[Isaiah 29:17-24 / 2 Cor. 3:4-11 / Mark 7:31-37]
Today's Gospel reading started with some geographical information. We tend to let that slip by as unimportant. That would be a mistake today. You see, it's important to know that Jesus was heading into the Decapolis, the area of the Ten Cities on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee - largely, non-Jewish territory in those days. But even there the people had heard about Jesus! We might ask: how? Mark told you the answer back in chapter five.
Do you remember the healing of the Gadarene demoniac? The man who lived in the tombs and from whom Jesus had driven the demons that entered the swine and drowned? At the end of that story, the man begged Jesus to let him get in the boat and cross over with him, but Jesus said: "No. Return to your home and make known to everyone what great things God has done for you." This man returned and proclaimed – guess where? – throughout the Decapolis the great things Jesus had done for him.
Consequently, because this man had shared with others the good news of Jesus, His power over demons, His love for all and His healing power, when Jesus again comes into that region, immediately some folks pick up this deaf mute and bring him to Jesus for Jesus to lay his hands on him and heal him.
But Jesus doesn't do the laying on of hands. Instead he communicates with this deaf man in the only way that the deaf could understand - through signs. He pokes his fingers in his ears (which being translated is: "I'm going to open your ears"). He spits and touches his tongue (which being translated is: "I'm going to heal your tongue" - spit was regarded as healing in those days). And then He sighs and looks up to heaven (which being translated is: "I'm going to pray for you."). And then, and then, Jesus does what only Jesus can do. He speaks the Word: EPHPHATHA! Open up!
And just as God in the beginning said: "Let there be…" and immediately there was, so when God in the flesh, Jesus the Son of God, says: "Open up!" immediately the man can hear and can speak.
The crowds go ballistic! "Wow! Never seen anything like this! Do you believe it! This guy does everything well. I mean, he makes the deaf hear and the dumb to speak! Wait till I tell Aunt Josephine! Wait till I tell Uncle Zechariah!"
Meanwhile, Jesus is asking them not to tell. Why on earth would he do that? Probably to avoid the crowds that had so pressed him in Galilee before he left, making it almost impossible for him to teach or move around simply because He was drowning in a sea of people who needed healing. And great as healing is, much as He delighted to bear our infirmities and heal our diseases, it wasn't the only thing Jesus needed to get done. The teaching was just as important, and in many ways even more important.
But if he told them, then, to keep silent; that is not what he tells us today, is it? Just the opposite. You see, we've all tasted something of what the deaf-mute knew. By nature our ears are simply deaf to the "words of the book" as our Old Testament reading put it. We couldn't hear the voice of God, and we didn't want to. Our tongues were tied too. Tied to bitterness and complaining, griping and grousing. But someone loved us enough to bring us to Jesus, to place us before him and beg him to heal. And heal He did! He opened our ears to hear the Word. He freed our tongues from their dominion to Satan and set them free to sing the praises of God: "O Lord, open my lips and my mouth shall declare your praise!"
For many of us that happened when our parents picked us up as little children, carried us to the waters of Baptism, where Jesus first spoke His mighty ephphatha over our lives, and so we've never known a life not lived in the presence of the Redeemer - in the joy of His healing love that works on us to constantly open our ears and train our tongues to praise. But for some of us it happened later - when others shared the good news of a Savior with us, and then led us to the water, walked with us to the Son of God, prayed for us and rejoiced with us when Jesus opened us up by His Word and Sacraments. Whether it happened to us as babes or as adults or at any stage in between, we’ve encountered Jesus and His word – that ministry of righteousness we heard about in our second reading – it brought to us a glory that is permanent and does not fade away and our lives were changed.
But if we've all been where the deaf-mute was, that's not where Jesus wants us to stay. Rather, He wants us to become like those men who brought the deaf-mute to Jesus. He wants us to go out and tell others about a Savior who has already taken away the sins of the world by His death on the cross, whose sacrifice has been accepted by His Father who showed this when He raised Him from the dead. A Savior who has a bath that washes sin and guilt, who has a table laden with food that imparts eternal life, who has a Book whose words burn in our hearts and fill us with the joy of the Spirit of God. He wants us to call others, to invite them, to bring them to our Savior, and to pray for them that Jesus would open up their ears to hear and believe His words and so open their lips to join us in singing the praises of God. As the Psalmist put it in today’s gradual: I will bless the Lord at all times! His praise shall continually be in my mouth! My soul shall make its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad!
But DO note that our Lord does not send you out to open deaf ears or loose bound tongues. Oh, no - what a burden that would be! He sends you out to invite and bring others to Him, to where He is, to where He speaks His Words and goes on doing His "ephphatha" job. It's a simple matter of inviting others to gather with you where Jesus has surely promised to be and to speak His Words and to do His miracle of healing and new life - freeing up ears for hearing God's Word and tongues for singing His praise.
That's what the people in today's Gospel reading did, wasn't it? They just brought their friend who was suffering and in need to Jesus and Jesus took of the rest. That's what He summons each of us to be about. And that's not a job that any one of us can give away to some committee. It's a joy He wouldn't deprive one of us of! Think today of the people you know who are deaf to God's Word. Consider whom you can invite to come with you to Jesus, to sit with you in this assembly, to hear your Lord Jesus speak and do His mighty miracle of healing deaf ears and setting their tongues free to join you in the praise of the Triune God to whom be glory, now and ever and to the ages of ages! Amen.