Twelfth Sunday After Trinity 2017

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“But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear”

-Matthew 13:16

+ In the name of the Father and of the Son of the Holy Ghost

If we have grown up in the church or have been Christians for most of our lives, we go through seasons of both spiritual intensity and spiritual malaise. Not to worry, this is a normal and we should not beat ourselves up the we go through a dry season. In fact, the desert fathers and mothers speak of the dry seasons as the times of deep spiritual growth. When we decide to get serious about our faith and our spiritual disciplines we tend to go towards extremes because we tell ourselves what we are currently doing is not working. This is also common when we decide to exercise or eat healthy. We tell ourselves the all bacon diet actually IS nutritious, because this person on the internet we never met before lost 50 pounds eating nothing but bacon. The most common extreme in the Spiritual life is to focus on the “spiritual” at the expense of the physical. Somehow, we’ve inherited a belief that spiritual is antithetical to the physical, and that if we care for physical things and pleasures we are somehow being non-spiritual. This belief in the early church was called Gnosticism and it was considered a heresy. It led to conclusions such as the claim the Jesus either didn’t really have a body and was just a spiritual being, therefore, Jesus was never really born, never really died, and most certainly didn’t rise again just to be trapped in physical body.

This morning’s Gospel from St. Mark focuses us on the compassion of Jesus Christ in his holistic care for both the spiritual and physical distress of the man who was both deaf and mute. It is a miracle narrative, letting Jesus’ first century audience know that he is the promised Messiah from the Book of Isaiah, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.”

Aside from the display of Jesus’s power as Messiah, today’s Gospel reminds us of three things which are central to the Christian life.

  1. That Christianity embraces both the Physical and the Spiritual world.
  2. The compassionate nature of Jesus towards individuals
  3. The ability to truly see and hear what God is doing.

The concern that Jesus had for this man’s physical infirmities shows us that Jesus cared for his whole person. He came not only to save souls, but to redeem both body and soul. There is something to be learned here because we so easily fall into the error separating the two when it comes to healing and mission. We sometimes come to think that our faith is only concerned with the Spiritual, and what happens to our bodies does not matter so much. “Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die” we often tell ourselves. This is the mistake of the missionary who wants to only save someone’s soul while what the person also needs is clean water, food, shelter and healthy relationships. The other extreme is the missionary or aid worker who only sees physical poverty. He or she wants to heal the weak, the sick and the poor, but will often miss the inner pain, which is not so obvious. As Christians, we embrace the spiritual world and the physical world, the inner pain and the outer pain, which is reflected not only in the miracles of Jesus, but also in the sacraments of the church.

How do we minister to others in order to show compassion for their whole being? We do this by embracing the reality that poverty and sickness are not merely physical problems, but are whole person problems. In his book, Walking with the Poor, Bryant Myers conducted large scale interviews with those suffering in the third world. He discovered that their understanding of their own poverty was primarily about a great sense of loneliness and helplessness.

I would imagine that the inability to hear or to speak would create a sense of both isolation, loneliness and helplessness. The man who Jesus healed in today’s Gospel was not just physically disabled, but he must have been suffering from emotional and spiritual pain as well.  Think about when you are a physically sick and all the emotional and spiritual pain you simultaneously experience as well. When Jesus heals this man, he does all sorts of seemingly odd things to him; but the first thing he does is to pull him away from the crowd and treat him like an individual, with all the respect and dignity he deserves. Jesus then proceeds to touch the man’s ears and his tongue, and then he takes his own saliva and rubs it on the man’s tongue. This may sound disgusting, or maybe it seem like the incantations of a miracle worker. But as author and pastor Tim Keller notes, in all of Jesus previous miracles, such as the healing of the Syro-Phoenician woman’s daughter, the miracles happened immediately, with no mumbo jumbo and no incantations. So what is Jesus doing by touching the man and removing him from the crowd? Jesus is not doing this for the sake of the miracle, but for the sake of the man being healed. He does not make a spectacle of the man, the healing actually takes place in private. Because this man was deaf, he could not properly use his tongue, and he must have been mocked and despised in public his entire life. So instead of making a scene, Jesus gives this man space to experience personal whole body healing. The physical gift of touch was part of this man’s salvation. This image of Jesus is one that we need to meditate so that we can more properly interact with those who hurt around us.

Lastly, the physical experience of ears being opened a tongue being loosed point us to a deep spiritual reality which Jesus often speaks. You will notice that many of the parables, such as the Parable of the Sower and the Seed, end with the phrase, “he who has ears to hear, let him hear.” This implies that not all do have the ears necessary to hear what God is saying in the world. The question is, how do we develop the ears to hear, and the eyes to see what God is doing? We develop a sense of the Spiritual Discernment by exercising the Spiritual Disciplines God has given to us. To be most proficient in the Spiritual life, we must be healthy enough physically to think and act with all the faculties that God has given us. We would not expect a proficient baseball player to have the ability to hit a home run without practicing hitting the ball day in and day out. This is the same with the Spiritual Life. To see what God is doing in the world, we must immerse ourselves into the reality of Almighty God.

As we come to the Lord’s Table this morning to receive the Blessed Sacrament, we reflect on the great compassion of Jesus towards us, remembering that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, and in this meal, Christ feeds us both physically and spiritually, that we may forever dwell in Him, and He in us.