“Opened Ears and Loosened Tongues” (Mark 7:31-37)
Have you ever imagined what it must be like to be deaf from birth? You have never heard your mother’s voice. You have never heard the cooing of a baby. You have never heard a bird chirp. You have never heard a congregation singing liturgy or hymns. You have never heard the rumble of trains and the revving of cars on State Avenue on Sunday morning. Even if you cover your ears as tight as you can, you will still not know what it is like to be deaf from birth.
It's unclear whether the man in today's Gospel reading was deaf from birth. However, we do learn that he “had a speech impediment” or as one translation puts it, he “could hardly talk.” (Mark 7: 32) Most people who have lost their hearing at some point in their life can usually be understood when they speak. However, those who have never heard a human voice have a much harder time forming and shaping words with their tongue and with their lips. Therefore, it is quite likely that this man had never heard anything in his entire life. For all intents and purposes he was mute as well. All he could probably manage to get out were a few unintelligible grunts or groans.
You and I are naturally deaf and mute. We are deaf to God’s Word and mute to confessing Him. We are deaf to God’s Word that tells us what not to do. Sometimes we act as if we have never heard God’s Commandments. The First Commandment tells us to have no other gods, but there are many things in our life that are more important to us than the only true God. The Second Commandment tells us not to misuse God’s name, but when is that last time we damned something or somebody and attached the name of God to our cursing? When is the last time we got so frustrated at some particular situation that we felt impelled to bring Jesus Christ into it? The Ninth and Tenth Commandments tell us not to covet, but I sure do wish I had a nice car or a nicer house like my neighbor does … and of course, my life would not be complete unless I had the latest version of the iPhone.
We are also deaf to God’s Word that tells us what to do. The Fourth Commandment tells us to honor our father and mother, but to you young people: when is the last time you talked back to your mom or dad and sat down with that terrible pout on your face? Dr. Luther tells us in his explanation to the Fifth Commandment to “help and befriend [our neighbor] in every bodily need,” but when is the last time you offered to bring a meal over to someone who was sick and too weak to fix dinner? The good doctor also tells us in his explanation to the Sixth Commandment that “husband and wife [are to] love and honor each other,” but when the going gets rough, the temptation is to just take off and throw your marriage away.
Yes, indeed, by nature we are deaf to God’s Word. And we are also mute. We do not speak up to defend injustice when we see it, in particular standing up for the unborn.
We neglect to exhort or admonish our brothers and sisters in Christ when we see them sinning. “After all,” we think to ourselves, “who am I to judge?” St. Paul’s words in Galatians 6 go unnoticed, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” (Gal. 6:1 ESV) This is our responsibility as brothers and sisters in Christ … not to act superior as if we were without sin, but to lead people back to a repentant and God-pleasing life.
Most unfortunately, we are mute when it comes to confessing the name of Christ in a world that does not acknowledge Him as God and Savior. A perfect opportunity presents itself to you to tell someone about Jesus, but you pass it by and don’t say a word. It’s as if your tongue was all tied up in knots.
But listen to this Word for you today, my dear friends. Don’t be deaf to this most important message. Are you listening? Your Savior Jesus became deaf and mute for you. He died for your deafness and for your tied-up tongues.
Jesus was deaf to the devil’s taunts and temptations that would keep him from going to the cross. When Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness, he presented Jesus with the easy way out. “You want people to acknowledge you as God? Then throw yourself down from the temple,” Satan told Jesus. When Jesus was hanging on the cross, Satan’s voice came through the voices of the mocking crowd: “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross … He saved others; he cannot save himself … let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.” (Matt. 27:40, 42 ESV) But Jesus was deaf to Satan’s temptations and finished His work, His work of dying for the sins of the world.
Jesus was mute when he was on trial. During his trial, he was mocked and tortured, and he willingly suffered it all for you. Isaiah foretold this when he prophesied, “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7 ESV) Jesus had no defense attorney at his trial. The innocent Son of God did not need one. But he was condemned to die nonetheless, because he allowed himself to be mute before the accusations of the crowd.
Jesus became deaf and mute for you so that he could die for the ways in which you and I are deaf and mute. God the Holy Spirit works through this precious message to open our ears and loosen our tongues. It is God’s Word that breaks through our deafness and muteness.
Even for the deaf man, it was the Word of Jesus that healed him, although in this case it was a visible word. Jesus used sign language with him. He touched the man’s ears, telling him that he will hear again. He spat and touched the man’s tongue, telling him that he will speak again. Jesus looked up to heaven, telling him the source of his healing. And Jesus sighed, perhaps to tell the man that heaven’s help is sought by an earnest longing. It wasn’t the touching or the spitting that mattered. It was the Word of Jesus. The Word of Jesus given here to the man in sign language was intended to work faith in his heart. And this is not because the man's healing was dependent upon his faith. It is because creating faith is the real reason why Jesus came … not to give healing as a result of someone's faith, but to give salvation received through the gift of faith.
The Word of Jesus works in the same way in us. He opens our ears to hear the Word properly. Now, we can hear the Word that condemns our sin. We can hear the Word that leads us to repentance. And we can hear the Word that says your sins are forgiven.
“Ephphatha!” Jesus said to the man, which is Aramaic for “Be opened.” “Be opened” means not just ears and mouth, but the whole person is opened or released. Jesus’ command is that which shatters the chains by which Satan has held his victim bound. The man was deaf not because of any particular sin which he had committed but because of the effects of sin in the world.
In a similar way, you were once bound by sin and the effects of sin. But now through the death and resurrection of Jesus you are set free. In Baptism your old sinful nature that is deaf and mute was drowned, and a new man with perfect hearing and a golden tongue was created.
Our tongue has been loosed to confess His name and truth rightly. After his tongue was loosed, the text says that the man spoke “plainly.” The word can also be translated “rightly.” It’s the word from which we get the word “orthodox” which means “right teaching” or “right worship,” for we truly worship God rightly as we teach rightly about Him.
Now, you and I, in the power of the Holy Spirit, can speak plainly as we tell others about Jesus, tell them the simple Gospel message. And we also can speak rightly, being concerned with pure doctrine, for we must speak the truth of God in its entirety. Whatever is truth, that is what we must be concerned about. And if it’s God’s truth, how much more should we be concerned that we listen to and study God’s Word, not only to know the truth, but to speak the truth. St Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4, It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak. (2 Cor. 4:13 NIV) Speaking and confessing naturally flows from knowing and believing.
And so in worship, through ears and hearts which have been miraculously opened, God speaks to us in His Word. With our tongues that have been loosed to praise him and confess him, we say back to Him what is most true and sure, that which is in His Word. We confess the Creeds of the Church, the summary of the orthodox faith of the ages. We join our voices with Christians across the miles and across the centuries in our hymns and in our liturgy. And we take His truth with us from this place and continue to confess it with our lips and with our lives.