Notes on the Lectionary with Deacon Lincoln Anderson. Visit the series page at AnglicanCompass.com/NotesOnTheLectionary
Gospel Reading for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Mark 7:31-37
“And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’ And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.” (Mark 7:34–35 ESV)
There are times when I have to really work to get at what it is the lectionary is trying to get me to understand in the readings set for each Sunday. This reading is an example – having grown up in the Church and hearing about the miraculous works of Jesus since I was little, I have to confess that sometimes my awe and wonder for it all goes a little dim.
It is true that Jesus did a lot of wondrous works – John tells us that he did so many different things that he didn’t think they could all be written down. Whenever we come across a specific account of a miraculous work we should ask why this particular work was recorded.
This Gospel reading is about Jesus healing a man who was deaf and couldn’t speak clearly. We are told that Jesus healed many different ailments, including deafness and blindness. Often we are told simply that he did the healing, and not the specifics of him doing it. So why are we hearing specifically about this healing?
The different healing narratives are as instructive for our understanding of the Gospel and the Kingdom of God as the parables and actual teaching discourses of Jesus. You can look at the people Jesus heals as living allegories for what it is Jesus is teaching and doing.
In Jesus’ day, the dominant school of the Pharisees took great pride in having the Law and Commandments of God, and of being the chosen people of God. They knew that through Abraham all the Nations of the world would be blessed, but they had a faulty understanding of what that meant. It was so flawed that even though many times the people of God (like us today) were visited by prophets and others who had the Word of God speaking directly to them, they rejected the teachings and preferred their own understanding. They were spiritually deaf.
Similarly, because of the dispersions of the Jewish people following the exile to Babylon and the occupation of Judea, the knowledge of the God of the Hebrews was being taught around the Roman world. But it was the knowledge of the Pharisees, additionally tinted with the practices and understanding of the Hellenic Jews, those who grew up away from Judea and had a lot culturally in common with the occupiers. This was an incomplete and unsatisfactory knowledge that was being taught among Jews, proselytes, and God-fearers. The people had a spiritual speech impediment, an impediment shared by all human beings that manifests itself in different ways in different times.
The deaf man represents Jesus’ disciples. Like the man who is brought before Jesus to be healed, the disciples are called by Jesus, and the grace of God brings them into his presence. They hear his words, but only understand after toil and patience from the Lord. They say things which sound good and reasonable but miss the point entirely.
Because of the love of God for his creation, Jesus says “Be Opened!” to the deaf man, just as he will later give understanding and all knowledge to the disciples. Just as the man’s tongue is loosened and he speaks plainly, so too will the disciples proclaim the Gospel with boldness because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
When examining a passage from the lectionary and trying to tease out why the Church wants me to hear and teach on the appointed lesson for the week, I like to turn to the Collects. The way we pray provides evidence for what is in our heart. Sometimes this reveals obvious lines of meditation and consideration; then again, sometimes it takes patience and perseverance, asking God for insight.
The Collect for this week asks God to help us to “withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and with pure hearts and minds to follow [him] the only God.” Can you think of ways how the petitions in the Collect might relate to the healing of the deaf and mute man? How do temptations keep us from hearing? How does the world, the flesh, and the devil impede our speech? Feel free to discuss in the comments!