03 August 2008

A Homiletical Study for Trinity 12

Oremus. Almighty God, it is only by Your gift of grace that we come into Your presence and offer true and faithful service. Grant that our worship on earth may always be pleasing to You, and in the life to come give us the fulfillment of what You have promised; through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Liturgical Notes:

In the historical series, the Day of St. Laurence dominates the selections read at Mass for the weeks surrounding it; this influence continues in today's readings and propers. The cycle around St. Laurence focuses on "practical aspects of Christian faith and life as manifested in works of love and service." (Reed, p. 532). "The psalmist's prayer in this Introit (Make haste, O God, to deliver me!) almost seems an anticipation of his martyrdom." (Reed, p. 533) The "true and faithful service" which St. Laurence and all God's faithful render is indicated in the Gospel which tells of the service of those who "brought" a poor sufferer to Christ, asked His help and then spread the news of what He had done.

The Readings:
Isaiah 29:17-24 - A clear tie-in to the Gospel, for the prophet foretells a time "in not yet a very little while" when "the deaf shall hear the Words of the book." An interesting phrase, is it not? The great tragedy of deafness was that it cut you off from hearing the words of God's book! And when Jacob sees the great things that God will do in that day - the healing of the deaf, the blind, the rescue of the poor and humble, then "they will hallow my name!" They will tell abroad the wonders of God.

Psalm 34 - Here we stand with the poor man in today's Gospel reading and we sing with him: "I will bless the Lord at all times, his praise shall continually be in my mouth, I sought the Lord and he heard me and delivered me from all my fears."

Romans 10:9-16 - In order that people might come to believe with the heart and confess with the mouth, God sends forth those who preach the Gospel of peace.

Textual Considerations:
(Mark 7:31-37)
31 Again, departing from the region of Tyre and Sidon, He came through the midst of the region of Decapolis to the Sea of Galilee.
(Mark 7:31)
31 kai palin exelywn ek twn oriwn turou kai sidwnov hlyen prov thn yalassan thv galilaiav ana meson twn oriwn dekapolewv

Last time we were in Decapolis it was back in chapter five for the healing of the Gadarene demoniac (only one of them in Mark). And that episode ended with Jesus telling the man he had freed from demon-possession to "Go home to your friends and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had come compassion on you." (Mark 5:19) The man then left and "began to proclaim in Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him; and all marveled." (Mark 5:20). Thus in this primarily Gentile territory, Jesus' fame was spread as one who could do great things and who had compassion on those in need. A perfect explanation, then, to the next verse:

32 Then they brought to Him one who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech, and they begged Him to put His hand on him.
(Mark 7:32)
32 kai ferousin autw kwfon moggilalon kai parakalousin auton ina epiyh autw thn ceira

ferousin can have the simple meaning of "they bring", but the first translation that comes to my mind is "they carry." Either way the stress here is on the action of the friends of this afflicted man, who is literally tongue-tied and deaf. This verse also gives us help in understanding the noun "paraclete" by the verb: "they begged him" does not perhaps catch the full nuance: they were acting as his advocate - he who could not speak for himself. They step in to help him by bringing him to the Lord and asking the Lord to lay his hand upon him.

Not by accident Luther's Church Postil sees here a marvelous parallel to the act of infant Baptism, where the Church takes those who are incapable of coming to the Lord on their own, carries them to him, presents them to him and begs him to lay his hand upon them so that they might become his own.

In Mark's context it might also have been taken as a paradigm for the catechumenate - where those who had heard of the Lord and had come to trust in His power to heal, lovingly bring and present to him others who have not yet heard or experienced his healing power, that he might set them free and that they might also join in the telling of his praises.

33 And He took him aside from the multitude, and put His fingers in his ears, and He spat and touched his tongue.
(Mark 7:33)
33 kai apolabomenov auton apo tou oclou kat idian ebalen touv daktulouv autou eiv ta wta autou kai ptusav hqato thv glwsshv autou

Many commentators have speculated about this unusual procedure, for Christ usual heals by a mere touch or by the Word. Why the more elaborate procedure this time? I may be mistaken (Lee?), but I hear in ebalen a rather forceful word, stronger than "put" it almost seems to connote to me "thurst." One possible explanation for the different modus operandi is that our Lord wished to communicate to the deaf man what he was going to do.

What is striking to me is that here the Lord is using MEANS to accomplish His healing/saving purpose. Touch and spit (water). Is it going too far to see a Baptismal reference here? It seems the early Church did - and even Luther's Baptismal rite of 1523 retained the spitting and the ephatha rite.

34 Then, looking up to heaven, He sighed, and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”
(Mark 7:34)
34 kai anableqav eiv ton ouranon estenaxen kai legei autw effaya o estin dianoicyhti

estenaxen is not used elsewhere in the Gospels for our Lord, but it is the word that Paul uses to describe the groaning of the Christian, as he waits for the Consummation of all things in Christ: Romans 8:23 / 2 Cor. 5:2,4. In a way that is exactly what this groan of Jesus is for: for the fulfillment and ultimate healing of all things. Of that healing, this man becomes a sign and a promise.

Likewise, this passage shows the fundamental ailment of the human race: we are not "open" to the Word of the Lord to hear it or to speak it, unless the Lord Jesus uses His finger (the Holy Spirit - Luke 11:20 - "if I by the finger of God drive out demons…" and its parallel Matt 12:28 "if I by the Spirit of God drive out demons…") to blast away our deafness and to open our mouths to speak His praise.

35 Immediately his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke plainly.
(Mark 7:35)
35 kai euyewv dihnoicyhsan autou ai akoai kai eluyh o desmov thv glwsshv autou kai elalei orywv

Here is Mark's favorite "straightway / immediately." It is interesting that what finally opens the deaf man's ears and heals his tongue is not the spit or the ear treatment, but the actual Word of Jesus. A reminder that the Word is the power behind all the "signs" - Baptism and Eucharist.

Notice that his speaking was "orthos" - plain, perhaps. But "rightly" might be more at it. So what he spoke was "straight" with the Lord. His healing results in orthodoxy!

36 Then He commanded them that they should tell no one; but the more He commanded them, the more widely they proclaimed it.
(Mark 7:36)
36 kai diesteilato autoiv ina mhdeni eipwsin oson de autov autoiv diestelleto mallon perissoteron ekhrusson

The contrast with the healing of the Gadarene demoniac is pronounced. Here the messianic secret is in full swing; there is it tossed. What gives, since it is the same territory? What results next in the Gospel is "in those days, the multitude being very great and having nothing to eat…." Was he trying to head this off? Especially the way in which our sinful flesh has a tendency to go for the healing and not the teaching?

37 And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
(Mark 7:37)
37 kai uperperisswv exeplhssonto legontev kalwv panta pepoihken kai touv kwfouv poiei akouein kai touv alalouv lalein

Echoes of Genesis: and it was good, and it was very good. Tov maod. In the flesh of the man Jesus we meet the Creator who is alone is able to restore His creation from the ravages to which sin and death had subjected it and to make it whole again. What He did for this man was but a sign of what He would do for all creation. This is good news that cannot not be told.


Goal: That the hearers be moved to bring to Jesus their friends and family who yet are deaf and dumb to the Word of God.
Malady: Still having ears that are closed and mouths that are bound shut when they were meant to be open to listen and open to speak and declare and sing our Savior's praise!
Means: Our Lord on his cross enters into our desolate loneliness and cut-off-ness from the Father, where he neither hears nor can speak the praises of God, but cries out in his anguish the sorrow of His aloneness: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" There he shattered our isolation by filling it with Himself, and so bringing us to God.
SLOG: The Word of Jesus in its sacramental fullness - the touch of His body and blood, the "spit" of His Baptism, and the speaking of His absolution to break through our deaf ears and to free our tongues to sing His praises, inviting and bringing others to join us in the worship of our Triune God by bestowing upon His forgiveness and pardon.


Scott Larkins said...

Totally off subject...

Farewell St. Solzhenitsyn! Thank God for your witness.
My hope is that in Christ we shall meet again!

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

One thing that stands out to me in this text is that in the healing, Christ demonstrates to the deaf man what He is about to do - these ears here are going to work, this tongue here is going to work.

Jesus does not want us to be in the dark as regards His actions for us. He wants us to know how He saves us, He wants us to know what we are receiving in His Supper, His Baptism.

It's a matter of wonderful care directed to the deaf man - Christ blesses this man with care. Likewise, Christ desires that we see and understand His blessings - means are used - means help us to understand God's forgiveness and to know where it may be found.

Jaxon said...

I would highly suggest for you, and any one else interested to read the book ""The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions." by self-professed secular Jew and mathematics/philosophies teacher David Berlinski.
This tells the story of a Jew who was forced to dig his own grave prior to being shot by a German soldier. Prior to being shot, the old Jewish man advised the German that “God is watching what you are doing.” The Jewish gentleman pointed what i think is the real problem with atheism. "If you have the time please check the book out