Thursday, September 25, 2014

As hard as life would be without any of our five senses, it is worse to be spiritually deaf and mute


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And looking up into heaven Jesus sighed and said to him, "Ephphatha" that is, Be opened! And immediately his ears were opened, and his tongue untied, and he spoke plainly. Mark 8:34

The incarnate Son of God performed a great and mighty wonder that day to deliver a man who was in serious trouble. Life in this fallen world is difficult enough, but to try and survive it without the gifts of speech or hearing makes things that much more complex. Yet nothing is too difficult for Jesus! With His eyes He looked up to heaven from where all His authority came. With His breath He sighed at what the devil had perpetrated in His Father’s world, and at the price He would pay to redeem it. With the double edged sword of His mouth He commanded what was wrong to be made right, and by applying a bit of His own saliva to the tongue of the mute man, He untied it so that He spoke plainly. It was a wonder to behold.

Before we go too far, there is something we should know: miracles of this type no longer happen. Your Pentecostal neighbor doesn’t like to hear such talk, neither does the little Pentecostal that dwells in each of us, but the kind of miracles that Jesus did no longer take place. Other and greater ones do, but they are spiritual in nature and have mediate causes that God works out over time, so that what the Scripture says might be fulfilled that, “All things work together, for good, for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” We are those people!

A careful reading of Scripture teaches us that there were three periods of supernatural wonders. Moses and his protégé Joshua performed Christ-like miracles at the inauguration of the Law. Elijah and his protégé Elisha did the same to inaugurate the prophetic era, and in the fullness of time the Son of God, who fulfilled both the Law and the Prophets, did the same but in far greater measure; and He gave the power to the disciples as well. However, after their death such wonders suddenly disappear. There will be one more period of miracles, however. Jesus warns us that as the End draws near, “false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if it were possible, even the elect.” (Mt. 24:24) So armed with the Lord’s own warning, let us apply ourselves to the miracles that the church performs today.

The lesson we learn from this miracle is that we are all, by nature, spiritually deaf. We are unable to hear the counsel of God or to make sense of its wisdom. This is our default condition inherited from Adam, and unless healed by our Lord Jesus Christ a person lives his whole life this way, with ears open to every mind-numbing voice there is, every absurd opinion – of which there are so dreadfully many – but deaf to the one, holy voice that instructs us in the way of Peace, the way of Joy and the way of Indestructible Life. By a miracle far superior to opening the ears of the deaf (even science can do that), our Lord unplugs the ears of our hearts so that we can hear the most beautiful sounds there are: God’s word of love, hope, encouragement and guidance, words which make us alive, empower us to be His people, and to hear the voice of our Good Shepherd who calls us to follow Him to the place He has prepared for us. He opens our ears not just to hear the words, but also to believe them in the core of our being, so that the old nature is daily put to death and we can declare with S. Paul: it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.

As He opens our hearts to believe the words, He also opens our mouths to confess them. Like the man in today’s gospel we are not only spiritually deaf but spiritually mute. We have the power to use our tongues to spout every thoughtless, illogical and irrational opinion under the sun; every imaginable curse; to confess the world’s creeds and sing its deadly liturgy; to destroy our spouses, and to annihilate our children without ever lifting a finger. S. James knew what he was talking about when he said that the tongue is like a flame that sets the whole world on fire, but unless Jesus first unties our tongue we are unable to confess His holy name and be saved. Unless the Great Physician first performs the spiritual version of this miracle on the little beast within, we are unable to do what the mute man did: to sing God’s praises aright; and to use our tongues to worship Him with our prayers, our praise and our giving of Eucharistic thanks.

S. Mark uses an interesting word when he records the results of our Lord’s miracle. He says that the man’s tongue was untied and that he spoke “orthos” which is the first half of the word ortho-dox, which means: right praise. The church must always seek to be orthodox, not by imitating the Christian denomination that goes by that name necessarily, but by always praising God aright, always believing the true faith, and always confessing it in our worship. While it’s true that faith informs worship, it is equally as true that worship informs faith. Thus false worship leads to false faith, weak worship to weak faith, and no worship to no faith.

When children get to be about nine or ten months old we begin to speak to them with the expectation that they will repeat our words back to us. We tell them: say mama, say dada, and one day, lo and behold, they do, and the gift of speech is born. This is how it is with the holy faith we profess. We hear God’s word with ears opened by Jesus, we believe them with our hearts, we confess them with our lips, and now the fruits of faith proceed. By the power of God we can now control our tongues. We can think before we speak. We can follow the advice of S. James who says: be slow to speak and quick to listen. Then we can utilize our redeemed tongues to receive the Holy Sacrament, to “taste and see that the Lord is good,” and to sing God’s praises, now in the earthly temple, then in the heavenly one. Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

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