26. August 2012
The Sunday of the Deaf Mute
In the holy name + of Jesus. Amen.
When the Word of God speaks, the Word of God works. Jesus, the Word incarnate, speaks and thus does. Jesus’ miracles are not simply a result of some inborn supernatural powers. His touch is powerful but what gives his fingers that great ability? Even the hem of his garment seems endowed with magical pixie dust, stopping the woman’s bleeding, but surely it is not the fabric itself that does this great thing? The spit of Jesus placed on the man’s tongue works breaks the bonds that keep him from speaking, right?
The hands of God formed the heavens and the earth. “He’s got the whole world in his hands,” we sing. When you read Genesis, where does God use his hands? Only when He forms the man from the earth. This man of dust is still dust. His chest does not rise and fall. The newly created blood doesn’t pulse through his veins and arteries. There is no life in him. The supernatural creating of Adam from nothing still lacks life. Adam is no different than a potter’s vessel, lifeless and fragile. He is lovingly created, beautiful but inanimate.
It is not until God breathes on the stick figure that he comes to life. For God, to breathe is to speak. He said, “Let there be” and there was. God breathed His Word on all that He had made and it was. Awesome hands, fantastic imagination, but still lifeless until He speaks “Let there be!”
Many of the old baptismal practices attempted to create today’s Gospel. Immediately after the little exorcism that still begins our rite, the priest would touch his thumb to his spittle and then the nostril and ears of the one to be baptized. He would say “Ephphatha” which means “be opened!” The change of touching the nostrils instead of the mouth was made quite early by the Church, at least by the fourth or fifth century. St. Ambrose said: “For the sake of propriety the nostrils are touched instead of the tongue.”
It is nice to remember today’s Gospel in the context of baptism. Anytime Jesus works with water, especially His water, we ought to recall Holy Baptism. Is the priest’s spittle somehow endued with spiritual power? Is this precious bodily fluid a holy water? What makes the water holy anyway? And also, does Jesus spitting and touching the man’s tongue or sticking His fingers in the deaf mute’s ears do anything?
It’s not that it couldn’t but that it didn’t. The man was just as deaf and mute after Jesus’ earthy touch. Remember that they brought to [Jesus] a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. The good friends of this man wanted Jesus to touch him. They wanted a miracle from those magic hands. Their faith was weak with a faulty view of the means of God.
That’s not how Jesus works. He uses hands, spittle, garment fringes, water, fish, bread, and wine to do great things. These things are powerless of themselves. As we confess with Holy Baptism, it is not the water that does such great things but the Word of God in and with the water that does them. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”
The seeming magic spittle, tongue touching, and ear stopping did not do any great thing. They pointed to the place where healing would happen. When Jesus speaks, the Word of God does the healing. For the sake of His cross and resurrection, our heavenly Father hears His intercession. The Father hears the Spirit of Jesus sighing and crying out “Be opened” and does what the Son asks.
When water is poured over the infant, the toddler, the teenager, or the adult, sin is drowned and death destroyed. Not because the water alone washes away sin or kills death but rather the water with the Word “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” does this. The Word works through water.
So why not just say, “Ephphatha” and be done with it? Why not simply do what is needed without the friends bringing the man or the man receiving the ear and tongue treatment? Jesus cares about your faith. While He very well could make all things well, He desires for you to know and believe that is He that does great things for you.
Luther spoke of the larvae Dei, the masks of God. God works but often hidden behind masks. He nurtures you by your parents. He keeps you from being alone with a spouse. He consoles you with good friends. He feeds you by the farmer. He heals you by the physician. He catechizes you by your pastor. He governs you by civil authorities. He protects you with the law.
We (and most of the world) are tempted to think these things come in an of themselves. They are instruments or masks of God, given to you to provide for you exactly in the way God has promised. God is at work blessing you through all his various masks. What then if you are not as blessed as you think you ought to be? What if your parents are dead? What if your spouse has left you? What if the friend has stabbed you in the back? What if you go hungry or continue to be sick? What if your pastor has neglected you? What if the government has betrayed you? What if your safety is in jeopardy as the neighborhood has gone to hell? Does this mean God has abandoned you?
This is the problem with relying upon the mask rather than faith that trusts God is at work behind them. When you don’t have them, you think God is absent. Repent. God works when and where He wills according to His good pleasure. He will never abandon you to death. He will always provide for your every need and well supply them. He is at work preserving your life both for service now and into eternity.
Repent and believe. It is not the means that do these great things but the promise of Jesus that does them. What Jesus says, Jesus does. It doesn’t require His touch, His burial shroud, or His loving embrace. Jesus does when Jesus speaks. The pinky in the ear or on the tongue does not do such great things but the Word “Be opened!” does them.
When Jesus speaks, the chains that bind tongues are released and we proclaim his name. When Jesus speaks, ears are unstopped and are once again listen. When Jesus speaks, Satan’s accusations are silenced. When Jesus speaks, troubled souls are comforted. When Jesus speaks, sins are forgiven. When Jesus speaks, death is destroyed. When Jesus speaks, heaven is opened to all who believe. When Jesus speaks, it is finished.
Jesus does great stuff with His body and not just spitting, touching tongues, stopping ears. He is the Son of God whose divine natures is united personally with his human nature. That means His body is like ours in every way but without the condition of sin. Unlike us, Jesus knows his body is given to be used for others. His body also has the Word promise: “Your seed shall crush the serpent’s head.” When he heals this deaf and mute man, the serpent is wounded. When he hangs from the cross, dead, the serpent is crushed. When he touches the man’s ears and says “Be opened!” they were physically. Now he says to us “listen to me” and the multitudes come to know and believe eternally.
This is why Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they preached it. Jesus isn’t about keeping secrets but He is about making absolutely sure that you trust in His Word and not mere acts.
It is as if He had said, “Look, guys. I know you wanted me to reach out and touch your friend. And yes, I did stick my fingers in his ears and spit on my finger and touched his tongue. But listen, did you notice those things didn’t do anything? Did you notice your friend didn’t start listening or talking until I prayed to my heavenly Father and spoke? No, of course you missed that. You still think I’ve got a miracle touch. But just you wait. When I fulfill all that was said of me by Moses, the Psalmist, and the Prophets, then you’ll get it. When I speak to you through the mouth of my apostles, gifted by the Holy Spirit, then you’ll get it. You’ll have new ears that hear and new tongues that speak.”
Christians, listen! Hear Jesus and live. Listen and speak. Speak and sing of what He has done for you. he has done all things well. Deaf sinners are now hearing believers. Mute unbelievers are now bold Christian confessors. This is why Lutheran hymnody doesn’t sing about Jesus carrying us, touching us, or walking with us. Listen to any of the popular Christian anthems today and they sound like bad love songs written to Jesus. Our hymns sing of what Christ has said. He has spoken and we listen. We listen and then we sing. All things done well by the Word of God.
Even the most misguided person is God’s mask, work for His good and gracious will in this world. All are masks. Christians are special masks. Even misguided believers do a great thing by bringing their deaf mute (spiritually) friends to hear Jesus. And when all come into His Service, He speaks and they listen. When they listen, their ears are unstopped and their bond tongues loosed to speak and sing boldly of Jesus Christ crucified for them. Sins are forgiven. Debts are paid. Death is destroyed. The promise of eternal life is given.
Jesus says, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened!” And it is so. Thanks be to God!
To God alone be the glory. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church