Hearing, Believing, Speaking

Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

Commemoration of Bernard of Clairvaux, Hymnwriter and Theologian

August 19, 2018

Mark 7:31–37

When you’re all-powerful you not only can do anything but you can do it any way you like. Jesus being God has the ability to heal and He has the ability to do it in any way. In the Gospel reading today He does a number of things that seem puzzling. It is the nature of God to reveal to us what He wishes us to know and leave be those things we do not need to know. Certainly we have many questions in this life about why things are the way they are. Why God does not intervene at times. Why He allows suffering. He alone knows the answers to these questions and we are left to not know the answers. 

What we are left with is faith. But to understand faith we must understand something else. And it is what Jesus is teaching us in His healing of the man who is deaf and has a severe speech impediment. When we understand this then we will understand faith and also what flows from faith. 

The first thing He teaches us is hearing. Hearing seems simple enough. Words are spoken and you hear them. A train whistles and you stay away from the tracks. Your mom calls you and you come to her. Your boss gives instructions for a job and you do the job accordingly. Our life is full of hearing things that we need to hear.

One aspect of hearing that immediately comes to mind in these examples is paying attention. We don’t just hear, we actually listen. Words can easily go in one ear and out the other. To understand the words properly you need to pay attention to them to understand what is actually being communicated. 

So on the one hand hearing is pretty easy. You hear the words that are spoken. On the other hand it can be difficult if you are not paying attention or you assume you understand what the person is saying instead of what they’re actually saying. 

Both of these are part of what Jesus is teaching us about hearing. But there is a deeper hearing and this is what the man who was deaf and mute had. It is what you and I have as well. It is the hearing that is receiving. It is not that you are doing something in order to gain something, but rather not doing something and yet still gaining something. Receiving is being a recipient. It means that someone else does something for you, and you are the recipient of what they’ve done. 

This is what happened to the deaf man. He couldn’t hear. People would talk to him but he couldn’t understand because he physically could not hear the words. But he received true hearing when Jesus spoke to him. Jesus said, “Ephatha!”, that is, “Be opened!” How was it that he was now able to hear? Mark says that upon Jesus speaking the words, Be opened, that man’s ears were opened and his tongue was loosed. It is because when God speaks His word it brings about what it says. He doesn’t just say things in the hopes that they’ll turn out the way He wishes them to. He brings them about by speaking them into being.

So He spoke to a man who could not hear and by speaking the words the man was actually able to hear. He was a recipient. He received this gift from the Lord. He didn’t do anything to bring about this gift. He didn’t accomplish any action on his part in being able to now hear and speak. 

If you do not understand this, you cannot understand faith. Hearing is not a work on your part but rather an action in which you are receiving. Your Lord speaks to you and you receive His word. You are the recipient of the action He brings about in speaking it into being. This is what He does in you with faith. The faith you need to believe in Christ is given to you, not demanded or expected of you. You are to believe in Him so He speaks that faith into your heart. The Holy Spirit works through this spoken word of Christ to bring into being this faith in your heart; as the apostle Paul says in First Corinthians,  “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.”

Do you believe in Christ? Yes you do. Do you have faith in Him? Yes you do. Do you make an active confession of faith with your mind and with your mouth of Jesus Christ? Yes you do. You do because your Lord Himself has given you the faith do this. You have heard and so you have believed. 

What flows from this hearing and believing is speaking. Because you are not able to hear your Lord of your own power or will, he speaks His word to you and gives you hearing. You are in sin and so are against God. He breaks into your life to give you true hearing and true faith. Only now are you able to speak truly. To confess God as Lord as we have done in the Nicene Creed. As you do when you say, “Amen,” to the many pronouncements in the liturgy. And as you do when you speak of Christ to others.

This work of God, notice it is the work of God, not of yourself, is what prompts Paul to say in our Epistle reading, “Such is the confidence we have in Christ toward God.” You can only have true confidence when the word is true. Your word is not true. It is lying and deceiving. It is unreliable. It is manifested in many actions in your life which are against God’s will. But God’s Word is certain. His word is reliable. It is true and lasting. 

This is why you approach the Lord’s Altar and even though your mind agrees with the world that it’s nonsensical that in this bread and wine on this altar you are given the very body and blood of Christ, your faith latches on to the word of Christ Himself. And what is that word? This is My body, this is My blood. Only by the Holy Spirit working through these words of Christ are you able to believe that very body of Jesus born of the Virgin Mary and that suffered on the cross is given you in this Sacrament. Only because the Holy Spirit grants you faith through the words of Christ are you able to have confidence that you are receiving the body and blood of Christ for the very forgiveness of your sins. 

In the same way, you have not brought about anything to bring you into this relationship with your Lord. No, you were a recipient from the beginning, brought to the font, washed in the waters of Baptism as a cleansing flood and a new birth in Christ. You were given this new and eternal life in Baptism and you are sustained in it by declaration of the forgiveness of your sins and the eating and drinking of Christ’s body and blood. 

This is why you are able to speak of your Lord as Lord and speak of Him to others so that they too may know Him. It seems strange, then, that after Jesus heals the man, including giving him speech, that He tells him and everyone there not to say anything. He doesn’t want them to tell people about Jesus healing the man. And this isn’t the only time Jesus directs people not to say anything. For some of us, that’s the kind of evangelism program we’d like to sign up for, where Jesus blesses us and then we don’t have to tell anyone about Him!

But for those of us who don’t know what to say to people or have trouble talking to people about Jesus, I’m sorry to say that that’s not what Jesus is actually getting at. If you look at Mark’s Gospel account you will see that the number of occasions where He gives this directive to not tell people about Him, they are all in the context of Jesus being popular. And why is He popular? Because He was a dynamic teacher. He was a healer of diseases and He cast out demons. What then would people say about Him? Exactly those things.

And this is the point, in other words, not what is ultimately true of Him. In fact, when Jesus makes it clear who He is truly is, why He truly came, he stops telling people to be silent. He has come to suffer and die on the cross. He has come to rise from the grave. He has come to save people from their sin. This is who Jesus is, this is who we tell people about. Don’t know what to say to people when you’re evangelizing? Try the simple message that you have received: Jesus died for the sin of the world. He took the place of every person so that they could go to heaven. 

And knowing that this is all the result of you hearing, believing, and speaking, you have confidence that it is all from Him, all His work, all given to you. Amen.