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 it reveals is that it is God’s nature to be more ready to hear than we to pray because our condition is more often than not lazy or slothful in relation to our spiritual well-being. 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 the intensity of its approach.
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 seeker, 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, the faith of a Gentile pagan realizes that she is rewarded with a gift that she desired but did not deserve. Her desire revealed a deep sense of God’s presence in Jesus which ran clean contrary to what the Jews should have desired also. Desire is love and love led the Syrophoenician woman to the light, which is the knowledge of God in Jesus Christ.
And now this morning we encounter a Jewish man who cannot so much as express his desire, let alone think about what he might or might not deserve. His friends, however, express his desireand so join in the acquisition of the gift that Jesus brings. 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 He finds silence in a man who 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….(Ibid, 33, 34)
Jesus took him aside from the multitude. The noise, the commerce, and the talk of the Jewish world threatened Jesus always. They had forgotten the silence of the wilderness which should have been at the forefront of any Jew’s understanding of the Word that saves men in a radical isolation from all other gods. Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth. (Psalm lxvi. 10) Jesus took him aside so that in solitude and silence, he might be more receptive of deep and lasting impressions, even as the same Lord does now oftentimes lead a soul apart, or takes away from its earthly companions and friends, when He would speak with it, and heal it, (Trench, The Miracles) This man needed to encounter God, in Jesus Christ, for the very first time.
With St. Paul, We are not sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; [for] our sufficiency [comes] from God. (2 Cor. iii. 4) My Grace is sufficient for thee. (2 Cor. xii. 19) The journey will be long, and He never promised that it would be easy. But if we desire and seek God, knowing that we have been deaf to His Word and are thus dumb because cannot hear so that we might speak, we must become babes in the hands of our Loving Saviour. We read that He put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue…. (St. Mark vii. 33,34) The difficulty involved in opening our ears and mouths to God’s healing is hard business. Jesus must share with us His hearing and His speaking. Thus, He places His fingers into the deaf man’s ears and touches His tongue. The basic and elementary nature of the actions is all significant for healing. Almost all other avenues of communication, save those of sight and feeling, were of necessity closed (Idem, Trench) to this man. Jesus must use the man’s seeing and feeling to stir his faith and belief that a blessing is immanent. Christ always comes to us where we are and makes use of what we have to lead us into deeper healing and sanctification. The man is a babe in Christ. Like a newborn babe, he sees and feels before he can hear and speak. Before the man can hear and speak, he must see and feel, with wonder and awe, the approaching God who will open his ears and unloose his tongue. 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 comes only by way of deepest sighing and groaning for what God alone can give. 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 so, as the Venerable Bede teaches us, [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). Jesus sighs or groans to show us that we must with deepest inward longing and desire ask the Lord to open our spiritual ears and unloose our spiritual tongues that so stubbornly and obstinately refuse to hear and speak of the truth that He brings. Jesus sighs or groans because He desires us more than we desire Him, and He longs to give to usmore than we either desire or deserve. (Collect)
The words of other men have initiated the miracle, but to become conscious of the power of God’s Word, we must come to know ourselves. Our Collect reveals the kind of miracle that we need. 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; they quiver and tremble before the presence of God. We become almost as nothing. Thus, 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 desires to open our ears. We are ashamed to speak, and yet He slowly but surely gives us those words that can praise His Visitation.
So, we read next that Jesus saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain.(St. Mark vii. 35) Jesus hears the Word of the Father. Jesus speaks the Father’s Word. The man now can both hear and speak. The deep impression of God’s heartfelt desire for his salvation now opens his heart to follow Jesus.
The miracle concludes: And he charged them that they should tell no man….(Ibid, 36, 37) The new miracle will take time to perfect. We must, without any fanfare, bragging, or boasting, patiently endure how God’s Word gives us the words sufficient for a deeper relation to Him. Jesus comes to welcome all men onto the journey of faith which He redeems and perfects. Now the difficult path to salvation must begin. Perhaps, we are deaf to God’s Word in Jesus Christ. Perhaps, we cannot speak of His truth. As Pope Benedict has said There is an inner closure that affects the person’s inmost self, which the Bible calls the “heart”. It is this that Jesus came to “open”, to liberate, so as to enable us to live to the full our relationship with God and with others. (Benedict XVI: September 9, 2012) Ephphatha, Jesus says, or Be Opened. Jesus longs to open our ears to the Word that He hears from the Father so that we too might exclaim He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak. (Ibid, 37)
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