Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. Have you ever wondered why in the Gospels Jesus sometimes seems reluctant to heal people? There seems to be a kind of reluctance on Jesus’ part in our Gospel Reading to heal this deaf man. To be fair, he does it. He heals the man, but not without first moving to a private area and not without a sigh anticipating the misguided response of the crowd and the later response of the Pharisees. Interestingly, our Lord’s reluctance to heal is reinforced when looking at the section immediately preceding our text, when he has the interaction with the Syrophoenician woman. She searches out our Lord and asks that he might heal her daughter of demon oppression. Jesus would, of course, heal the demon oppressed daughter, but only after exhibiting significant reluctance to do so. Texts like this naturally make us wonder why Jesus would do this. Why isn’t Jesus jumping up and down with excitement over the prospect of healing people? He is, after all, the God who has “compassion on the crowd” (Mark 8:2). He is the anointed one who has come to crush the serpent and to reverse the Genesis 3 curse. Why is Jesus so reluctant to heal people? Many of us have asked this same question, not only of the Scriptures, but of situations in our lives. Why does Jesus seem so reluctant to heal our parent, spouse, child, or friend who is suffering needlessly of the effects of sin? God is a God of love, why does he seem at times to care so little for the physical well-being of those who love him? On the surface, our Gospel text for today doesn’t seem to answer this question. But as we reflect more deeply on this question and the overall attitude and approach of our Lord in the Gospels, we recognize an important truth: that our Lord has a vastly different and greater perspective than we do. Like a mirror which reveals to us our own shortcomings, our Gospel text for today invites us to reflect on how
Jesus sees things as they really are.
This has two implications which we will now consider further:
1.) We humans are short-sighted and fail to see the big picture, and
2.) Christ seeks to give us spiritual eyes through our ears.
II. Human Short-Sightedness
2. First, we consider how humans are short-sighted and fail to see the big picture. This is precisely the problem of the crowd in Mark chapters 7 and 8—they fail to see things as they really are. In Mark 7:24, we read that our Lord took his disciples and “went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon” (Mark 7:24a). Tyre and Sidon were the great Phoenician cities to the north of the Jewish territory. Jesus was trying to get away from the crowds who were following him, as we see in chapter 6, as well as trying to get away from the pestering of the Pharisees, as we see in the first part of chapter 7. Presumably, Jesus desired to get away so that he would have an opportunity to rest with and to instruct his disciples privately, which we are told in chapter 6 that he had been trying to do. When Jesus returns with his disciples to Jewish territory at the start of our text, he encounters another crowd which desires miracles of healing from him. And so, almost reluctantly, Jesus takes the deaf man who was brought to him aside to heal him in private. As he is about to speak the words of healing, we’re told, “he sighed” (Mark 7:34), an act which would be repeated in the very next chapter when the Pharisees come to test Jesus, demanding a sign from him. We read:
“And [Jesus] sighed deeply in his spirit and said, ‘Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation’” (Mark 8:12).
The sighing in our text, then, ought to be seen as an anticipation of what will come from the healing of this deaf man. Sure, the man will be restored to a much fuller life temporarily, but our Lord also recognizes that the crowds who witness the result of this miracle will fail to see things as they really are. They will see what they want to see—a miracle worker who has come to serve them, like a genie in a bottle.
3. But this is the sinful human condition, isn’t it? We don’t see things as they really are. We don’t see beyond our immediate circumstances and needs. In those famous words of C. S. Lewis,
“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea” (C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory).
And so, we live our lives in pursuit of comfort and convenience, trading character and virtue earned through a lifetime of hard work and discipline for the instant gratification of technology and the relief from boredom that it offers. We prefer to trade the hard work and planning of a home-cooked meal for the instant gratification of eating out or of home delivery. We prefer to trade the hard work of in-person relationship building for trivial interactions online or via social media. And the results are devastating. We are more relationally connected than ever, yet our choice to sacrifice hard work has led to more loneliness than ever. We have more access to food than ever, yet our choice to sacrifice hard work has led to an increase in health problems. We are more advanced than ever before, and yet our culture is increasingly filled slobs and bums who don’t know the first thing about character and virtue. And so, when our Lord fails to cater to our perceived need at the first sign of trouble, it’s no wonder that we get angry and upset. We have spoiled ourselves to the point where we don’t know how to wait for anything good without throwing a toddler-like temper tantrum because in our arrogance we can’t conceive of a reality where we aren’t all-knowing. And yet, we aren’t all-knowing. We don’t see things as they really are. Our sacrifices and our laziness cause real, discernible problems for ourselves and for others. And so, we must learn to submit to Christ, that he might give us spiritual eyes to see things as they really are.
III. The Gift of Spiritual Eyes
4. This leads to our second point of consideration—how Christ seeks to give us spiritual eyes through our ears. Now this, admittedly, seems counterintuitive at first. How is it that spiritual eyes are given through our ears? But this is precisely the way that this works. The early church recognized the importance of the ears being open to hear Christ’s Word so that faith could be given and sustained through that Word. The church father Ambrose records for us that his church in Milan, as well as the church in Rome, had a particular practice during their baptismal rite to use Christ’s word from our Gospel text, “Ephphatha.” Just prior to the renunciation of evil spirits in the rite, the so-called “mystery of opening” would take place as the bishop would say, “Ephphatha. Open, therefore, ears.”
This was a recognition that for faith to be received, the ears must be open to hear. After all, as Saint Paul tells us in his letter to the church in Rome, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).
But receiving the gift of spiritual eyes is not an instantaneous event, as if the speaking of certain words grants us a magical transformation. Paul makes this clear just a few chapters later in Romans, when he says:
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).
To acquire the gift of spiritual eyes requires a transformation. It requires the Word of God to be repeatedly received so that a transformation of the mind takes place. It is this transformation of the mind which leads to the gift of spiritual eyes. It is only when our mind has been transformed through our ears by the Word of Christ that we are granted spiritual eyes to see the world as it really is—as Christ sees it.
5. This, as I have said, is not a quick process. It’s also not an all-or-nothing process. It’s not as if one day, after many long years of studying the Scriptures, you will suddenly wake up with a renewed mind and spiritual eyes, as if a switch was suddenly flipped. The acquiring of a renewed mind and the development of spiritual eyes is, on this side of eternity, a process of development. It’s not unlike learning a new skill. As you practice that new skill over and over, you will often feel frustrated, as if you’re not making any progress. Some days you will see tangible progress. Other days you will feel as if you have regressed. To develop a renewed mind and spiritual eyes is a process. It’s not always fun because we must learn to deny our sinful, stubborn hearts and minds. We must learn to trust in God even when his ways of operating don’t make sense to us. And so, there will be times when we wrestle greatly with questions about God’s goodness. Why doesn’t he offer so-and-so healing? Why doesn’t he do what I am so sure to be the right thing here? But as we grow more in our faith, as we hear the Word of Christ more and more, we slowly learn to humble ourselves and recognize that our Lord alone is the one who sees things as they really are. He knows what’s best.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
May our Lord grant us humility to trust in him when we don’t understand. And may he grant us steadfastness and dedication to hear his Word so that we might one day, with minds transformed, see things as they really are through spiritual eyes.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.