Curtis Pride played major league baseball. Such are the accomplishments of deaf people today. But in the first century deafness closed all doors. Most of all it prevented one from hearing the Word of God. This was, to a Jew, catastrophic. It destroyed one’s life. Christ was not just allowing this man to hear the birds chirp. He was opening him to the Word of God. And we know, as St. Paul says in Romans, that faith comes by hearing the Word of God. (Rom. 10:17) So Christ was opening the man up so that He could have faith in Him, and thus be saved.
Sin is a form of deafness. It stops up our ears so that we cannot hear God’s Word. It clouds our reason so that we cannot understand God’s Word. And we like our sin. There is a famous prayer attributed to St. Augustine - “O Lord, make me chaste, but not just yet.” We need to be healed of the deafness of our sin. We need to be opened to Word of God. Thus we confess in Dr. Luther’s Explanation to the Third Article, I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him... Sin has made us deaf as the proverbial post. The Holy Spirit, working through Word and Sacrament, opens our ears and makes us able to hear God’s Word. For some of us the first Word of God that we heard was the Word connected to the Water at our Baptism. For others, the first Word that they heard was when someone preached or taught that life giving Word. But all these Words tell us the same thing - your sins are forgiven. You are right with God. You are a Child of God. All this is so because Christ shed His blood to pay for those sins that stopped up your ears.
The Word opens our ears and makes them holy ears. They are now holy ears to hear God’s Holy Word. We desecrate our ears which God, in Christ, has made holy, when use them to hear vain and corrupt things. This is why it is never just a little song or just crass and vulgar words. When we chose to hear such things, we are now making unholy that thing which God has made holy. Some Christians, particularly some in the Pentecostal camp, teach that God forgives our sins, but then it’s up to us and if we fall into sin again, we cannot be forgiven. But this is not at all what God does or intends. He continuously forgives our sins and reopens our ears. He continues to instruct us both in the forgiveness of sins and what forgiveness does to us, how it makes a us new creation. He continues each day to speak those precious words to us - your sins are forgiven. And we do indeed hear those precious words.
Jesus said to a deaf man “Ephphatha!” that is be opened. He opened the man to hear that life saving Word of forgiveness. So also Christ, through the Holy Spirit, opens our ears. He says to us “Ephphatha!” And we are indeed opened to His Word by the forgiveness of our sins. This Word then creates faith and life within us. All this from one simple word spoken by the living Word.