ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than we to pray, and art won’t to give more than either we desire or deserve…
(Collect Trinity XII)
The Collect for the Twelfth Sunday afterTrinity expresses a truth that although commonly spoken is rarely remembered.And the truth is that it is in God’s nature to listen and respond to man’s needs always, and that our natures are more often than not lazy and slothful in the supplication of those needs. God hears in order to give, and what He gives is more than either we desire or deserve. The weakness of desire is entirely on our side.In desiring Him more, we shall begin to receive the pure gift of His mercy, and so receiveHis superabundant desire for us.
The deaf and dumb man described in today’s Gospel is an image of that spiritual condition that neither desires nor deserves what God longs to give. The man can neither hear nor speak. Prior to the portion of the Gospel that we have read this morning, we meet a Syrophoenician woman who had no problem speaking up and begging Jesus to heal her daughter, who had an unclean spirit (St. Mark vii. 25). She may not have felt that she deserved anything, but that didn’t stop her from desiring morsels or fragments of that healing power that she knew could cure her demonized child. She was not a Jew but a Gentile pagan suppliant who provoked Jesus to remind her that [God’s] children should first be filled; for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and cast it to dogs. (Ibid, 27) Jesus provoked her because He longed to elicit from her an articulation of her inmost desire. She said, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs. (Ibid, 28) Jesus said that because the Syrophoenician woman’s faith desired the morsels and fragments of holiness that alone could expel the devil from her tormented daughter. Thus, a Paganess’ faith obtained her desire for what she knew and confessed she did not deserve. Her desire led her to seek out, find, and know God in a way that was hidden from her Jewish neighbors. Desire is love, and love led the Syrophenician woman to the light, which is the knowledge of God. God intends that our desire should lead us to seek out and find goodness and truth.
This morning, we encounter a Jewish man who cannot so much as express his desire, let alone meditate upon what he might or might not have deserved. His friends must express a desire that the deaf and dumb cannot communicate. We read: And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him.(Ibid, 32) Jesus is back in the land of the religious Pharisees, the land of His own Chosen People, and in the environment of his own pious kin folk. What is remarkable is thathere we find a man who is deaf and dumb. What ensues is not a conversation at all. Jesus had spoken to the Syrophoenician woman because she spoke to him. But here we find only silence because the man is deaf and mute. Jesus’ response is also silent. He will pray to His Father to obtain the Divine Power. So, we read: And he took him aside from the multitude, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. (Ibid, 33, 34)Pseudo-Chrysostom tells us that, Because of the sin of Adam, human nature had suffered much and had been wounded in its senses and in its members. But Christ coming into the world revealed to us, in Himself, the perfection of human nature; and for this reason he opened the ears with His fingers, and gave speech by the moisture of his tongue. (Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, iv. 2) Judaism seems now to be symbolized by an inability to hear and to speak. The Jews knows of man’s refusal to hear and obey God’s Commandment in the Garden of Eden. Through His human nature, Jesus will identify himself with the fallen condition that ensued. Having cured the man of his physical handicaps in a primitive way, He can now call the man back into the pursuit of his spiritual good. The body’s relation to sound has been introduced to this man for the very first time. Now the man can be led to the healing of his soul. And so [Jesus]looks up to Heaven to teach us that is from there that the dumb must seek speech, the deaf hearing, and all who suffer healing. He [sighed or] groaned, not because he needed to seek with groaning anything from the Father…but that he might give us an example of groaning, when we must call upon the assistance of the heavenly mercy, in our own or our neighbours miseries (Ibid, 2) as the Venerable Bede teaches us. Jesus sighs or groans and identifies with the deaf and mutant man. He sighs and groans with passion for the power that transcends word.Jesus sighs or groansbecause He desires the Father’s healing more than we can imagine and He longs to give to us so [much] more than we either desire or deserve. (Collect) And so we read next that, And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain.(St. Mark vii. 35) Jesus speaks to His Father, His Father responds, and the healing flows through Jesus into the man.
Now the miracle concludes with what we read next: And he charged them that they should tell no man….(Ibid, 36, 37) Jesus’ ministry is neither essentially nor predominantly about physical healings. The true healing that Jesus brings to mankind is the healing of desire, of the soul and spirit, or the transformation and conversion of the inward man as the soul begins to seek out more than either we desire or deserve.(Collect) Desire leads to faith, and faith is the knowledge of God. And so the real miracle in this morning’s Gospel that Jesus intends to bring about is the birth of faith in the human soul. This is why he charges both the miraculously cured man and the eye-witnesses to tell no man. Because true healing is inward and invisible, slow and progressive, it calls for neither boasting nor bragging. The true miracle is the inward desire that begins as to long for one kind of healing and yet then becomes faith in one of far greater importance. And so in light of today’s miracle, Jesus intends that the desire He has ignited should quietly, humbly, reverently, and even slowly follow Him into the deeper truth that He will reveal. So Jesus teaches us not to expect in our spiritual lives the kind of instantaneous change that cured the deaf and dumb man. There is much to confess, much to shed, much to forgive and more to forget. We must be healed of our sins through faith in His Grace. Few men have radical and abrupt conversions. Rather, the miracle of conversion is a time-tried and habit forming process that may take as long as a lifetime before it is perfected.
Our Collect for today reveals to us the kind of miracle we are after. In it we pray, Pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy; forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask, but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord. (Collect)Within our souls we are conscious of past sins; the remembrance of them is grievous unto us, and the burden of them is intolerable. (General Confession: HC Service, BCP 1928) When we are given spiritual ears with which to hear the truth of ourselves, we begin to become conscious of the horror and shame of the past lives we have lived. Our consciences are afraid and seared, as they quiver and tremble before the presence of God. And so we realize, in the presence of God’s Word, Jesus Christ, that we need those good things which we are not worthy to ask. (Collect) We do not deserve to hear, and yet God begins to open our ears. We are ashamed to speak, and yet He slowly but surely unloosens our tongues so that we might articulate and describe our condition. And so we can begin to pray, Pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy.We are made worthy through merits and mediation of Jesus Christ (Collect) alone. The new miracle will take time to perfect. So we must, without any fanfare, bragging, or boasting, patiently endure the slow healing of our desire and faith that leads to salvation. With St. Paul, we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body… [For] we hope for [what] we [do not yet]see…[and so] we with patience wait for it. (Romans viii. 23)
So today, my friends, we pray for a miracle. What is the miracle? First, with St. Paul, the consciousness that, We are not sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; [for] our sufficiency [comes] from God. (2 Cor. iii. 4) Second, that our sufficiency is the result of God’s hard work, His enduring labor, His desire enflaming and expanding our desire, His truth broadening and deepening our faith, and His establishing and securing us more and more in His knowledge and love through Jesus Christ our Lord. The journey will be long and He never promised that it would be easy. But if we desire and seek, believe and follow, our ears will be opened and our mouths unstopped as we begin to sing the joyful song of salvation. In closing, let us pray with that great old Swedish Lutheran Bishop Bo Giertz who expresses with simplicity and honesty that spiritual desire and the faith that we seek.
I want to open my heart and my entire self for thee like this, Lord Jesus. Only thou canst help me to do that. Say thy powerful ‘Ephphatha’ to my soul. Command my heart to open up even in its inmost hiding places to receive thee and thy glory. Command my tongue to be untied so that I may praise thee and speak kind words to others, words that carry warmth, and healing, and blessing with them. Command my complete essence to open up so that I can receive for nothing and give for nothing, richly and lavishly, as thou wouldest want me to do. (To Live with Christ, p.55)