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 rehearsed habitually but rarely remembered. 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 often otherwise occupied and, thus, slothful in relation to our spiritual well-being. God hears in order to give, and what He gives is, as the Collect continues, more than either we desire or deserve. (Idem) The failure of zeal, alacrity, and dispatch is on our side. In desiring Him more, we shall receive the abundance of His mercy and the intensity of its Power.
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 prior to this morning’s Gospel, 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 fragments of Jesus’ healing power that she knew could cure her demonized child. She was not a Jewish petitioner 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) The response that 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 fragments of the holiness that He has brought into the world, the devil would be expelled from her tormented daughter. The faith of this Gentile realizes that she is rewarded with a gift that she desired but did not deserve. Her desire was born from a deep sense of God’s presence in Jesus, which His own fellow Jews missed. Desire follows love. This woman loved her daughter and so was led to the light and power of God in Jesus Christ.
Now, this morning, we encounter a Jewish man who cannot so much as express his desire and has no idea about what he might or might not deserve. His friends, however, express his desire for him and seek the power 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 Jewish people, amongst men with pretensions to religion. Yet here we find a man who images 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. We read: And Jesus 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. Noise and commerce drown out the silence that Jesus draws from to impart God’s Grace to us. The silence of the wilderness should have been remembered by the Jews, who heard God’s Word and experienced His Power only when they had been put to silence. 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, as Archbishop Trench reminds us. (Trench, The Miracles) This man needed to find God in Jesus Christ for the very first time. His healing can come about only from a deep and lasting impression of the Word heard for the first time and, thus, alone capable of unloosing his tongue.
With St. Paul, the deaf mute man would come to realize that we are not sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; [for] our sufficiency [comes] from God. (2 Cor. iii. 4) We, with the deaf and mute man have a long journey ahead of us. But if we desire and seek God, knowing that we have been deaf to His Word and are thus dumb, we can learn to hear Christ the Word and speak His truth to the world. We read that Jesus put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue…. (St. Mark vii. 33,34) 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. The fingers are put into the ears as to bore them, to pierce through the obstacles which hindered sounds from reaching the seat of hearing. (Idem) First, we hear. Second, we speak. The tongue must be touched and pried from the roof of the mouth into motion to repeat what it has heard. Like a newborn babe, this handicap sees and feels before he can hear and speak. Thus, with wonder and awe, this man sees and feels as the approaching God opens his ears and unlooses 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)
The man is new to hearing and speaking. The Lord must link his physical actions to the power that He instills from on High for the man to understand.
Through His human nature, Jesus will identify Himself with the fallen condition of man. As He cures the deaf mute man, looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. (ibid, 34) The power to heal comes from Christ’s unity with the Father in Heaven. Christ sighs in response to the wreck that sin had brought about, of the malice of the devil in deforming the fair features of God’s…creation, wringing a groan from his heart. (idem, Trench) 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) So, as the Venerable Bede teaches us, [Jesus] looks up to Heaven to teach us that it 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…. (Ibid, 2). Jesus sighs to show us that we must with deepest inward groaning desire to ask the Lord to give us spiritual hearing and speaking because we obstinately refuse to hear and speak of the truth that He brings. Jesus sighs or groans because He desires us more than we Him, and longs to give us more than we desire or deserve. (Collect)
The words of other men have started this miracle on course to fruition. But to become conscious of the power of God’s Word, we must ask it for 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) Our souls fear 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 about ourselves, we become conscious of the horror and shame of the past lives we have lived. Our consciences are afraid; they tremble before the presence of Almighty God. We approach our primordial and primitivenothingness. In the presence of God’s Word, Jesus Christ, we pray for those good things which we are not worthy to ask. (Collect) We do not deserve to hear, and yet God desires to open our spiritual ears. We are ashamed to speak, and yet His Word slowly but surely gives us those words that can praise His Visitation.
Jesus says 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 and speaks His Word. The man now can both hear and speak simply of the wonderful works of God. The deep impression of God’s heartfelt desire for his salvation now opens his heart to thank Jesus.
And he charged them that they should tell no man….(Ibid, 36, 37) The new miracle will take time to perfect. Without any fanfare or boasting, we must patiently allow God’s Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, to give us the words to plead the merits of His visitation. Perhaps, we are deaf to God’s Word and cannot speak His truth. As Pope Benedict writes, 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…to enable us to live to the full our relationship with God and with others. (Benedict XVI: September 9, 2012) Ephphatha, Be Opened, Jesus says. Jesus longs to open the ears of our hearts so that we might have what we neither desire nor deserve through His merits and mediation. (Idem) Christ calls us to follow Him quietly to His Cross. There, we shall see and hear how He offers Himself completely to us. There, we must plead the merits of His all-sufficient Sacrifice and Death. There, we must plead His mediation that begins from the Cross and extends into Resurrection and Ascension’s Eternity. From Heaven, He is our only Mediator and Advocate. Then, we shall 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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