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“Christ’s Cure for What Ails You”
Mark 7:31-37


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost—September 6, 2009

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Our meditation is based on today’s Gospel Reading, the story of Christ healing a deaf and mute man.  We see in this man and his miraculous healing a portrait of ourselves: Your desperate, lost spiritual condition, and “Christ’s Cure for What Ails You.”

“Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis.” 

“Decapolis” means “ten cities,” and the Decapolis was a federation of cities in ancient Palestine that had a mostly non-Jewish population.  These cities were outposts of Greek and Roman military power, political authority, culture, and pagan religion, planted in the midst of the Jewish people. 

While in college and seminary I worked as an archaeologist, and I excavated at the ancient city of Abila of the Decapolis.  We are not told and there is no tradition exactly where the events of today’s Gospel Reading took place.  But, it couldn’t have been more than about 30 miles from where I excavated, and it might have been that Abila where I excavated was the very place where this story unfolded.

Symbolically, what is significant about the location of these events is that Jesus is traveling through a foreign land, among an alien, pagan people.  That strange land he is traveling through symbolizes his earthly life, his sojourn here for some 30 years in this foreign land called earth, among us humans, an alien, pagan people.  As we just confessed in the Nicene Creed, “Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man.”

“There some people brought to him a man.”

The fact that the man had to be brought to Jesus symbolizes our spiritual helplessness in our sinful state.  Paul puts it this way in Ephesians: “As for you, you were dead in your trespasses and sins.”  You can’t get much more helpless than dead.  As Martin Luther says in the Small Catechism, we are “lost and condemned creatures.”  Just as this man was utterly helpless to do anything for himself about his physical condition, we are spiritually dead and helpless to save ourselves.

“There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk.”

This poor man’s physical condition symbolizes our spiritual condition.  Jesus described our sinful spiritual condition this way: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. . .  For the hearts of this people have become calloused. Their ears are stopped up, and their eyes they have closed.”

We are by nature “deaf” to God’s will and his righteous ways.  And we are by nature “mute,” unable to confess our sins or profess our faith, as Paul says in 1st Corinthians, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.”

“And they begged him to place his hand on the man.” 

The people who bring this poor, helpless man to Jesus and beg him to place his hand on the man symbolize all who bring the Good News of Christ to our lost world.  The Church at large, individual Christians, and ministers of Christ.  When parents bring their children to the Baptismal font to receive there the touch of Christ in the Sacrament, it is a fulfillment of this imagery:  “There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man.”  When concerned Christians reach out with the love of Christ to hurting co-workers, neighbors, friends, loved ones, it is a fulfillment of this imagery:  “There some people brought to him a man . . . and they begged him to place his hand on the man.”  Every time you lift up others, and their needs and problems and hurts, to the Lord in prayer, it is a fulfillment of this imagery:  “There some people brought to him a man . . . and they begged him to place his hand on the man.”

“After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears.”

Christ putting his fingers into the man’s ears represents the Word of God, breaking through the barrier of our sin, penetrating into our hearts and minds.  As James says in today’s Epistle Reading, “Humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.”  Paul says in Romans, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation.”  And in 2nd Timothy, “The Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

The church father Ambrose said, “In preaching the Word today, the minister is symbolically touching human ears that they may be opened to the living Word.”  James puts it this way in today’s Epistle Reading, “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth.”  Just as Christ put his fingers into the man’s ears to cure him of his physical condition, he still sticks his Word into your ears, to cure you of your spiritual sickness.

“Then he spit.”

In the ancient Baptismal rite, and the first Baptismal rite which Luther wrote, before the Baptism the minister would actually moisten his fingers with spit and place them in the ears of the person being baptized.  The ancients did that because they understood that this moisture which Christ applies to the man for the healing of his physical condition symbolizes the waters of Holy Baptism, which Christ pours out upon us for the healing of our spiritual sickness.  As Paul says in Titus, “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, which he poured out on us abundantly.”

And just as it is Christ’s very own, personal moisture that he uses to touch and heal the man, that symbolizes that Holy Baptism is not just mere water, not just a human rite, but a washing from Christ himself, a Sacrament that he instituted and he works through for our salvation.  As Paul says in Ephesians, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word.”

“Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue.” 

The moisture Christ applies with his spit symbolizes the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, and his touching the man’s tongue symbolizes the Sacrament of Holy Communion.  Just as Christ touched that man’s tongue so long ago and far away and healed him of his physical ailment, still he comes today to touch your tongue with his very body and blood, in, with, and under the bread and wine in the Sacrament.  As Paul says in 1st Corinthians, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?”

The word “communion” is a transliteration of the Greek word “koinonia,” which is often used for marriage, and means an intimate relationship, a close friendship.  That’s what happens in this Sacrament. It is called Holy “Communion” because in this Sacrament you “commune,” have a personal, intimate, close encounter with Christ himself.

The Gospels report, “And all the people tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them. . . and all who touched him were healed.”  What a privilege and joy you have to receive the Lord’s healing touch today.  For just as he touched with his fingers the tongue of the deaf and mute man, he touches your tongue with his very body and blood.

“At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.”

This symbolizes conversion, being freed from sin, and then in faith confessing Christ and praising God.  As James says today’s Epistle Reading, “Do not merely listen to the Word . . .  Do what it says.”

Luther comments, “The wonderful cures which Christ effected in the physically sick are pictures of what Christ through his grace works inwardly in our souls.  Our ears, which the devil stopped up through sin, are opened by the Word of God.  Through faith in Christ we come to have the forgiveness of sins, and then confessing Christ will follow. God stirs our tongues and causes us to speak.  We must not be mute, but should speak what we believe in our hearts. For a Christian is one who hears the Word and believes it, and then also professes it.  Our dear Lord Christ is still daily producing such miraculous results in his Church through the Word and Sacraments.”

We see in this deaf and mute man and his miraculous healing a portrait of ourselves: Your desperate, lost spiritual condition, and “Christ’s Cure for What Ails You.”

Amen.

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