ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear
than we to pray, and art wont to give more than either we desire or
deserve…(Collect Trinity XII)
The Collect for the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity expresses a truth that although commonly spoken is rarely remembered. And the truth is that it is in God’s nature to listen and respond to man’s needs always, and that our natures are more often than not lazy or slothful in the supplication of those needs. God hears in order to give, and what He gives is more than either we desire or deserve. The weakness of desire is entirely on our side. In desiring Him more, we shall begin to receive the pure gift of His mercy, and so receive His superabundant desire for us.
The deaf and dumb man described in today's Gospel is an image of that spiritual condition that neither desires nor deserves what God longs to give. The man can neither hear nor speak. But just prior to the portion of the Gospel that we have read this morning, we meet a Syrophoenician woman who had no problem speaking up and begging Jesus to heal her daughter, who had an unclean spirit (St. Mark vii. 25). She may not have felt that she deserved anything, but that didn’t stop her from desiring morsels or fragments of that healing power that she knew could cure her demonized child. She was not a Jewish supplicant but a Gentile pagan,
and so was provoked by Jesus, who reminded her that [God’s] children should first be filled; for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and cast it to dogs. (Ibid, 27) But the response which Jesus anticipated and desired to elicit from her was brilliant. She said, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs. (Ibid, 28) Jesus told the woman that because of her faith and desire for the morsels and fragments of holiness that He carried into the world, the devil would be expelled from her tormented daughter. So a Gentile woman’s faith fulfills her desire for what she knew and confessed she did not deserve. Her desire led her to God, to the knowledge of who God is, in a way that her neighbours the Jews who were preparing and praying for a Messiah
did not. Desire is love, and love led the Syrophoenician woman to the light, which is the knowledge of God. Desire can be a guide if it is a desire for truth and goodness.
And now this morning we encounter a Jewish man who cannot so much as express his desire, let alone meditate upon what he might or might not have deserved. His friends have to ask Jesus to heal him on his behalf. We read: And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they
beseech him to put his hand upon him.(Ibid, 32) Jesus is back in the land of the faithless Pharisees, the land of his own Chosen People, in the environment of religious folk, and yet here we find a man who symbolizes and embodies the Jews’ deaf and dumb relation to God. What ensues is not a conversation at all. Jesus had spoken to the Syrophoenician woman because she spoke to him. But here is silence because the man is deaf and mute, and so a silent prayer is offered from Jesus to His Father. (Jesus always takes people where they are, and then leads them into healing and new life.) And so we read: And he took him aside from the multitude, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him,
Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. (Ibid, 33, 34) Pseudo-Chrysostom tells us that, Because of the sin of Adam, human nature had suffered much and had been wounded in its senses and in its members. But Christ coming into the world revealed to us, in Himself, the perfection of human nature; and for this reason he opened the ears with His fingers, and gave speech by the moisture of his tongue. (Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, iv. 2) Through His human nature, Jesus will identify himself with the fallen condition of man. Having cured the man of his physical handicaps, He can now call the man to the pursuit of his spiritual good. Now the man can be taught what he should truly desire – the healing of his soul, which is far more important than the healing of his body. And so [Jesus] looks up to Heaven to teach us that is from there that the dumb must seek speech, the deaf hearing, and all who suffer healing. He [sighed or] groaned, not because he needed to seek with groaning anything from the Father…but that he might give us an example of groaning, when we must call upon the assistance of the heavenly mercy, in our own or our neighbours’ miseries (Ibid, 2) as the Venerable Bede teaches us. Jesus sighs or groans, illustrating that we must with deepest inward longing and desire ask the Lord to open those ears and unloose those tongues that so stubbornly and obstinately resist His desire and ignore His truth. Jesus sighs or groans because He desires us more than we desire Him, and He longs to give to us so [much] more than we either desire or deserve. (Collect) And so we read next: And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain.(St. Mark vii. 35) Jesus speaks to his Father, his Father responds, and the healing flows through Jesus into the man.
Now the miracle concludes with what we read next: And he charged them that they should tell no man….(Ibid, 36, 37) Jesus’ ministry is neither essentially nor predominantly about physical healings. The true healing that Jesus brings to mankind is the healing of desire, of the soul and spirit, or the transformation and conversion of the inward man. The true healing is the birth of faith, as the soul begins to seek out what it neither desires nor deserves.(Collect) Desire leads to faith, and faith is the knowledge of God. And so the real miracle in this
morning’s Gospel that Jesus intends to bring about is that birth of faith in the human soul. This is why he charges both the recipient of the miracle and the eye-witnesses to tell no man. Because true healing is inward and invisible, slow and progressive, it calls for neither boasting nor bragging. The true miracle is the inward desire that begins as a longing for one kind of healing, yet then becomes faith in one of far greater importance. And so in light of today’s miracle, Jesus intends that the desire He has ignited should quietly, humbly,
reverently, and even slowly follow Him into the deeper truth that He will reveal. So Jesus teaches us not to expect in our spiritual lives the kind of instantaneous change that cured the deaf and dumb man. After all, there is much to confess, much to shed, much to forgive and more to forget. Few men have radical and abrupt conversions. Rather, the miracle of conversion is a time-tried, habit forming process that may take as long as a lifetime before it is perfected.
Our Collect for today reveals to us the kind of miracle we are after. In it we pray, Pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy; forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask, but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord. (Collect) Within our souls we are conscious of past sins; the remembrance of them is grievous unto us, and the burden of them is intolerable. (General Confession: HC Service, BCP 1928) When we are given spiritual ears with which to hear the truth of ourselves, we begin to become conscious of the horror and shame of the past lives we have lived. Our consciences are afraid and seared, as they quiver and tremble before the presence of God. And so we realize in the presence of God’s Word, Jesus Christ, that we need those good things which we are not worthy to ask. (Collect) We do not deserve to hear, and yet God begins to open our ears. We are ashamed to speak, and yet He slowly but surely unloosens our tongues. And so we can begin to pray, Pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy, today. We are made worthy through merits and mediation of Jesus Christ (Collect) alone. The new miracle will take time to perfect. So we must, without any fanfare, bragging, or boasting, patiently endure the slow healing of our desire and faith that leads to salvation. With St. Paul, we
ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body…. [For]
we hope for [what] we [do not yet]see…[and so] we with patience wait for it. (Romans viii. 23) And yet, if we patiently endure God’s compassion and mercy towards us, we shall discover His love and long to embrace the gift of His Grace – what we neither desire nor deserve. (Collect)
So today, my friends, we pray for a miracle. What is the miracle? First, with St. Paul, the consciousness that [w]e are not sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; [for] our sufficiency [comes] from God. (2 Cor. iii. 4) Second, that our sufficiency is the result of God’s hard work, His enduring labor, His desire enflaming and expanding our desire, His truth broadening and deepening our faith, and His establishing and securing us more and more in His knowledge and love through Jesus Christ our Lord. The journey will be long, and He never promised that it would be easy. But if we desire and seek, believe and follow, our ears will be
opened and our mouths unstopped, our hearts will be softened and our lives will be changed. In closing, let us pray with that great old Swedish Lutheran Bishop Bo Giertz, who expresses with simplicity and honesty that spiritual desire and the faith that we seek:
I want to open my heart and my entire self for thee like this, Lord Jesus.
Only thou canst help me to do that. Say thy powerful ‘Ephphatha’ to
my soul. Command my heart to open up even in its inmost hiding places
to receive thee and thy glory. Command my tongue to be untied so that I may
praise thee and speak kind words to others, words that carry warmth, and healing,
and blessing with them. Command my complete essence to open up so that I can receive
for nothing and give for nothing, richly andlavishly, as thou wouldest want me to do.
(To Live with Christ, p.552)
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons