The deaf hear, the mute speak
What a wonderful thing Jesus did! The man who could not hear the birds sing, children giggle, or the sea roar… the man who could not express his thoughts and needs to his friends without great difficulty or help… this man, after being touched by Jesus, could now hear and speak and participate fully in the life around him. What a wonderful thing Jesus did!
The story causes us to rejoice, as it should. And yet beyond the rejoicing, we should also look for messages. These stories of Jesus’ service have teaching elements to them as well. Today I’d like us to consider that one of the purposes of this story is to offer us help with our own hearing and speech difficulties. We may think that we can hear and communicate just fine. However, when it comes to hearing God’s Word and speaking of that Word to others, we have troubles indeed.
Think of some of the troubles we have in hearing God’s Word. Sometimes we have trouble focusing. We may be short on sleep, or distracted by other voices, or led away by our own thoughts. In today’s fast-paced world where we have access to endless amounts of information instantly we easily become bored. And, yes, sometimes the presentation of the Word isn’t that skilled or interesting. We preachers can be part of the problem too. As a congregation of people based around the hearing of God’s Word, you and I should both admit that we could do better when it comes to the need for attention and focus.
Poor effort is one problem, but we face other problems as well. You many have heard the term “selective hearing.” People sometimes hear only what they want to hear. This, too, can happen to us very easily when it comes to hearing God’s Word. In today’s second reading, James seems to be concerned with this kind of hearing. He seems concerned that some Christians emphasize their salvation by faith alone so much that they think doing good works is unimportant.
Selective hearing leads to problems. So also does impaired hearing. Sometimes we have trouble hearing God’s Word because of a human frailty, such as anxiety. Today’s Old Testament lesson addresses this need. God tells the prophet, and us: “Say to those with an anxious heart; be strong, fear not.” Some people need to be built up in their confidence and faith before they can hear other particulars of God’s Word. In fact, this is really true for all of us, not just some. I have a friend who concludes all his emails with this quote: “How do you know if a person needs encouraging? They’re breathing.” Very true.
Selective hearing, impaired hearing – these are problems we face. However, the Bible makes it clear that our true situation is even worse. When it comes to God’s Word, total deafness is more descriptive of our situation. We Lutherans summarize this situation in our catechism, which states: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him.” We are naturally put off by God’s Word and would rather ignore it completely, were it not for God’s Holy Spirit working in our hearts. More on this later.
But first, let us also consider another problem we have. Not only do we have a problem hearing God’s Word, we certainly also have a problem speaking it. Like the man in the story, we are not only deaf but mute when it comes to God’s Word.
Actually, the text says the man had trouble speaking, not that he was completely mute. The word “mute” is used later in our text when explaining how Jesus is fulfilling prophecy. The two words are related, but they are distinct. If the man in the story were deaf from birth, as seems the case, he would not have heard how others form their words and develop their language. But he could still use sounds to communicate.
In the same way, we cannot claim to be completely mute when it comes to God’s Word. Once we have come to faith by the power of the Holy Spirit we are also empowered to share the message of the Gospel with others. Yes, some are particularly gifted in this area, but all of us can speak the Word to a certain extent.
Our only problem is our lack of courage. We suffer from a confidence problem, thinking we’re not worthy. Or, we fear being labeled or put down by the enemies of Christ. Sometimes we simply fear the time that it may require of us to spend with others.
God wants us to hear His Word and God wants us to share His Word with others. God does not leave us deaf or mute. He heals us, and He does so for a reason—so that we might know of our salvation and share this life-changing Good News with others.
When Jesus Christ gave hearing and clear speech to that man from the Decapolis some 2000 years ago, he not only helped an individual but he showed the kind of help he wishes to extend to all of us. Jesus opened the ears of the man who was deaf. In the same way he has opened our hearts to the path of reconciliation with God and with each other. He has allowed us to hear the sweet words of forgiveness that God extends, made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus. He has allowed us to believe and trust in His abiding and protecting presence.
The healing of the deaf man showed that Jesus was ushering in the age of the Messiah—the time prophesied by Isaiah and others, the time when men would know the fullness of God’s Salvation and be empowered to share his teachings with the whole world. Isaiah mentioned the deaf having their ears opened and their tongues loosed; also the blind receiving their sight and the lame leaping for joy. These are beautiful days and they are here now. We can hear and sing and dance because Jesus the Messiah has come to make our salvation sure. And, we know that Jesus will come again someday to usher in the fullness of the Messianic Age—the age of the New Creation where there will be no more deafness or anxiety or impediments of any kind.
God has opened our ears, eyes and hearts to His salvation. He will also open our lips to speak and to sing His praises when we overcome our fears. To help us combat our lack of confidence and fear we need to hear again the words of God from Isaiah: “Say to those with an anxious heart; be strong, fear not.” And not only do we need to hear these particular words, but we also need to hear again of why God can make such statements. God tells us not to fear because He promises to care for us in our speaking. He stands behind us with His great power, ready to overcome anything which might scare us.
Interestingly, in our text, Jesus told the people not to share the story of the healing. He did this because He had not yet revealed his full message and true purpose. He had not yet gone to the cross to pay for our sins. But notice what the people did—they spread the word anyway. They were so excited that they could not help but share what Jesus had done for them.
After Jesus rose from the dead he told his disciples to go and take his message of salvation to all nations. The Messianic age is a missionary age. It is a time of opened ears and opened mouths, for all who hear of what God has done for them in Jesus Christ will be blessed.
The hymn we will sing next – “O Son of God, in Galilee” – is based on today’s text. It was written by Anna Bernardine Dorothy Hoppe, who lived from 1889 to 1941 in Milwaukee, WI. She was employed throughout her life as a stenographer in various business offices. At the age of 24 she began to write spiritual poetry, most of which was composed on the run—on her way to and from church and from work, and during her lunch hours. She submitted some of her poems for publishing in a periodical of the Wisconsin Synod, where a professor of the Seminary saw them and encouraged her to write a series of songs for the church year. The hymn we will sing is her best-known work. As you will see, it’s a wonderful meditation on this text. I’m particularly moved by the phrase: “the listening ear of steadfast faith.” I had to read that one twice and think about it. As Christians, we live by faith. Faith is essential to who we are and how we approach life. To keep a steadfast faith in the midst of trials and troubles we must keep listening to the Word of God.
How wonderful it is to have other Christians encourage us in our tasks of hearing and speaking God’s Word. In our text today the deaf man’s friends brought him to Jesus. Our hymn-writers do the same for us, as do those who teach, preach and witness to us through their conversation.
Yes, we busy 21st century people often have trouble hearing and speaking the Word of God. We are distracted and scared by so many things. How important it is to remember Jesus’ willingness to open our hearts and mouths. He is ready to encourage and equip us in all things. May we always be moved, with joy in our hearts, to hear God’s precious Word, and then proclaim that Word to others. In the name of Jesus, amen.