Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity
2 Corinthians 3:4-11 + Mark 7:31-37
We have before us today in the Gospel the simple, friendly account of how Jesus healed a man who was deaf and mute. Let’s begin today by simply reviewing the story.
The good word about Jesus was spreading all over Israel: this man Jesus is a Teacher sent from God. He speaks with authority. He teaches with patience. He accuses all men of sin, but at the same time He offers the grace of God to all men—the forgiveness of sins as God’s free gift through faith in Him. This Jesus has divine power over the creation—over sickness, over demons, over nature itself. This Jesus takes from no one, but gives freely to all who come to Him for help. This Jesus is merciful, kind and good. And He just might be the Christ.
Some of those who heard the good word believed the good word. But some of those who heard and believed had a friend who couldn’t hear anything, because he was deaf. So they brought to Jesus one who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech, and they begged Him to put His hand on him. Which He did, without requiring anything at all of the deaf man. He stopped what He was doing, took the man aside, one on one. And then, in His typical not-afraid-to-get-too-close-to-you manner, He put His fingers in his ears, and He spat and touched his tongue. Then, looking up to heaven, He sighed, and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And his ears were opened and his tongue was loosed. And the crowd was amazed and said, He has done all things well. He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.
I wonder how the world would react if Jesus performed this miracle today. I think the world would react this way. “It’s about time you healed him, Jesus! It’s Your fault—God’s fault—this poor man was deaf and mute in the first place! You should heal everyone who is suffering. You never should have made them suffer in the first place.”
Blaming God for human suffering is a very common reaction. Many people would say it’s God’s fault that the man in the Gospel was deaf and mute in the first place, and in a sense, they’re not entirely wrong. There is this from the book of Exodus, when God first called Moses to deliver the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, and Moses at first made the excuse that he couldn’t speak well enough. So the LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the LORD?”
Yes, God is, in a way, responsible for these physical maladies that people suffer. There’s no getting around it or denying it. But God is responsible for these things like the principal of a school is responsible for a naughty student getting suspended, or like a judge is responsible for a criminal going to jail. Yes, the teacher suspended the student. Yes, the judge put the criminal in jail. But the guilty parties earned those consequences for themselves.
Still, we shouldn’t imagine that the deaf man committed some specific sin to earn his deafness. It all goes back, once again, to the terrible sickness that infects all men from birth, to Original Sin, the corruption that we inherit from our parents, and they from theirs. It goes back to our natural lostness, our deadness, the slavery to sin in which we’re born—a condition that is absolutely lethal for everyone, and yet it’s a condition that no one fully grasps on his own. Before God, no one is innocent. No one is righteous. No one is heaven-bound by nature. Instead, all are hell-bound from birth.
So why does God cause some to be deaf or mute, blind or handicapped in some other way? It’s not because He’s cruel. In fact, God commanded the Israelites not to be cruel to those who suffer in these ways: You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind, but shall fear your God: I am the LORD. Why, then? Is it only to punish? Is it only to give us what we deserve?
Not at all. In all these things, God is more like a doctor than a judge. We’re like tumor-ridden cancer patients by nature, who either don’t know or who refuse to acknowledge how sick we are, because spiritual illness is impossible to see. But the symptoms…the symptoms are easily diagnosed by God’s Law, by His commandments as they tell us what healthy people look like in their thoughts, words and deeds, with selfless love toward God and toward our neighbor. But that’s not what we look like.
So what does God do with us? He afflicts us in ways that we can see, that we can perceive, with maladies, some with one, some with another, some with physical afflictions, others with mental or emotional afflictions, sometimes with financial challenges or hardships. All of it’s designed to get us to go running to the doctor, to the Great Physician, so that we can hear His diagnosis and receive His medicine.
As the Lord says through the prophet, Now see that I, even I, am He, And there is no God besides Me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; Nor is there any who can deliver from My hand.
But when God afflicts, when He wounds, He wounds like a doctor who prescribes a harsh chemotherapy, or like a surgeon who has to poke and prod and who takes his knife and cuts open a patient’s body and may even have to amputate some part, not to make us sick—we’re already dying! Not to cause harm, but to get in to where the tumor is growing, so that he can remove the tumor that’s killing his patient, so that He can treat the sickness at its source. Now, the surgery may be painful and the recovery, too, may be painful and life-long. But the wounding that a doctor does is for the sake of saving a life, not harming it. He wounds in order to heal. He kills in order to make alive.
So it is with our God. All the earthly wounds and troubles that mankind suffers are used by God to drive us to His Word for answers, for the diagnosis, and also for the cure—the forgiveness of sins, earned for us by Christ through His death on the cross; adoption, sonship, the promise of present help and future glory.
What did God promise in the Old Testament? In that day the deaf shall hear the words of the book, And the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity and out of darkness. That prophecy was a prophecy about Christ. It was a prophecy of spiritual healing—the healing of spiritual deafness and muteness and blindness. In other words, those who stubbornly refuse to listen to the Gospel will be brought to listen to it, to believe it. Those who stubbornly refuse to confess that God is good will be brought to confess Him as the One who gave His Son into death in order to save us poor sinners. Those who stubbornly refuse to see the path of life, which is faith in Christ, will be made to see it and to walk in it.
But again, those spiritual healings can’t be seen. So Jesus performed miracles that could be seen, healing deaf ears and loosing tongues that couldn’t speak. He did it to show His kindness, God’s kindness toward those who deserve His wrath. He did it to show that all who come to Jesus for help receive help. When He walked the earth visibly, that help was also visible. Now that He reigns invisibly from God’s right hand, His help is often invisible, too, but it’s just as real. He makes it, not seen, but heard—heard through the proclamation of the Gospel, through the absolution, through words connected with water and with bread and wine. Forgiveness, strength and hope.
Forgiveness, so that you can be certain that the wounds you Christians suffer now are not punishments from an angry God, but tools of the Great Physician to keep you close to your divine Doctor, to teach you to persevere and to trust in Him who was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities. Strength to bear up under those afflictions. And hope, that there will be an end to the sufferings, either in this life or in the life to come, when Christ returns. The One who wounds is also the One who heals. But when He comes again, it will not just be to heal our wounds, but to make us new, to turn us into flawless creatures, with neither physical nor spiritual deformities. That is the sure hope that is ours, through faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.