Text: Mark 7:31-37
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Each week in our Matins services, the first words out of the Pastor’s mouth are, “O Lord, open my lips.” This opening versicle comes from Psalm 51, a Psalm of repentance written by David after his sin of adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. This Psalm is also where the offertory from the Lutheran Common Service comes from. “Create in me a clean heart, O God…” As a whole, this Psalm acknowledges the reality of original sin. Through our fathers, we inherit the sin of Adam. That is, we are turned inward on ourselves. We are unable, by our own reason or strength, to believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to him. We cannot, in fact, call upon him at all. Our mouths are unable to even utter the name of the Lord. Something must be done. Something has been done. In Holy Baptism our lips are opened by the Holy Spirit who calls, enlightens, and sanctifies us in the true faith.
If you take a look at our Rite of Holy Baptism as it is found in the hymnal, you’ll find quite a bit of ceremony. We use much of it, but we don’t make use of all of it. We mark the child (or the adult) with the sign of the holy cross to denote that they are redeemed by Christ, the crucified. Some make the sign of the cross throughout their lives as a remembrance of their baptism. After the baptism, the person who was baptized may be clothed with a white garment to show that their sins have been forgiven and that they are now part of Christ’s bride, the Church. A candle may be given to the one who is baptized that they may remember that Jesus Christ is the light of the world, the light that no darkness can overcome. It’s this light of Christ that now shines the way in their lives. There is also some ceremony that we’re not familiar with at all because it’s fallen out of use. At the time of the reformation, the baptismal rite included, after the reading of Mark 10:13-16, the pastor put spit on his finger and touched the child’s nose and ears, saying, “Ephphatha, that is, Be thou opened. But thou, devil, flee; for God’s judgment cometh speedily.”
That word, “Ephphatha,” comes directly from our Gospel reading for this morning. In Holy Baptism our ears are opened to hear the Word of God. It’s not that we didn’t have the ability to hear before. In fact, studies show that babies are able to hear in their mother’s womb as early as 16 weeks after conception. But this is something different. Now God gives his Holy Spirit that we might gladly hear and learn the Word of God. Our ears might have heard the sounds of the Word of God, but without the Holy Spirit, they make no sense. God gives us his Holy Spirit that we might daily die to sin and daily rise to new life in Christ. It is a rather strange thing, though, isn’t it, in particular when it comes to infants, that we speak to an infant as if they understand us? Of course, you could argue that they understand every word we say perfectly, but you’d be hard-pressed to prove it. When we speak to infants, it might very be as if we are speaking a foreign language. The good news, of course, is that the Word of God is powerful not necessarily because it is understood, but because it is the Word of God.
Take the man who was brought to Jesus in our Gospel reading this morning, for example. Jesus is in the region of Tyre and Sidon. He is not among the Jews. He is not among people who even speak the same language as he does. But the people there know enough to know that Jesus is the one who works miracles. He will heal this man who is deaf and has a speech impediment. Jesus, of course, does just that. Notice how he does it, though. He says, “Ephphatha,” that is, “be opened,” to the mans ears. This is interesting for two reasons. The first is that this man can’t hear. Jesus speaks into ears that can’t hear and makes them work properly. The second reason that this is interesting is that Jesus speaks in Aramaic to a man who doesn’t understand Aramaic and lives among a people that don’t understand Aramaic.
Jesus isn’t talking to this man, though. He’s also not talking to the people around the man. Jesus is speaking to the tongue and the ears of the man who is deaf and has a speech impediment. Jesus has a habit of speaking to inanimate objects. He speaks to the raging sea, “Quiet! Be Still!” and all is quiet. He tells the fig tree, “May no one ever eat figs from you again!” and the fig tree dies. In the very beginning, Jesus spoke and actually created all things out of nothing. He does the same here. He speaks hearing into a man who had none. He speaks speaking into a man who couldn’t. Jesus really does do all things well as the crowd proclaimed.
Then he gives what seems to be a rather odd instruction. It’s a directive he gives elsewhere as well. He tells them not to tell anyone. Why? Of course, the crowd didn’t listen to Jesus anyway. This command didn’t make any sense to them. Why shouldn’t they tell anyone? We may ask the same question, though. Why does Jesus make such a command here?
There are different answers to that question depending on the situation. Jesus would sometimes tell his disciples not to tell others what they had seen. For example, at the Transfiguration. Jesus’ appearance was transformed right before the eyes of Peter, James, and John. Moses and Elijah appeared. What a story they would have to tell! But Jesus told them not to. There it was that the account of the Transfiguration could not be properly understood without the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus’ disciples, though, at least were being catechized by Jesus. They even heard the voice of the Father declare that Jesus was the beloved Son of God.
These people of Tyre and Sidon, though, had none of these things. They did not know who Jesus was. They didn’t know that he would be crucified by sinful men and after three days rise from the dead. They had not even heard the preaching of Jesus. They had not been evangelized yet. All they had was a healing miracle. As wonderful as it was, that’s all it was to them. They were excited about it. They wanted to talk about it. But they had no idea what it really meant. They didn’t truly understand that Jesus, in healing this man, was showing what it would be like in God’s kingdom, where no such ailments would be present anymore. Jesus, to them, was a miracle worker, but that’s about it. They hadn’t yet been evangelized.
Jesus didn’t just open the ears of the deaf man so that he could hear birds chirp and the wind blow. He didn’t just loose the tongue of the man so that he could say “Good morning!” to his neighbor. He opened his ears so that he could hear the Word of God. He loosed his tongue so that he could confess with his mouth that Jesus is Lord. Jesus does the same for us. In our Baptism, Jesus opens our ears that we might hear the Word of God. He loosens our tongue that we might sing his praise.
“O Lord, open my lips, that my mouth may declare your praise.” King David puts it well. We don’t just want our tongue loosened that ears opened so that we can speak clearly and have the ability to hear. We want the words that we speak to be shaped by the Holy Spirit working through Word and Sacrament. We want the words that we hear to be the Word of God that leads us to all truth. Because we have this Word, we are not restricted as those at Tyre and Sidon were. Our tongues are loosed that we may proclaim the wondrous deeds that God has done through Christ Jesus who does all things well.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.