Trinity 12: Opening the Ears and the Mouth

Healing the Deaf Mute
Jesus cures a deaf man with a speech impediment by first putting his fingers in the man’s ears, then spitting and touching the man’s tongue while looking up into heaven and saying, “Be opened,” based on Mark 7:31-37. From Martin Luther’s Church Postils (sermons), published in 1563.

Lessons: Isaiah 29:17-24, 2 Corinthians 3:4-11, Mark 7:31-37
Hymns: LSB 908, 820, 639, 578, 704

Listen to the entire service here (the sermon alone is above).

      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

      Have you ever been confronted with a major barrier in communication? If you’ve had children, you may remember some of the challenges in hearing a baby cry but you don’t know why. It’s not like that child can tell you what’s wrong or what’s needed. Or if you’ve ever tried to communicate with someone who speaks in another language, you may find yourself playing charades in order to communicate. In many languages though, there are some common words to aid in at least communicating something.

      It’s different when it comes to the deaf. If you don’t know sign language, you may try some sort of charades. But there’s no common words that could be heard. They can see crying but can’t hear it.

      The deaf community in America is the least Christian group of people. It is hard to reach them with the Gospel. When I was an undergraduate in Minneapolis, I attended a campus ministry that not only housed the congregation, but also another church—Prince of Peace Lutheran Church for the Deaf. I would see them come and go on Sunday mornings, but that was it. Their worship was silent downstairs. I didn’t know how to communicate with them, and so I didn’t.

      Some have wrongly suggested that the deaf have received a particularly bad punishment from God. They have wrongly suggested that the deaf cannot believe in Christ. They wrongly cite Romans 10:17 as their prooftext, which says, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Granted, hearing is the normal mode by which the Holy Spirit works to establish and strengthen faith. God sent prophets and apostles to proclaim the Word of God. He continues to send pastors. God also instructs us Christians to gather in House to hear Him. The voice of the pastor is the voice of God.

      Yet, the Holy Spirit can work faith in additional ways. Some come to faith by reading the Scriptures or other faithful Christian literature. Children who are baptized into Christ come to faith, whether they hear it or not, or whether they understand it or not. For faith is the work of God (John 6:29).

      God was at work in today’s Gospel. They brought to Jesus a man who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech. This suggests that the man may have been able to hear at some point earlier in his life, but then lost his hearing completely. He knew the language, but in time his speech deteriorated since he could not hear to keep on correcting himself, which is what we all do without realizing it. That’s why those with poor hearing often have unclear speech. This man’s speech gradually slurred and became difficult to understand, but he did not know that, nor could he hear to correct it. It could be that, instead of what I just described, he could have been born deaf, but still had his vocal cords and made sounds. He may have learned a few words of the language but spoke poorly, since he couldn’t mimic what others say. In either case, he couldn’t hear, and had a speech impediment.

      The method Jesus used to communicate with the deaf-mute man was different than in many of His other recorded miracles. Perhaps Jesus is trying to use signs to explain to the man what He is about to do. Jesus put His fingers in the man’s ears. He spat and touched his tongue. Then Jesus said, “Be opened” and immediately he could hear. What’s even more amazing is that this man no longer had a speech impediment. He didn’t need to spend weeks or years learning (or relearning) the language. Instead, he could speak plainly immediately. That is amazing!

      This miracle performed by our Lord demonstrates yet again that Jesus is God Himself, for only God can do the things He did. His miracles taught the people that He is truly the Messiah that they were anticipating. People could know His teaching and preaching were true because only One sent by God could do what He was doing. Jesus would further reveal Himself as the Christ as He is transfigured, and when He goes to the cross to pay for the sins of the world. He would rise from the dead and ascend into Heaven—things only the Lord’s Anointed could do to atone for our sins and grant us the gift of life.

      The man Jesus healed had been deaf and mute, but not by choice.

      Others are deaf and mute by choice. I’m not talking about self-inflicted mutilation or poor choices (like listening to super loud music, resulting in poor hearing). Instead, I’m talking about those who are spiritually deaf. They’ve had opportunity to hear but do not hear. It’s amazing how many close their ears to the Gospel. Some by choice; others without realizing how deaf they’ve become as they’ve neglected the Word through their lifestyle choices. It happens when people assume they already know what is going to happen at church and so they stay home. It happens when they figure they have completed their learning of all theological matters upon Confirmation. It happens when they don’t open their Bibles and read them. It happens when those who consider themselves Christian do not gather in God’s house. It happens when parents for whatever reason do not bring their little ones to God’s house for Baptism. It happens when Christians do not receive the Body and Blood of Jesus frequently, even though Jesus says, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” They have become deaf to the Gospel.

      The Bible says, “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20:8-11) and many become deaf, saying, “It’s the only time I can get rest at home, have personal time, or go to the cabin!”

      The Bible says, “Do not forsake the gathering of believers” (Hebrews 10:25) and many become deaf, figuring they can remain Christian without going to Church.

      God teaches, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and many make themselves deaf by not opening their Bibles to hear what it says.

      Many are also deaf to God’s Law, which was written for our learning. They figure that since they are not saved by what they do, they don’t need to heed the Law.

      The Law says, “Be kindly affectionate to one another” (Romans 12:10) and people become bitter toward one another.

      Jesus says, “Love one another” (John 13:34-35) and people meet each other with hatred, an evil eye, or other kinds of vitriol.

      It is written, “Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce” (Proverbs 3:9) and many give paltry amounts back to the Lord, sinfully desiring to cling on to what God graciously entrusted to them in the first place.

      What does this deafness lead to? It is, of course, lawlessness. It demonstrates a lack of fear, love, and trust in the Lord. It can certainly lead to eternal death. And, like the man in today’s Gospel, this deafness leads to being mute. If we do not hear, we will not speak.

      The psalter declares, “Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!” These are beautiful words—a verse for you to learn by heart—Psalm 105:1. This verse describes the exact opposite of spiritual muteness.

      “Oh give thanks to the Lord” is a call to thanksgiving. We speak words of gratitude. We show it by our daily lives, seeking to honor God with our bodies, possessions, and time. We give thanks because Jesus poured out His Blood for us on the cross as our all-sufficient sacrificial offering in which He pays for the sins of the world.

      “Call upon His name” is a call to prayer. We pray to the Lord because He taught us to do so. The more we are in the Word, the more we pray, for our prayers come about not simply by the circumstances we face in this life, but they also come about by being in the Word of God. As we hear Him, we pray to Him all the more. And God promises to hear us; in fact, He delights in our prayers.

      “Make known His deeds among the peoples.” It is written, “We believe, and so we speak” (2 Cor. 4:13). Right before His ascension, Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20). We teach—we make known His deeds—because the Holy Spirit works faith through His Word. And we have something to talk about—that Christ Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He was crucified by lawless men, but through this, Jesus paid for the world’s sin. Yours and mine. He lives to grant us life.

      What people talk about reveals what is important to them. We often talk about our families, especially our children and grandchildren. They are blessings from God. The Word is a blessing, and so we speak of the saving work of Christ. It is sad when people will speak about sports and the weather but will not talk about the hope that is in them (1 Peter 3:15).

      The hope we have is grand and glorious. It goes beyond anything we can possibly obtain in this world. While the Law is glorious and good, it is not nearly as glorious as what Christ Jesus earned for us and offers us for free. Jesus reconciled us to our Father. He died to set us free from our sin. He rose to give us life. He showers us with His love. Surely, He has done all things well.

      The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen