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 is rarely remembered. 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 prayer for those needs. God hears in order to give, and what He gives is more than either we desire or deserve. The weakness of the will or desire is entirely on our side. In desiring Him more, we shall begin to receive the pure gift of His mercy, and begin to become acclimated to 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. He lives under the conditions of fallen humanity. Just prior to the portion of the Gospel that we have read this morning, we meet a Syrophoenician woman who had no problem petitioning Jesus to heal her ill-bewitched and possessed (M.Henry) daughter, who had an unclean spirit (St. Mark vii. 25). Because she knew that she deserved nothing, she craved the morsels or fragments of that healing power emanating from Christ all the more. She honored the promises first made to the Jews but would claim also the Gentiles’ rightful share in them. She fell down and worshiped Him and cried, Lord help me. (Matt. xv. 25) Jesus provokes her. Let the children first be filled, for it is not meet to take the children’s bread and to cast it unto the dogs. (Ibid, 27) Jesus sees into her heart and fuels her faith, hope, and love. She said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table. (Ibid, 28) Jesus responded, O Woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee, even as thou wilt. (Ibid, 29) Because she believed that even fragments of holiness coming from Jesus would be packed full of Divine Power, the devil left her tormented daughter. The Gentile woman is better than a privaleged child. She is a dog who yelps instinctively until God in Jesus feeds and heals both her and her daughter. Her faithful need leads her to know God in Man. Need brings the Syrophenician woman into God’s light, which is the knowledge of God. Knowledge compels faithful desire for all that God can give.
And now this morning we find that the privaleged Jewish Children of Promise have been rendered deaf and mute. The Jew cannot express his desire. 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, with religious folk, and yet here we find a man who symbolizes the Jews’ deaf and dumb relation to God. What ensues is not a conversation at all. Jesus the Word had spoken to the Syrophoenician woman because she had articulated her powerlessness and then her belief in and desire for the Word of Promise. But here is silence because the man is deaf and mute and so a silent prayer is offered by 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) The dog knew instinctively what she needed. Here, Man needs to be healed with a kind of tangible demonstration of identification. From the senses Jesus moves to the spirit. Having cured the man physically, Jesus can now lead the man to the spiritual good. Now the man can be taught what he should desire truly –the healing of his soul, which the Syro-Phoenician woman knew instintively. 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 to show that we must with deepest inward longing pray the Lord to open those ears and unloose those tongues that so obstinately resist His desire and ignore His truth. Jesus sighs or groans because we must seek out His healing from the innermost core of our spiritual being so that He might give to us so [much] more than we either desire or deserve. (Collect) We read next that straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain.(St. Mark vii. 35) The letter killeth but the Spirit giveth life. Jesus gives us life. God is a Spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in truth. (St. John iv. 24)
And Jesus charged them that they should tell no man….(Ibid, 36, 37) Jesus’ ministry is not about about physical healing or the letter. The true healing that Jesus brings to mankind is the healing of the soul’s desire and the conversion of the inward man. The true healing is the birth of faith that prays for salvation. Faith believes and then understands and loves. And so the real miracle in this morning’s Gospel that Jesus intends is that birth of faith in the human soul that leads to knowledge and the healing love of God. 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 need that compels faith to long for one kind of healing and yet then discovers and desires 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 forgiveness to receive through the labors of habitual confession. 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, 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 speaks to us. We are ashamed to speak, and yet He slowly but surely unloosens our tongues. 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 seek out what we need, believe in Jesus, come to know His power and desire His healing Love. 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) 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) Again, with St. Paul, we must confess that We are not sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; [for] our sufficiency [comes] from God. (2 Cor. iii. 4) Our sufficiency is the result of God’s hard work in Jesus Christ, His desire transforming our need into faithful desire, His truth broadening and deepening our faith, and His love perfecting us. The journey will be long, and He never promised that it would be easy. But if we need Him, believe in Him, know Him, and desire Him, 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 and lavishly, as thou wouldest want me to do. (To Live with Christ, p.552)
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons