Text: Mark 7:31-37
Date: Pentecost XV + Proper 18 + 9/6/15
It’s great to be popular. Students especially in high school know and rally around those they perceive as the most popular fellow student. Among Christians there is a certain satisfaction when you see people drawn to a particular church where there is the most popular preacher or organist. Today St. Mark closes off this major section of his Gospel at the height of Jesus’ popularity. But there is a problem even a danger in being popular. For usually popularity is gained for only the most surface of reasons but which lack depth and therefore real significance. The most popular student can be lured into the same sins or difficulties as anyone else. Everyone who surfs the television channels has run across Joel Osteen whose positive thinking message seems very popular indeed. Yet mere positive thinking cannot deliver you from the depths of fear, worry, sin or death. And now at the height of Jesus’ popularity, after he restores hearing and clear speech to a man once deaf, “Jesus charged them to tell no one.” It’s not the first time we’ve heard this command to secrecy.
We have been hearing over and over again how people, even His own disciples, often misunderstood Jesus and His mission. And it is especially at the most public of His words and works that people are most tempted to misunderstand Him. Recall after the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 how the crowd tried to come and take Jesus by force to make him king (Jn 6:15), or Jesus’ command to silence after three of His disciples witnessed His Transfiguration (Mk 9:9). All through the Bread of Life discourse of John chapter six we see the increasing confusion and finally rejection of Jesus because they could not understand His words. And today just think of people’s misconceptions not only of Jesus but of Christians and the Christian Church. And we seem to be entering an especially dark time when there are calls to silence or even punish Christians in the public square. No. To think of Jesus as a bread king, a healer, a miracle worker misses the point all together. And to think of the Church just as a group of people hopelessly lost to an outdated theology or morality never comes close to hearing the truth.
We heard Isaiah’s prediction, “Behold, your God will come…. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped” (Is 35:4-5). So here comes Jesus restoring sight to the blind and hearing and speech to the deaf. The proper conclusion is that Jesus must be God, God come to redeem, restore and release His whole creation from the ravages of sin and the darkness of death.
This was Gentile territory going “through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis” or ten cities. In this and more ways we remember that God’s salvation has come through the Jews to all people including the Gentiles. “God so loved the world.” That the people brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, begging him to lay his hand on him means at least that they have heard of Jesus’ growing reputation.
Though Mark tells us that Jesus took the man aside from the crowd privately, it still was a very public miracle. After a little sign language meaning He was going to do something about the man’s deafness and speech, He drew his attention to God by looking up to heaven and sighing, that is, praying. Then, “Ephphatha!” “Be opened.” “And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.” I wonder what he said. What would you say? Again, this was a very public miracle so Mark tells us that Jesus charge them, not just him, to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And what did they all say about what they had just witnessed? I’ll bet they didn’t make the connection with Isaiah 35!
To follow Jesus only on the evidence of His miraculous works does not yet tell the whole story, the whole story of why deafness? why blindness? why illness, injury or death? The answer to all these fundamental questions will take nothing less than…the cross; the story of Jesus isn’t complete until the cross and the empty tomb; that great transaction where Jesus became blind and deaf for us as Isaiah proclaimed, “Hear, you deaf, and look, you blind, that you may see! Who is blind but my servant, or deaf as my messenger whom I send? Who is blind as my dedicated one, or blind as the servant of the Lord? (Is 42:18-19). For the centurion’s daughter (Mt 9:22), the widow’s only son (Lk 7:14), the calling forth of Lazarus from the tomb, and to provide for us victory over death, He himself had to die. But He died for us. He died our death.
“And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.’” Well, you see, the man who was deaf and had a speech impediment was not the only one deaf to what God was saying through Jesus that day. And so for people to truly understand Jesus and His Church, then to truly believe in Him takes nothing less than the greatest miracle our Lord has ever performed; not walking on the water, not healing a few sick people, not feeding thousands. The greatest miracle God ever performs is the miracle of faith, the miracle when you say, “I believe,” faith in the God who sent His Son to redeem and restore His creation and all people, faith in Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
So here we are to once again have our ears and eyes opened to hear and see and perceive the great deliverance of God for you. He touches us invisibly with His very body and blood, taking away our sin and God’s judgment along with it, restoring us to be God’s family, brothers and sisters of our brother, our Lord, our great high priest, our Savior, our Lord and God.
Yes, it’s great to be popular. It’s even greater to sing the miracle of faith.
Voices raised to You we offer;
Tune them, God, for songs of praise.
Hearts and hands we bring in tribute
For Your gifts through all our days.
Triune God, to You we sing! (LSB 795:1)
Praised be Jesus Christ.