“Taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, "Ephphatha," that is, "Be opened." And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, "He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak" (Mark 7:31-37)
Be opened. Hear the Word of God. He has done all things well. As Isaiah prophesized "In that day the deaf shall hear" and "the eyes of the blind shall be opened" and "The captives will be set free" and "those who sit in darkness will be released into a glorious light." Amen.
Like the deaf man my hearing is not so great. Now don't get me wrong I can hear noises just fine. When my alarm clock blasts off in the morning it pierces my ear with a terrible beeping that pounds my eardrums. When I pray a morning prayer and psalm I can hear the words that I am speaking. I can hear the cascading water in the shower and I can hear my cereal being poured. I can hear my coffee brewing - the hot steam, the sound of baking roasted Columbian beans, and the dripping into the pot.
As much as I hear however, my ears are closed. And my heart turned inward. I am not open to God’s creation with a thankful heart. I am concerned about my reputation, my own self preservation, my own desires and personal plans.
I need help to hear God calling into being each new day. I need eyes to see the sunrise and hear the breaking of the morning light. I cannot hear, nor see, nor feel, nor smell if he does not first come to me. I need him to move me out of my own self interest. Cut me down in my personal ambitions and free me to live among the people of God. I cannot truly see and hear the students of Saint Paul’s filing into their classes without God’s help. I need the fingers of our Lord, His touch, and his speaking to set me free.
Like the deaf man, man we need to be brought to Jesus and rescued. This rescuing, however, I think, hardly comes in the way we think it does. While we may expect a spiritual experience or awakening, or maybe a reconversion, or a flash of lighting...he comes quite unexpectedly in another way.
God does not just sit up in heaven and look down on us and think that we are special. He loves us in a completely different way. In Mark's Gospel Jesus receives this deaf man that is brought to him by the crowd. He gently takes him aside and plunges his fingers into the man's dirty ears, spits, and touches the mans tongue.
Now this is actually pretty darn gross and just plain strange. God is supposed to be holy and the king of the universe. He is supposed to be sitting on a throne in heaven with armies of angels. He is supposed to be commanding the winds and the seas in his glorious splender. Spitting and puting fingers in the ears of a deaf man does not really seem like something the mighty God we imagine might do.
Though he is certainy these things - holy and powerful - we must know that his holiness and glory is not about being in far places in the lofty heights of heaven. His holiness is not because his sovereign might and omnipotence. He does not look at us from a distance and play with us as if we were his mere play things for leisure.
His holiness and comfort for us is that he is a man. He makes himself accessible - to be heard, seen, tasted, and felt. He approaches his church on earth - approaches the deaf man - approaches us - He comes as our Lord who is so comfortable in His creation. He comes as the Lord who walks with us in the noisiness and cool of the day. Our Lord is actually one who spits.
As a baseball player confidently steps toward the plate to bat, he spits in the dust, readying his arms and hands for working a miracle. All is being made ready by his moving toward Calvary. Carrying the cross he moistens the the dusty path with tears and blood. Arms and hands are stretched out to part the red sea and his opened side floods pharoah and all his armies.
On Christ's Holy Cross He lays hold of us. Lays hold of our ears and eyes. Lays holds of our mouths so that we may glorify him by hearing and speaking forgiveness and love to one another. He puts himself right in between us. In the dirt and muck of our lives he attends to us. In the brokenness of our relationships, in the depression in our families, even in the horrifying stories on the nighttime news He makes a home for himself and sets to work by opening us all up.
And he is not afraid to get down and dirty. Our Lord is not a germophobe. He comes as one who washes dirty and calloused feet. The Lord makes Peter blush as he stoops down low to unbuckle dusty sandals. He does not ask that we clean up our act before we can stand before him. He does not ask the deaf man to clean out his own ears. He does not ask him to dedicate himself to any political or spiritual cause. Jesus simply grabs the man without any proper introduction. He spits – touches the man’s tongue – and says “Efeta – be opened!”
He speaks the very first words of creation again, "You are free to eat from any tree of the garden..Take eat...take drink."
Our Lord descends into the river Jordan not to be cleansed but rather to bathe himself in the brokenness of the world - its cursed stains - to take our brokenness into his own body - which shall not be broken on the cross - but resurrected and ascended into heaven. He carries us to church, opens our ears and hands that we may lay hold of him and one another. He comes as a servant, who sets the table, folds the napkins, arranging a spot for us. He prepares the meal and fills the glasses which runneth over.
At this place, our Lord is actively at work here. He opens himself up on the cross, pours himself out for the redemption of the world. In the Holy Gospel we read "And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly." To be freed and to speak plainly means to speak back to God what he speaks to us. To have our tongues loosed from bondage means that we speak truth. The truth which sings of our faith together, thus saying "Lord have mercy....we confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves....we have sinned in thought word and deed...please hurry and help us."
He will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and ears of the deaf unstopped; the shall the lame man leap like a dear, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.