Text: Mark 7:31-37
Dear Saints, grace and peace to each of you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
When is the last time someone stuck their finger into your ear? You sticking your own finger in there doesn’t count and neither does a doctor looking into your ear with an instrument. When is the last time that someone other than yourself stuck their finger into your ear?
I thought about it this week and can recall two examples from my life of people sticking their fingers into my ears. First of all, all three of my kids have each done that do me at some point. Most often it happens when I am carrying them on my side. Inevitably each of them has at one point or another, unbeknownst to me, been overcome by curiosity and reached out one of those little, tiny fingers and wiggled it right into my ear hole. Each time it’s happened it’s been so shocking, so surprising that it takes a concerted effort to make sure I don’t drop the kid.
The other example I recall is similar. One summer when I was a kid and on holidays with my family, my siblings and I decided it would be fun to sneak up on one another and give each other a “wet willy” as often as possible. A “wet willy” is a prank in which one person surprises another by licking their finger, sneaking up behind them, and sticking their saliva dampened finger into the unsuspecting ear hole of their victim. Again, it is a shocking experience, to say the least, having some else’s (wet!) finger in your ear.
When has anyone ever stuck their finger into your ear? Maybe never. But I bet if it has ever happened to you it was somewhat shocking. Today in our gospel reading Jesus does just that, however. When the crowds bring a deaf man to Him, Jesus takes the man aside and He sticks His fingers into the deaf man’s ears.
That’s not all either. Jesus doesn’t stop with ears. Jesus also touches that same deaf man’s tongue. When was the last time someone other than you or the doctor touched your tongue? My daughter Olivia and I play a bit of a game in which I stick my tongue out at her and she tries to grab it, but I always make sure to pull it back into my mouth out of her reach before she can get there. Something about having someone else touch my tongue seems like a little too much. And yet Jesus does exactly that to the deaf man, He touches his tongue.
All in all, what Jesus does in our gospel reading today, sticking fingers into ears and touching tongues, is more than a little strange. This is just not normal human behavior. It would make anyone a little uncomfortable.
Not only is this behavior usual and kind of uncomfortable, but it also seems somewhat unnecessary. There are all sorts of examples of Jesus healing people in the Bible in which He does not touch them at all. In the story right before our gospel reading today Jesus cast a demon out of a woman’s daughter without even going to see her. A woman comes to see Jesus asking Him to save her daughter. After a short back and forth conversation with the woman Jesus simply tells her to go home because the demon had left her daughter. She went home and found her daughter lying in bed and completely well. In another well-known example of Jesus healing someone, four men lower their paralyzed friend down through the roof of the home where Jesus is staying. Jesus tells the paralyzed man to take up his mat and go home and he does. Just like that, at Jesus’ Word, he is healed.
Clearly, Jesus doesn’t need to touch people to heal them. He doesn’t need to stick fingers into ears or touch tongues. He doesn’t even need to be in the same house as them. His Word, the same Word that called into existence everything that exists, has more than enough power and authority to heal even the worst disease or condition. Jesus can, without a doubt, open ears and loosen tongues without all this weird, uncomfortable touching. So why does Jesus do this in our gospel reading today? Why does He put His fingers in the deaf man’s ears and touch his tongue?
The answer is quite simple, really. Jesus does this, He sticks His fingers into the man’s ears and touches His tongue, because the man is deaf.
Yes, Jesus could just say the word, He could just say ephphatha or “Be opened” and the deaf man’s ears would be opened and his tongue would be loosened. He would from the moment the words were spoken be able to hear and speak clearly. Jesus’ words can do that. But Jesus wants to make sure that this deaf man knows the full extent of God’s good news for him. Jesus wants to make sure that even before his ears are opened that this deaf man knows that God’s Son brings salvation for him. Jesus wants this man to know, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that the promises of God’s Kingdom which Jesus is bringing into the world are for him. Jesus wants to make sure that none of this is lost in translation, so He communicates in a way (physical touch) that the deaf man can comprehend and makes sure that the message won’t be missed: Jesus comes to heal and save him.
Though we are not physically deaf and unable to hear like the man in our gospel reading today, Jesus does the exact same thing for you and me. Jesus is bound and determined to make sure that you and I know that the promises of salvation that He makes to all people are for us. For this reason Jesus comes to us today with His body and blood, the physical reality of His presence among us, to reassure us of His promises to us. “This is my body given FOR YOU,” Jesus says. “This is my blood shed FOR YOU,” Jesus says. He wants you to know, beyond any doubt, that His death on the cross, His sacrifice, His suffering, His bleeding, His dying, His new life, His rising from the dead, is for you.
Some time ago a stumbled across an article written by a young woman who is a Lutheran lay-person about what Holy Communion is and means to her. Her words are better and clearer than mine would be if I tried to rewrite them, so I want to read some of them for you now. The article is called “I Am Starving and This Is The Feast” and you can find it here. She says,
I’m sixteen, and this morning I was made fun of again for leaving a sleepover early to go to church. I’ve been internalizing my “friends’” words and feeling my self-worth going down each moment I sit in the pew. Then I walk to the communion rail, kneel, and hear the words “This is my body. . . This is my blood.” I’m reminded why I’m here. Why I continue to come here even as my peers mock my faith: because this is where Christ is found and the only place I desire to be.
Later on she says,
I’m eighteen, and I sit in the pew feeling disgusting and out of place because of what was done to me the night before. I can’t hear the words of the sermon over the voices in my head saying I don’t belong here with all these pristine and Godly people. But then I’m forced out of my thoughts when I have to physically walk to the altar. I kneel. I hear the words. As I chew the body, before the blood even touches my lips, I can feel the tears forming. “Shed for you . . .” rings in my head. I’m still numb, but right now, God is the only one who knows what happened to me. Gradually, with each Lord’s Supper, I’m reminded I can one day forgive the one who made me feel this way. It wasn’t my fault. Christ loves me. I am clean. I am made new.
Again a little later she says,
I’m twenty, and I screwed up again. I can’t get anything right. I recite the confession feeling more “poor and miserable” than I ever have. Pastor says the absolution, and I want so desperately to believe it as I have before. But today it feels like simply words spoken to a group of people I stumbled into. Until I eat and drink and hear those words “for the forgiveness of sins.” This is real. This is for me. He died for me.
What this young woman’s words demonstrate for us is that even though we are not physically deaf, even though our ears (and tongues for that matter) work just fine by any worldly or earthly standard, the voices in our head are so loud sometimes that they make us deaf to God’s Word. Especially God’s Word of forgiveness. We come to church to hear God’s Word of forgiveness spoken to us, but the voices that clamour in our ears and in our minds, our feelings about our own self-worth, our shame, and our guilt, often over power even God’s Word and deafen our ears so that we do not hear His words of forgiveness or believe that they are for us. Satan, the accuser, fills our ears, hearts, and minds with His accusations so that even though we hear God’s Word and the gospel of forgiveness in Christ with our ears we don’t hear it for ourselves.
But then Jesus invites us to His altar and does something so weird, so strange, so uncomfortable that our deafened ears cannot ignore it. He does something so shocking that it grabs our attention completely. Here, at the rail, He comes to us in the midst of our deafness, in the midst of all the clamouring voices in our heads that would distract us from His Word, puts His fingers in our ears, touches our tongues, places His body and blood into our hands and mouths, and assures us that the forgiveness of sins that He won on the cross is for us. “I died for YOU,” Jesus says. “I shed my blood for YOU,” Jesus says. “I forgive YOU,” Jesus say. “I give YOU life,” Jesus says. “I love YOU,” Jesus says. “Go in peace,” Jesus says.
It is a strange thing sticking your fingers into someone’s ears. It’s a strange thing to touch someone’s tongue. It is also a strange thing to give your body and blood for people like us to eat and drink. But Jesus does these strange things so that we, the deaf man then and all of us today, might know that His promises, His forgiveness, His new life, and His salvation are for us. He comes all the way down to us in our weakness so that we might know that His strength is for us. Thanks be to God that our Jesus does such strange and unexpected things so that we might know that we have a Saviour and that His salvation is for us! In Jesus name, Amen.