This week’s Gospel is the last of only three Sunday Gospels from St. Mark in the historic lectionary. Mark gives us the Easter Gospel, the feeding of the 4,000, and this week, the healing of the deaf man. His Gospel is also an option on Ascension Day. This incidentally is the only recording of Jesus healing a deaf man. There are passages saying He will heal the deaf in both Matthew and Luke, but only in Mark do we actually get two accounts of Jesus healing the deaf.
Mark’s Gospels are like protein bars, quick meals, packed with nutrition, energy, and punch. You can’t do much better than the resurrection and ascension Gospels as far as Who Jesus is for us; the feeding of the 4,000 establishes what Jesus does for His Church sacramentally; this week’s Gospel has just about every doctrine in it, a true opening of our ears to hear the fullness of His Word. Word, sacrament, resurrection, ascension. All in Mark’s succinct way of putting things.
A theological tome could be written on just about every line in this week’s Gospel. But we’ll do a fly by. And of course, we’ll get into the weeds this week.
The Gospel begins with the deaf and mute man brought to Jesus. You can’t get simpler than that. There’s a problem with humanity; we go to the solution. Seek, and we shall find. And find they do, in Jesus. Jesus is the solution to humanity’s problem.
They begged Jesus to put His hand on the deaf man. We are all beggars, said Martin Luther. As in last week’s Gospel, where the tax collector who beat his breast and prayed, “Lord, have mercy,” so this week we get a hint at a good ending to the story: beggars before the Lord are taken care of. Stories that begin, “Lord, have mercy,” always end well. How wonderful the “story” of the liturgy early on establishes that narrative foundation; how sad so many churches so no value in the Kyrie.
They begged Jesus to touch the man. They knew the touch of Jesus was the touch of God. And what a profound commentary on the importance of flesh and blood touch, something the Gnostics will never understand. But it’s something those on deployment understand. Video calling is good, but something is missing when the flesh and blood is not there. Or again, when someone dies, sure we can loftily talk about how “his memory lives on.” But we would rather have the flesh and blood person there than the memory. God understands this. He made us in flesh and blood, and when He wanted to be with us, He didn’t send a spirit, a memory, an imaginary friend, or a phantasm. He came in flesh and blood. Likewise, after we beg for Jesus to help us in the liturgy, we beg for the presence of His flesh and blood, for Him to be present. And touch us He does, when He gives us His flesh and blood to eat and drink.
Jesus takes the man from the multitude. When God separates things, life is about to happen. We see that in the beginning, on each day of creation. “God divided the light from the darkness.” Then the waters from the waters, then the land from the waters. He divided man from the ground, and woman from the man. Life happens. The Holy Spirit is a divider, a separator, Someone Who gives individual existence to things and peoples and animals through matter, breaking life into it. The deaf man’s ears and tongue had become inert, as good as lifeless rock, meaningless things on the head. Jesus is about to change that. The church is similar. From “ecclesia,” which comes from the Greek, “to call out,” we have been separated from the world by baptism, given life, and sanctified with a unique, holy, individual existence, called to do the one thing no one else in the world does, confess the Triune God and the Incarnate Lord.
Jesus sticks His fingers in the man’s ears. Those fingers are God’s fingers. God’s fingers have a history. Last appearance God’s fingers wrote letters in stone, or judgment on a wall. Last appearance His fingers were ministers of death, says St. Paul in this week’s epistle. For the Law, that old covenant, though it teaches liberty, still only lays the foundation for our judgment, because we fall short of it – we’d rather be slaves. But, the Old Testament promises, there will be a new writing, a new covenant. What of this new covenant? “I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; …I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” This was fulfilled when Jesus instituted the “New Testament in My blood,” which gives the forgiveness of sins, and writes on our hearts and minds a new law, the law of love, forgiveness, and mercy. Exactly what He shows the deaf and mute man. (And what Jesus taught the adulterous woman when He stuck that finger in the ground and wrote.)
Jesus spits. Was He spitting at the devil, as an early baptismal rite suggested? Perhaps He was sharing His mouth with the mute man. It’s what Jesus does. He is the perfected man. He is the second Adam. He lives to share with us His parts. He gives us His life. In fact, that is the ministry of the Holy Spirit St. Paul alludes to in His epistle. The Holy Spirit, teaches Jesus,
“will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.” What Jesus has, that works, will be given to us, who don’t work, by declaration of the Holy Spirit. “O Lord, open thou my lips. And my mouth shall declare your praise.” He does it. Jesus gives us the mouth that’s doing it – His mouth.
Jesus looks up to heaven and sighs. He’s God but He’s also human. He’s in a spacial place shared with humans, separate from God, down here looking up. He sighs because He shares with us our sorrows. For this reason the author to the Hebrews can write that Jesus sympathizes with us in our sorrows.
Jesus prays the deaf man’s ears to be opened, and they are. The Father always hears the prayers of His Son, who prays on behalf of all of us and lays the foundation for our own prayers to be heard and answered: “our Father…”
Jesus commands everyone to say nothing, but the more He tells them not to speak, the more they do so. How sweet, right? And that’s how we should be, right? We should just be so excited about the Gospel that you can’t shut us up, right?
No. We should listen to Jesus and obey. The Gospel wasn’t fulfilled and complete. They were going out and spreading what amounted to a deceptive Gospel: “Here’s a man who can take care of all your worldly problems. He can give you your best life now!” No, we preach Christ and Him crucified. There is only one time in the Gospel of Mark where people proclaim Him the Son of God, and He doesn’t silence them, and that’s when the centurion confessed Him to be hte Son of God after He died. The Lord never forbids the proclamation of Christ crucified.
Jesus does all things well. That is true. He does all things well. And He does all things well for us.