04. September 2022
And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
In Name of the + Jesus. Amen.
Our society recognizes that physical and mental disability needs to be addressed. We assumed the capacity of the five senses as we constructed our civilization. But since Adam’s fall, man’s ongoing sinfulness, and the curse of the Creation, we’ve also known and lived with those with impaired senses. It’s striking that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 first prohibited discrimination against those with disability. And it’s only been since 1990 that we’ve intentionally, by law, assisted those with various mental and physical conditions. These laws, along with the local, state, and federal agencies, seek to expand access to those whose disability limits their social participation.
Most of you know at least one deaf person. Some of you struggle against hearing loss. We’re thankful for listening devices, ASL, closed captioning, and the like. My daughter is mute, or as we say today, non-verbal. In her case, that part of her mind is impaired due to epilepsy. In the case of the deaf-mute man in today’s Gospel, he likely has been deaf from birth and thus has never learned to talk. Modern technologies might have helped him, or maybe not. But mental and physical disabilities are real and are another example of how corruption due to sin breaks out in our life.
Perhaps the word “disability” isn’t strong enough. I can only imagine what it’s like to lose one or more of the natural abilities God originally gave man. We can only begin to understand if we walk in the shoes of those who have, perceive the world as they do, and imagine the frustrations, struggles, and limitations that loss would bring. Debilitating illness at the end of life might give insight when the mind is willing, but the flesh is weak. We might be tempted even to think of the body as a cage or prison, with the soul or spirit trapped within.
But the Scripture flatly denies such mind-body dualism, as the ancient Greek philosophers taught. Jesus would have you see the body, spirit, and senses as an integrated whole. You, the whole you, were knit together by God in your mother’s womb. God made you an entire person, regardless of how you distinguish its constitutive parts. There is no person without his or her body. Despite every attempt by transhumanists to transcend the limitations of flesh and blood, spirit and soul, we were made as whole beings, in God’s image, and loved by Him.
If the deaf-mute man’s body were holding him captive, Jesus would have released his soul or spirit immediately into heaven. He would have immediately assumed him into some bodiless existence. But this notion is foreign to the Scriptures, lacking premise or promise. Jesus, incarnate himself of the Virgin Mary, goes all the way down into the creaturely existence of this man, just as he does with the blind, the lame, the poor, the imprisoned, and the lost. Jesus doesn’t provide the man with an escape from his body but heals him!
[Jesus] took him aside from the multitude, and put His fingers in his ears, and He spat and touched his tongue. Then, looking up to heaven, He sighed, and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” Immediately his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke plainly.
Jesus recognizes this man’s bodily need and heals him. The man and his friends have exhausted every possible remedy. There is no technology, no medicine, and no miracle worker that has unshackled him from this burden. He gives the man what neither the man nor anyone else could give him. Jesus doesn’t free him from his body but restores his body in part to the Creator’s original intent. “He has done all things well. He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.” This kind of healing is never beyond our Creator; thus, we pray daily for the sick, the infirm, and those with any mental or physical disability. We trust that Jesus can and does heal according to His good and gracious pleasure.
And you, even if you have your five senses, must remember that the Holy Spirit inspired the prophets to speak of our whole condition as rebels as a kind of deafness. Jesus today is teaching us that not only does He heal mental and physical disability, but He comes to set us free from our spiritual disability. The broader context of Jesus restoring senses is that He is about restoring your fear, love, and trust in Him above all things. He is opening your ears, implanting His Word in your hearts, and loosening your tongue to confess faith in Him.
Today, we rejoice as Maureen has returned to the congregation of believers Jesus instituted to hear, learn, be fed, and be forgiven. We rejoice as Matthew confesses the faith once delivered to the saints is confirmed in it. Both have had their ears opened again and, in a few minutes, will, with boldness and confidence, confess with their lips faith in God the Father, Son, and Spirit. It’s as much a miracle as the deaf-mute man’s. Without the Holy Spirit working through the Word, no one would know Christ Jesus, confess Him, or come to Him. But God promises that “the deaf shall hear the words of the book, And the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity and out of darkness” (Is 29:18).
And as St. Paul writes, “the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down from above) or, “ ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:6-10).
That’s why you gather with fellow Christians in Divine Service every week, study the Scriptures daily, and pray without ceasing. You know that the cacophony of false words can build up like wax in your ears, drowning out the truth Jesus speaks. You know that if you can no longer hear Jesus, the faith in your heart withers on the vine, and your tongues become tied. Lord, keep your ears open to His Word, your heart clean and alive in faith, and your mouth full of prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guards your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin